First, just to be clear upfront, the following is NOT about to be an argument for #AllLivesMatter. There is something to be said of how the ill treatment of Blacks emotionally impacts the people of other races in their lives, but that is not to say that one experiencing brutality vicariously through the victim via intimate or even genetic relationships is equivocal to being brutalized oneself. Point being, Black lives do not only matter to Black people (parents). A White mother’s fears of losing her child or pain of having lost him is no greater or less than that of a Black mom.
That having been said, there is a persistent misconception that #BlackLivesMatter is exclusively “a Black thing” because it highlights Black victims of police brutality and miscarriages of justice. Though it is true that the movement focuses on Black victims–due to the disparate rate of Black victimization–that doesn’t discount the stresses of the family and friends [of Black victims] who are not Black themselves.
Yesterday, I met with a group of parents about a racist bullying incident wherein a Black mom’s [Black] daughter was surrounded at a school function by a group of White boys and pelted with the n-word. Also present at the scene and defending the Black girl were a few of her White friends and one of the White mom’s–I’ll call her ‘Linda’ to protect the identity of the kids–son (who self-identifies as Black).
I voiced concern about the fact that the incident occurred within earshot of two policemen who didn’t intervene. And that is where intersectionality introduced itself to our parent meeting in an unexpected way. It was the White mom, ‘Linda’, who introduced “Black Lives Matter” by name (on behalf of her son), not I.
Whereas I was thinking in terms of the cops protecting the girl from the group of bullies, ‘Linda’ was thinking in terms of protecting her son from the cops. The second she said it, I had an “Oh, YEAH” moment. Of course, there’s a chance the cops might respond to a group of boys jumping her son and ‘see’ a Black boy jumping a group of boys. She didn’t want to risk her son getting fearedformylife’d.
When I was a kid a group of boys sexually assaulted a girl at a park with cops standing nearby, none the wiser. They knew the boys were up to something, but chalked it up to “boys being boys.” That was the context in which I expressed disfavor with the cops not intervening when this group of boys verbally assailed the Black girl.
The victim was not having them calling her the n-word. It took her friend holding her back for those boys to not get their chins checked. I was so focused on having her protected, that it didn’t occur to me that even she could as well suffer the same fate as ‘Linda’s’ son if the cops had responded to her defending herself.
In that moment ‘Linda’ and I–a Black man and a White woman from two totally different backgrounds and realities–both understood that we were drawing our trepidations from the same source. I’d had that conversation with many Black moms and standing there talking to ‘Linda’ I recognized the very same look in her face, change in posture, immediacy in her voice, and a tinge of melancholy at the harsh reality in her as I’ve come to recognize in other Black moms (and dads).
This wasn’t a ‘color blind’ moment. To the contrary, this was a very color conscious moment within the context of societal/systemic racism–i.e. white supremacy. She understood crystal clearly that “ALL” lives may matter in theory, but not in reality; and her son’s life was one that needed to be specifically highlighted to be protected.
Hence, she invoked “Black” (not “All”) Lives Matter in our meeting with the school principal about the racist bullying incident. Although her own whiteness could afford her the privilege of ignoring the issue, as the mom of a Black boy (and wife of a Black man), her love and conscience would not allow any such ignorance.
It doesn’t take being personally related to a Black person for a White person to care about Black lives. And being Black is no guarantee that a person will care about Black lives, be it fellow Black lives or their own. Still, though complexion doesn’t dictate character, in the context of racism, color does influence the conditions that contribute to forming character.
‘Linda’ struck me as a woman of character. She didn’t have to be a Black mom to understand/feel the fears of a Black boy’s mom. And I didn’t feel any less in solidarity with her being a Black boy’s White mom. She wasn’t “interloping” or “appropriating” #BlackLivesMatter, she was just being the mom of a boy who happens to be Black… and that matters.
Just ask Susan Hunt, the White mother of Darrien Hunt, who agonized after Saratoga Springs police officers gunned him down, “They killed my son because he’s Black.” Because he was “Black,” not “All.” #dontBSyourself