Ferguson and Patience for the Appalled.

Photo: Twitter, from a #NMOS14 protest in Washington, DC
Photo: Twitter, from a #NMOS14 protest in Washington, DC

Be patient with those of us who are appalled. We thought we had been striding toward some progress, thought our education and integrity, our intellect and analysis were meaningful. We studied history, believed we understood all the ways in which enslavement could impact advancement. We were repairing our middling credit, paying back student loans, electing more people of color into political office. And yes, black blood still flowed in the streets and yes, each week new images of bullets bloodying children and grandmothers gunned down flickered across the six o’clock news. But we had been told to hope, had been assured that it took audacity, but it could be done. Optimism could be sustained. And weren’t we seeing justice sometimes? Weren’t more black students graduating college? Weren’t more of our men hitching up their pants and wearing ties? Weren’t we finally — finally — being legislatively mandated to become our brother’s keeper?

Forgive us for retiring “We Shall Overcome” for a while. Our president was black, and his attorney general had been tasked with tending to what was left of systemic inequity.  We overcame! Or at the very least, circa 2008, we felt fairly capable of overcoming.

Yes, even when we couldn’t catch cabs. Yes, even when we were stopped and frisked. Yes, even when a black Harvard historian was accused of breaking and entering into his front door. That was resolved with a beer summit, wasn’t it? Ain’t we some overcomers?

Pardon us for reeling in the wake of this latest reminder that we are still psychically, politically, horrifically, oppressed.

We watched a child bake on the asphalt on a middle American town last weekend, while the cop who killed him fled without calling in the murder or staying on the scene. And while sitting on our seat’s edge waiting for accountability, we had to reckon with the protracted dawning that no immediate responsibility would be assigned, that none of the shooting officer’s higher-ups — from his police chief to his governor — would feel the need to reprimand or hold him wholly responsible.

And while we were still reeling, while we were yet aghast, either time stood still as Ferguson Police teleported back to 1963 or time sped forward and we were all dumped into a near-future dystopia or, likeliest still, today is no different than the day of Mike Brown’s murder. Today is moving at the same predictable clip as every day that came before it.

Maybe black progress has only existed within a political Petri dish. Maybe it was merely another of the many experiments this country has conducted on people of color. Maybe the reason it doesn’t matter than children are being scraped off the pavement like dogs and babies are being tear-gassed and the best and brightest of the black literati are begging for their lives while standing before the barrels of Ferguson Police guns is because the Petri dish was secretly shattered, the quantifiable results of black process subsequently classified.

We will never know how many years or dead bodies or exceptional achievements it takes to convince a white supremacist culture to acknowledge the other 2/5 of our humanity.

Excuse us, as this is not easy to accept. When you ask why and how we could be so surprised, we are thinking of Obama’s first inauguration. We are thinking of our parents’ mortgage payments. We are wistfully recalling the Cosbys and thinking about how Dwayne Wayne really did end up running Kenishiwa in the end. Dreams come true, dammit. We are hearing echoes of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. We are tasting the water from every fountain where we’ve sipped, without having to bow our heads beneath a Coloreds Only sign. We are touching the bibles handed down from our great-grandparents gnarled hands to our smooth, desk-working ones. We are reciting the promises inside them. Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousnessBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 

You promised, we pray, as though we’ve been betrayed. You promised, we repeat, as though we may have been forsaken. But we’d forgotten that we are still walking and that the shadow of death may not look like a hospital bed at the end of a long, storied life, but instead like a city on lockdown, asphyxiating its citizens, imposing a curfew on all who seek justice, donning riot gear and rolling tanks simply to protect a police officer who murdered someone whose skin looked like our own.

(There is still time left, right, Lord? There’s still time, isn’t there, for You to redeem these dark times?)

Please. Please. Just be patient. We are making our way. But you must understand that it is hard, when we are cordoned on all sides by toxic clouds. Surely, you can empathize with how difficult it is to be clear-eyed while gagging on these cannisters of cover-ups.

Ferguson and Patience for the Appalled.

I Am No Sybrina Fulton: On Single Mothers, Loss and Hope.

(Cross-posted from BeyondBabyMamas.com)

Sybrina Fulton, center, in happier times. Credit: Twitter
Sybrina Fulton, center, in happier times, with sons Jahvaris Fulton (left), and Trayvon Martin (right). Credit: Twitter

Here is the difference: I can check out. There are days when my heart holds vigil, when I can consume commentary from useful and inspiring angles and I can be useful and inspiring myself. Then, there are days like today, when I am so overcome with empathy and when what’s happened to Sybrina Fulton feels so close to home that I cannot look fully into her face on television. And that’s the difference between single mothers who still have their children and those who’ve lost them in unexpected, arbitrary ways.

We can check out.

From this not-so-comfortable distance, I can admire Ms. Fulton’s unwavering fortitude, her composure, her faith, her love, her ability to lean on her son’s father and admit how much she needs and is grateful for his presence and support. She never appears catatonic or sedated. She is letting as much of reality in as she can, only removing herself from a space when her son’s recorded final moments are being replayed as evidence, and somehow, remarkably, listening to obvious lies about her son, without violent outburst.

I am nothing like Sybrina Fulton. I do not have her grace, and I do not have her courage. I can’t look at George Zimmerman’s impassive expressions or recall his crowdfunding efforts online or read his account of that fateful night’s events without feeling a very rational, concentrated anger and a very real need to remove myself from the sight of him.

I can check out.

(Or can I?)

In Jackson, MI where my mother was born and spent most of her childhood, crime is spiking and, as is often the case in small, economically depressed towns, that crime is hitting black families hardest.

Rakeish Brown's senior photo, Credit: WLNS.com
Rakeish Brown’s senior photo, Credit: WLNS.com

On Saturday morning, June 22, single mother Latonia Hemphill heard what sounded like firecrackers outside her mother’s home. Moments later, according to reporter Justin Dacey, she heard her 20-year-old son Rakeish Brown asking, “Why’d you shoot me, dog?” Those were his last words. His alleged shooter was a neighborhood “friend” he’d apparently run into at a nearby store and offered a ride.

17-year-old Aquilla Flood, Credit: Twitter
17-year-old Aquilla Flood, Credit: Twitter

We are losing our children in the most unexpected ways, whether in suburban neighborhoods during All-Star Games or on Saturday mornings outside their grandmothers’ homes. We are losing them ten days before high school graduation, as in the case of Aquilla Flood, who was reportedly shot while sleeping, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend whose prom invite she’d refused.

In each case, their black mothers — often single, sometimes with the support of a co-parent and usually with extended family and friends lending bewildered, helpless comfort — are left to talk to the press and to appeal to the community. If we live in any major city in the U.S. or any economically depressed community where crime is on a steady uptick, we’ve seen one of these mothers on local news. Maybe she’s teary, maybe in shock, but she’s there. Present. Showing up day after day. Answering press conference questions, walking the street bearing a candle, holding up photos of her child.

We’ve almost come to expect that level of composure. And it can feel, at times, that viewers outside our own communities, whose ability to check out far exceeds our own, believe that we were somehow prepared for this possibility.

By virtue of poverty or city-dwelling or the number of blocks from our children’s school the nearest gang territory is or the thuggishness of our daughters’ ex-boyfriends or the prevalence of racial profiling or simply because we were two black people giving birth to a black child anywhere in America, there are people somewhere who expect us to remain calm and patient and to have faith in the justice system. There are those who actually believe that whatever confidence in our justice system we’ve managed to hold onto will comfort us after someone’s murdered yet another one of our children.

Dominika Stanley and Charles Jones hold a photograph of their slain daughter, Aiyana

They can check out. And they can do it because they aren’t Aiyana Jones’ parents. They’ve never had to hear a judge declare a mistrial in a case that should’ve held accountable the SWAT officer who murdered their sleeping seven-year-old.

In a growing number of black communities, a living child is beginning to feel like a luxury. No. “Beginning to” is wrong. Historically, being able to parent a living black child has long felt like a luxury. And it shouldn’t. Of course it shouldn’t. Being able to see your children survive gun violence should not feel like a conferral of mercy or good luck.

But it absolutely does. When we talk about holding our children closer, whenever we hear about yet another mother who can’t, we are feeling blessed and fortunate in ways that say so much more about our nation that they do about us.

The fact is: there is no checking out. We have very little control over the ways our children are living and dying and very little choice in how we’re publicly handling our losses. Watching so many other black mothers lose their children carries a kind of psychic damage for us all. No amount of changing the channel or pushing the newspaper away or locking our doors insulates us.

We can’t all handle what’s happening to minority mothers and their children with the grace of the Fultons’ or the patience of Aiyana Jones’ parents. We can be grateful, but we cannot prepare. All we can do is pay attention, remain engaged, lobby for change, look out for our neighbors’, and — yes — hug all the children who remain. In so many daily ways, we are checking in. And we must keep doing so, if we’re to have any hope left at all.

I Am No Sybrina Fulton: On Single Mothers, Loss and Hope.