You are not an accident where no one thought it through
The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you
And when we chose your name we knew you’d fight the power too
Brandi Carlile, ‘The Mother’
In late 2014, I was six months pregnant and watching in horror as a grand jury in Missouri failed to indict a white police officer for the killing of an unarmed black teenager. My heart hurt as I watched Michael Brown’s mother’s anguish at this senseless loss, and the state’s senseless lack of response. I was only taking the first shaky steps into motherhood and I couldn’t imagine the agony of your child being there one minute and gone the next. I couldn’t fathom what it would feel like to outlive a human being who grew from inside your body.
Six years and oceans of tears and rivers of black blood later, Michael Brown’s mother has been joined by the mothers of countless others in the terrible vigil attended by parents whose children are taken from them by racism. It doesn’t seem to matter much that smart phones and social media have pulled back the veil to reveal just how awful and rampant and unrepentant the racists are. If anything, it seems to have emboldened some. Like the man who killed George Floyd. I cannot get the look on his face out of my mind. There he is, knee to a person’s neck, eyes wide and almost quizzical, staring straight at the camera, as if the people filming him are the ones doing something wrong. There is no shame. There is no retreat. There is only the knee on the neck and his face. I have no doubt that he can hear George Floyd’s cries. Does he know where they are coming from? How could he not? I’ve gone over this again and again in my mind. The only way you can do that to a person is if, somewhere along the line, they ceased to exist as a person in your mind. Maybe that’s what it is. For him, there is only the neck and the ground and the terrible conclusion that isn’t all so terrible because, to him, George Floyd is not human.
Maybe we’re the crazy ones. To keep crying out, to keep resisting. To keep bringing our children’s black bodies into this world, even as so many are returned to our arms, lifeless.
Like many parents, we’ve been attempting to ‘homeschool’ our son while COVID-19 rages in the world outside. Two weeks ago, our learning theme was Autumn, and I helped him paint a beautiful autumn tree. It bursts forth with colour and texture, and I don’t feel awkward telling you that it is more resplendent than your average autumn tree. It’s on the wall above my work-from-home desk as a reminder of the possibilities that lie within the little boy who painted it. It is a reminder of the joy of carrying, birthing and raising the little artist who made the painting, even in a season of painful change, loss and hate. Autumn falls but hope springs eternal.
I don’t have any answers. There is no answer that will ever be enough, especially for the mothers of all those dead black children. I am terrified of this world and what it may do to my children. But as terrifying as that is, I cannot imagine this world without them. Without my children, this perpetual autumn is a barren, colourless wasteland, soaked in the tears of black mothers and the blood of black children. With them, there is colour and a sense of renewal.
Children are the ultimate expression of audacious hope. They are a generation’s way of saying that what we built can and should continue. That our children will take what we give them, and make something worthy of their children, and their children’s children. Even in a world of Darren Browns, there is enough good to gift to our children. So we keep fighting. We burn with anger and set fire to the places where hate festers. And we pour what’s left of ourselves into our children.
There is no answer. But our children are the answer.