Post-Zimmerman verdict parenting has many Black parents feeling like Sethe (a character from Toni Morrison’s Beloved); we realize that the world is not fit for the children we love and we don’t know what to do about it. All I know to do is connect, so I nod at the woman who walks into the grocery store hanging onto her tall-too-soon son’s shoulders. I smile at the mother who holds her two daughters’ hands tightly well after they have safely crossed the street. And I braid. With clumsy fingers and bleeding heart, I comb my daughter’s hair while thinking of another lost baby. I picture Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ multi-color barrettes. I know that her mother misses the weight of Aiyana’s elbows on her thighs.
If her most-circulated picture is any indication, Aiyana believed in fairytales. She believed in pumpkin carriages, magic lamps, mermaids and coma-breaking kisses. She believed in villains, but I doubt she imagined one would kick in her grandmother’s door. Four years earlier, John Weekley killed two family dogs before aiming at children and an infant. His lack of consequences for that botched raid—filmed for TV's First 48— guaranteed that Aiyana didn’t live to see one fairytale trope become her reality: She was driven to her grave in a horse-drawn carriage.
Most talk about brown girls and princesses blames the usual suspects: standards of beauty, rigid gender norms, capitalist fantasies of wealth. But the real travesty of fairytales is the romance of empire. Civilians are ruled with unquestioned authority. Outsiders are banished to the literal margins of society. Monarchs kiss women without their consent. A Grand Duke demands entry into every home in the land, operating with the authority of a Detroit police officer with a camera crew. Tension is reduced to good versus evil, good wins, and the unchecked authority of the empire cross-fades into the credits without so much as a “Who do you think you are?”
Across the country, police members think they are military. American citizens think they are under siege. Young people think they are mafia. Old people think they are frontiersmen. And all of the people who think they are something they aren’t have access to guns– thanks to an industry that employs more Americans than GM. When fairytales meet the NRA, it’s no wonder twelve people couldn’t decide if a Black girl’s life was worth a conviction. They didn’t know who to blame, since state power is as invisible as the deacon’s devil.
I want to know if Aiyana with the single, deep dimple dreamt of invisible kingdoms that night. I wonder if she thought the men who kicked down her grandmother’s unlocked door wanted her to try on a glass slipper. I imagine that, as she floated away from her body, she dreamt of returning to it at the kiss of some frog prince. I wonder if she thought Obama was King.
He isn’t. And no flea-market artist’s comparison or well-placed quote will convince me that he should be. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t want to run the state; he sought to appeal to its conscience. He predicted that our nation, which “continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift” would be right where we are, in this place of spiritual doom where violence begets violence, which begets horse-drawn carriages to baby graves. In times like these, I believe he would want us to do more with our hands than pray.
How do we give our children dreams of magic unseen when terror is so often but footsteps away?
I use my hands to write. With clumsy fingers and bleeding heart, I write for the parents who use the pointed ends of combs to make straight lines and zig zags across a head that the state does not value. I write for the parents who try to make meaning out of lives short-lived, who need to believe that their children died so that the nation could expand its “conversation” about race, a conversation that began with the clause, “Forty million plus…” and ends somewhere I don’t want to live to see. And I write for Aiyana and all the daughters like her, who dream of kingdoms with more magic than misery, more flowers than guns.
Asha French is a writer and mom living in Atlanta