At 33 years old, my biological clock isn’t just ticking any longer—its clamoring at me.
Like some incessant internal siren, it wails at me day after day, admonishing me that it’s time I started seriously considering having children.
But even over the wailing of the siren, I hear another sound: The voice of my mother, who spent much of my life reiterating to me that I had no business having children unless I was sure I could take care of them.
And even though my mom was talking primarily about providing financially, the recent tragedies in places like Ferguson, Mo., Dayton, Ohio and Staten Island, NY, have been painful reminders to me that, as a black woman, I have to consider far more than money when it comes to “taking care” of my future children.
I’ll certainly be able to feed and clothe my children. But given that there’s a 50/50 chance I could have a son, the recent high-profile police killings of unarmed black men has forced me to think not just about how I will provide—but also about how I can possibly protect.
No, there are no guarantees in life. Any number of things can happen to a child regardless of their complexion. But as a black boy, my son will have a much broader and dire set of concerns than his paler counterparts. And I will have to teach him about those.
I’ll have to tell him that, when his friends are playing cops and robbers on the street, that he can’t participate because if he even pretends to have a gun—as kids often do in that game—he could be killed.
I’ll have to tell him that when he’s choosing clothing to wear that he must forego any items with a hood lest he have the temptation to put it on and be automatically deemed “suspicious”— and thus a target.
And, once he gets old enough to walk places by himself, I’ll have to take that pinnacle of independence away from him because it is simply unsafe for boys that look like him to walk alone on the street.
Unlike many mothers, I won’t be primarily concerned about the accidental calamities that may befall my son, but rather the premeditated ones.
The hardest part of all is that I’ll have to find a way to explain it to him while ensuring he realizes it’s not his fault.
How will I explain to my child that the very people who are supposed to protect him have already pre-judged him as dangerous just for being born with brown skin?
How do I make him understand that regardless of how smart he is, how nice he is, how patriotic he is, I won’t be able to change how black he is—and thus, even though there is nothing wrong with being black, I have birthed him into a world fraught with constant danger?
And, when I’ve explained, when I’ve made him understand, how will I then keep him from expressing his wholly justified outrage since a black boy with a scowl will be deemed a thug, a fatal offense?
Finally, I’ll have to find a way to answer the hardest question, one sure to break my heart: Why did I have him in the first place if I knew this is the perpetually unfair reality he’d have to endure?
I do not have the answers to these questions yet. And as I read the media accounts of the Ferguson execution—and I steel myself for the inevitability of the next police shooting—there is nothing to suggest that my questions will be answered in the near future. And, therefore, for the first time in my adult life I am actually seriously questioning whether I even want children.
For centuries, black mothers in this country have watched their sons be executed for such innocuous acts as looking at white girl. I imagine the instructions those mothers must have given to their sons—just walk down the street with your eyes closed.
I understand that those women persevered and made my existence possible. And I am incredibly grateful. But I don’t want to join them. I don’t want to experience the same heartache that those women and Mrs. Brown have.
I still hold out hope that the recent spates of unjust police violence against black men won’t just go down in the history books as another tragic injustice but will instead be the tipping point that leads us to racial equality in this country. Personally, my commitment to achieving civil rights for all has increased in the past few months precisely because of my outrage at these horrors.
It’s too early to tell but perhaps the events in Ferguson and Staten Island have in fact led us onto a path where black mothers of the future will no longer tremble daily with fear at the fate that may await their sons And maybe, just maybe, that is enough for me to answer that siren call after all.
By Brooke Tucker, Staff Attorney