Unfortunately, the stories of unarmed Black people being killed for no reason at the hands of others seems to be late night news content. It is no longer shocking news; it feels so commonplace. During the month of May, Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the various parts of the world. I wanted to highlight my fears of mothering a black son.
Young kids are typically described as “innocent and angelic.” I feel like this is true but only for a certain segment of the population. Although my son is only three years old, some people have mistaken him for being a lot older than what he is. Maybe it’s because of his height, lanky extremities and curiosity to learn about his environment through touch. He has been in speech therapy for the last year due to having speech delay and although he has improved, I’m still deeply nervous his lack of communication will be mistaken for defiance as he gets older and bigger.
By all accounts, my son is a sweet boy. He loves his parents and his younger sister. He often gives us the sweetest kisses and hugs to show his affection. Although he is not able to say “I love you” quite yet, he shows us time and time again. When he meets new people, he explores their personality though touching their faces, ears, and yes sometimes even by rubbing their legs. This might be just innocent child’s play, indicative of a deeper issue, or maybe perceived as a threat to some people. This worries me.
My eight year old nephew had already been accused of predatory sexual behavior by the time he was five years old. He was with my sister-in-law in the local YMCA after swim practice when a senior citizen questioned his age and how she felt uncomfortable to change in the same environment as him. Many black mothers in my family share the same pain of their kids being seen as older and more threatening.
I often wonder if my son’s communication skills do not improve as he ages, will his tender gazes and pats on the back be interpreted as threats that give someone the justifiable right to take his life? I’ve even toyed with the idea of asking his medical providers to document my fear that his being may get him hurt or killed one day God forbid.
It’s sad that during every therapy session instead of being fully present, my mind drifts off into the future. What if this is the ceiling for him? How will he be perceived by people that do not realize his special needs? I hope he doesn’t grow too tall. How will I protect him? What are best practices to make him less threatening?
My sister suggests no matter my son’s developmental outcome, make sure your neighbors know him. Make sure they are aware of his humanity, his hopes, dreams and aspirations. Ensure that local law enforcement agencies know him on a first name basis as well as his life aspirations. These tactics aren’t guaranteed to keep him safe but it is now a part of my parenting strategy.
I wish we all lived in a world in which parents did not have to have strategies in place to protect their kids from other people’s wild imaginations. Black mothers need more allies in the fight to protect the wellbeing of our children. We appreciate prayers, thoughts, night vigils but we NEED political protection under the law. We need our colleagues and peers to be actively engaged and visible in the fight against abuse of black boys and men. Who is with me?
Sign up at www.afrinanny.com if you are interested in receiving culturally curated childcare or need a childcare job that welcomes your uniqueness. Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika is Founder and CEO of Afrinanny. She is a Doctorate Prepared Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner practicing in Texas.