What I’ve Learned About Mothering Black Boys in America
No matter how many say so, my sons, you are not a problem
Between me and these others — who utter the sentence — the indelicate assertion hangs midair. Without hesitation, they speculate as if it is a statement of fact. I look into their wide eyes. I see them hungry for my suffering, or crude with sympathy, or grateful they are not in such a circumstance. Sometimes they are even curious. It makes my blood boil, my mind furnace-hot. I seldom answer a word.
I am indignant at their pitying eyes. I do not want to be their emotional spectacle. I want them to admit that you are people. Black boys. People. This fact, simple as it is, shouldn’t linger on the surface. It should penetrate. It often doesn’t. Not in this country anyway.
But no matter how many say so, my sons, you are not a problem. Mothering you is not a problem. It is a gift. A vast one. A breathtaking one, beautiful. One that makes me pray for an unmercenary spirit about what I am here to do, never considering it a burden or worthy of particular praise. Mema, your grandmother, said it this way, “Mothering Black boys in America — that is a special calling.”
How do I meet it? What is it like?
How do I meet this calling? Is it like cultivating diamonds? Pressure that is so tight that it turns you, Black, into something white and shiny and deemed precious and valuable? That is no good. Do I fuel it like coal, something that is to be burned up and used for the warmth of others? Or the consolation prize on Christmas? That’s no good either.
Do I cover my home in the blood of a proverbial sacrificial goat, praying that we are passed over? That the bloodthirsty fear lands at someone else’s door? I am tempted, but I know that prayers don’t prevent tragedy; they hold you up as you pass through it. Sometimes.
Is it like stalking through a labyrinth, breathless yet deliberate, avoiding the snow-white minotaur? Maybe I am Theseus.
Was it ever so apparent that we need to have this reckoning?
Maybe I am Theseus. A living vocation, but also simply living with beckoning, and that is what it feels like. Its tenor and tone shift with the shadows of each…