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Jamila Perritt's picture

Last week, a man was murdered. He was murdered by the State, by those whose job it is to “protect and serve.” He was murdered because they suspected him of something. Anything. Everything.

I watched that video play again and again. In it, I saw someone’s child, one who could have been my own. This is one of many videos we have seen in the last weeks, months, years. We hear their names. We tell their stories. We march, we rally, we rage. These stories are familiar. Today my heart could not hold the story of this life lost. Taken. Today sitting on this call, it bubbled up and boiled over.

And so, today I can’t talk about the things we discuss on these work calls. I won’t discuss your newfound love of baking or online yoga classes while quarantined. I can’t talk about your post quarantine travel plans to far away beaches. I won’t listen to stories about how overwhelming it is teleworking from the safety of your home office. I, too, am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a mother to a Black son. I am overwhelmed at being charged with teaching and loving and protecting a child whose very existence is seen as a threat. My child, whose confidence is seen as arrogance, whose curiosity is called defiance, whose behavior is criminalized by the time he enters pre-school. This brilliant, energetic, engaging, amazing, child who I love fiercely and for whom I am terrified will be taken from me by a world who cannot see what I see in him. Taken by a world who only sees the Blackness of his skin and calls it a weapon.

As we sit on this Zoom call, I see you shifting awkwardly in your seat. I can feel the energy shift as well. The lightness in the conversation is gone. It is replaced by unease. I have made you uncomfortable. I can see this and I don’t care. I can no longer afford to center you and your feelings. Not anymore. I won’t let you slip back into the comfort of your historical privilege. It is a privilege not to have to have this conversation, not to see your child’s face in these videos. But that privilege comes with a cost. The cost is to my son and the sons and daughters of those who look like mine.

And so, I can no longer afford the luxury of being selective about with whom I share my fear, my pain, my rage.

These conversations have been happening in our own communities for many years. Black parents sitting in living rooms and coffee shops, in church pews and at happy hours, talking about the worry we carry for our children. We tell our children:

Don’t run down the street.

Don’t walk or stand in large groups.

Don’t play your music too loudly.

No toy guns.

No hoodies, no hats, no dark glasses.

We teach our children to control and repress their childhood impulses, knowing it could mean the difference between them making it home for dinner or not. We hope that this offers protection, albeit imperfect, against the State sanctioned violence in our communities against our children. 

You ask how I balance the reality of his existence in the world with helping him hold on to his sense of innocence. I explain that, for my son, innocence is something that the world never allowed him to have and to hold in the first place. Black children are not given the benefit of the doubt. And so, as my son grows, I watch him trade his innocence for a realistic understanding of his place in the world. I feel the loss in my heart. Each time I see these images, read these stories, I feel this loss in a physical way and it is replaced by fear. Fear because I know I cannot be with him every moment of every day, to stand beside, behind, and in front of him. I know that I cannot protect him in the ways he needs from a world that refuses to acknowledge his humanity, and so I am counting on you. I am counting on you to also have this conversation with your son. 

To help him understand his place in this world and what privileges his whiteness brings.

To teach your child to use his privilege to question and call out bias when he sees it.

To reject the dominant and pervasive narrative that equates my child’s Blackness with violence, criminality and aggression.

It is not enough for Black families to discuss race and racism. White families must discuss it in their homes and communities as well. Challenge your friends and family to dig deeper, look closer, examine your own knowledge and biases. March, rally, rage with us. Feel the pain of the loss of every child, even if that child does not look like your own.

Last week, another man was murdered by the State. His name was George Floyd and so today, we are here, on our Zoom work call talking about race.



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