I talk to my mother almost every day. In fact, our conversations are such a consistent part of my daily routine that my mother will often call me if I haven’t contacted her by late afternoon. “Hello? You didn’t call me today,” she’ll begin. “I just wanted to make sure that you are okay.” I usually am okay, so these talks are often perfunctory and brief. But sometimes I am not, and it’s good to hear her voice and remember home.
More disconcerting, though, are the times when my mother calls me and she is not okay. Take, for example, this past fall. I called home for one of my usual check-ins, just to see how her day had gone, and she expressed fear. My teenage brothers had recently been clamoring for more independence – the opportunity to go to the mall or movies alone, the chance to hang out with friends unsupervised – and my mother was afraid. “They’re growing,” she said, sounding worried. “And they’re only going to keep getting bigger.”
She didn’t say anything after that. And she didn’t have to. I knew exactly what she meant. My mother, like many black mothers before her and since, was afraid that her boys would be judged as threats based on the color of their skin. She was afraid that people would see their tall, muscled frames and read attack or aggression. She was afraid that if anything were to happen to them, if the police or anyone else, for that matter, tried to hurt them, she wouldn’t be there to stop it.
And 500 miles from my hometown, listening to that heavy silence, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stop it either. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to protect my brothers, not from so far away at Williams, and maybe not from anywhere. I knew that my love wouldn’t shield them from bullets and wouldn’t stop the gun that fired at them.
Because, in the end, neither Sybrina Fulton nor Lesley McSpadden nor Samaria Rice could shield their sons with the sheer force of their love. And maybe, I worried, my mother’s love couldn’t shield her sons either. My grandmother’s love, for example, didn’t save my father from encountering police aggression in his inner-city neighborhood. And the love of her mother, my great-grandmother, hadn’t been able to protect her children from the Jim Crow North. Would my love, I began to wonder, protect my children? Would I, as a future black mother, join the long line of women before me who had spent their lives worried for their child’s ability to be?
These days, approaching the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death and just four months after Tamir Rice was shot in his local park and the Ferguson grand jury decision became public, I can’t tell if I don’t know how to answer that question or if I just don’t want to. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Either way, I know I have much more practice mourning young black men than I want to. We all, in fact, have more practice mourning young black men that I want us to.
That’s the thing about mourning: It doesn’t just end when the Twitter storm subsides or the media coverage abates or the legal proceedings come to a close. But neither does the power of our collective ability to pursue justice, now and in the future. Yes, being worried for my brothers, and for all the boys who look like them, doesn’t go away. But neither does my ability to envision a world better than the one we currently occupy.
In other words, every day I choose to believe that black lives matter and that all forms of resistance and activism, no matter how small or how visible, matter. I choose to believe that we can do better and that we will do better. I choose to believe that one day, my mother will not be afraid.
Kirsten Lee ’16 is an English and comparative literature double major from Detroit, Mich. She lives in Lehman.