#Grieving While Black
When I saw the video of George Floyd begging for his life, I was completely horrified and angry.
When I heard him call for his mother with his last breath, the tears fell.
I understood his fear and knew what he was really asking for. Why was this happening to him? Why couldn't his mama save him?
That's a cry all Black mamas felt in their souls.
I don’t ever want to hear either of my sons begging for their lives...let alone calling for me to help them from being brutalized or murdered.
The thought of that happening tears at my heart and soul.
It is a very real fear for Black mothers.
People don’t understand. Or should I say, White people don’t understand.
Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Trayvon Martin. Christian Cooper. Eric Garner.
Names we are all familiar with and for the wrong reasons. These men should not be known for being treated horribly or killed because of their skin tone.
But here are a few you may not be familiar with:
Jefferson Blackburn. Tony Barnes. Malcolm Barnes. Lee Thomas. Maurice Cogdell. Clarence Barnes.
Men I know who also was seen as less than equal to and not worthy of the same rights and respect as their White counterparts. Men who all found out the hard way about what it really is to be Black men in America. They learned to tolerate this behavior against them knowing in their hearts they shouldn't have had to.
When Tony and I got married, we had always planned to have children. I have always loved kids and wanted to have a ton of them. I have two sisters and a brother, but I always wanted sons. But deep down, I was scared to death to have any boys. It was not only the fear of the unknown concerning pregnancy and not really knowing what it meant to be responsible for a young life...I had the very real fear of bringing a Black male into a world that I knew has no respect for him. I had seen it over and over again growing up. Black men being treated as criminals, disrespected or destroyed.
I didn't want that for my children. I didn’t want that for me.
I talked to my husband about my fears about three months into my pregnancy with our firstborn. He completely understood my fear and admitted having the same fears. He told me that he would be here to teach our boys how to navigate life in America as a Black man.
We expected that he would be there and guide his boys into Black manhood.
I never expected to have to grieve not only his life but the loss of his wisdom. Wisdom that I honestly don’t have.
Tony told me story after story about how he was treated because of his race. How while walking to work very early one morning how the police accosted him with suspicion in their whole demeanor How they questioned him until they were satisfied that he wasn’t a “thug” planning to commit a crime. How they let him out of the police car and allowed him to keep walking.
Other stories, such as being passed over for a few jobs because he was Black. Being followed in stores. Having women who worked in the same building he did clutch their purses a little tighter when he rode the elevator with them. How it felt to be looked upon and in some cases, treated as a criminal because of how he looked.
These are stories he needed to share with his boys. He wanted them to understand how to live as a Black man in America. I have no idea how to teach them that. None whatsoever.
I can tell them all about being Black in America, but I don’t know the things their father knew. I can't tell them how he felt. I can't tell them how he dealt with any of it. I can't relay his fears for our boys to them. I can only imagine the dehumanizing feelings he had. He was a man, and yet he wasn't treated like one. He never wanted that for them. Deep in his soul, he wanted to protect them from all of that.
I can try to do all of that as their mother, but what they need is their father to tell them what I can.
It is unfair to them that he can't.
My sons are growing up in a world that seems to fear and hate them. A world that has its collective knee on the neck of all Black men.
Right after George Floyd died, I wrote this on my Instagram page. It speaks my own feelings of grief, pain, and fear:
"These two boys mean the world to me, not only because they are two different versions of their father, but because they own pieces of my heart. I'm begging you as a Black mother, America, please don't kill my sons. If you do, you might as well kill me too."
This is my secret anguish...to lose my sons to American racism. I am scared to death. I hold my breath whenever my oldest is out late and forgets to call. Or when my youngest, who is disabled, is out for a walk.
I mourn that my husband didn't get to teach them about this as he wanted to. I mourn that I will have this fear forever. I mourn that we still continue to be treated this way.
I wish to God it wasn't true.
Written by Cheryl Barnes