The Harsh Walls of Reality

The following post was originally posted on the Feminist Mormon Housewives website on August 27, 2014. Bryndis Roberts, the author of this post, is an administrator and author at FEMWOC and is a fMh permablogger.

When I was a little girl and thought about the children that I would have, I always imagined that I would have both daughters and sons. I saw myself and my future husband (still a shadowy figure at that time) raising strong African American women and men who would follow in the footsteps of my heroines and heroes –- Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Medgar Evers, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and Martin Luther King—to name a few. After I gave birth to both of my beautiful daughters, I was still hopeful that I would be able to have them a little brother, or maybe even two. When I had to have a complete hysterectomy at the age of 32, I shed several tears for my unborn sons. Those tears were shed over twenty years ago.

Twenty-four years later, I am still shedding tears. Not for my unborn sons, but for the sons of countless other African American mothers and fathers, who having brought sons into this world, have to live every second of every minute of every hour of every day worrying that today could be the day when their sons are killed for no other reason than the color of their skin.

I am shedding tears of grief, tears of anger, and, perhaps most painful of all, tears of helplessness. I do not want another young African American male to be killed whether it is by an overzealous, self-appointed neighborhood watcher, by an angry white man who believes he can exercise racial privilege to control the world around him, by another young African American male protecting his turf, or by a white police officer who overreacts and uses deadly force when it is unnecessary to do so. I also do not want to be distracted from my grief and anger by any suggestions, no matter how subtle, that Michael Brown or any other young African American male somehow was asking to be killed because of his music, his swagger, his dress, or his desire to express himself without worrying about running afoul of societal fears, stereotypes, and prejudices.

When I was a little girl growing up in the segregated South, there was a long list of things that African American mothers and fathers told their children and especially their sons that they could not do. I remember being told that I could not drink out of certain PUBLIC water fountains; that the bathroom doors labeled “Women” were not for me; that I could not enter the doctor’s office or the dentist’s office through the front door; that I could not go in and place an order in the local restaurants and on and on, ad nauseum. I remember that African American males (including my cousins and friends) were taught not to look a white woman in the eye, not to look at a white female mannequin, and not to look at a white woman’s clothes when they were hanging out to dry.

As a child, I knew that something was terribly awry in the world if I and other children had to receive such lessons and I took every opportunity to rebel against the system or the status quo that made it necessary to give us such lessons, whether it was boldly walking through the front door of the doctor’s office and sitting in the “White” waiting room or whether it was walking into the bathroom with the confidence that the label “Women” did include me. I often wondered why I never suffered any adverse consequences because of my acts of rebellion, and I have come to the sad conclusion that I could rebel because although my skin was brown, my gender afforded me some degree of my protection even if my complexion did not.

As I lived through the turbulent 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement and saw laws being enacted and court decisions being rendered that promised “equal opportunity” and “liberty and justice for all,” I was able to hope that my children would live in a world where the lessons that had been taught to African American children would no longer be necessary. While I knew that the twin evils of racism and oppression had not been completely vanquished, I cherished that hope.

Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, that hope has been shattered on the harsh walls of reality. My young, male, African American cousins, nephews, and friends are in just as much danger now as their ancestors were in the 1950s and I am so afraid for them to go to the movies, walk down the street, go to the mall, stop at a gas station, go to the store or do any of things that young white males take for granted. I want to gather them all into my arms and protect them, but I know that I cannot.

I want to teach every young person that he or she is “fearfully and wonderfully made”* and that even the dreams that seem impossible can come true. I do not want to teach any child or young person to have a spirit of fear. I do not want to see cynicism and disbelief in the eyes of a child or young person when there is a discussion of “justice for all” or “equal protection” under the law. I want young African American males to be able to do all the things (good and bad) that young people do and to make all the choices that young people make (wise and unwise) without being afraid that they will be gunned down and left to die on a sidewalk, in the backseat of a car, or in the middle of the street. I hate that we have to tell our sons, our male cousins, our nephews, and our young male friends that any activity, no matter how innocent, can be and has been used as an excuse to shoot and kill a young African American male. It cuts me to the quick that in 2014, there still needs to be a list of things that young African American males cannot do, simply because of the color of their skin.

As my elderly female relatives would say, it is “a sin and a shame” that this situation is the harsh reality. We all must stand up and “make that change”** or we will all be judged and found wanting.

*Psalm 139:14 (NIV).
**Man in the Mirror (Michael Jackson).

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