Treasured sons

PJ's preschool picIs lament possible without identification? We white mothers must come to the point of understanding that we cannot say, “This could happen to my son—for no good reason—through no fault of his own—through no action of his own,” and really mean it, BUT nearly every African American mother CAN, and with these words a little surge of real terror spikes in her heart.

That is an example of white privilege.

I know it is, because as a white mother of a black son, I have a hard time really believing those words. Though I know my son’s risk factors are high (he is black, very dark-skinned in fact, and he has pronounced ADHD and high impulsivity), I don’t have the history that makes his danger REAL to me. I don’t have the from-birth distrust of a system, of a majority group that sees me as inferior (though they don’t come right out and say so). My skin doesn’t ripple with a subtle prickle of fear when I see a man in uniform. Even though I am truly “in the shoes” of other African American mothers, my white privilege keeps them loose in the day-to-day. They’re not pinching my every step.

I remember, several years ago, driving through rural Indiana with a Latina friend. As we approached one city-limits sign, I remarked, off-hand, casual, “This is a pretty town, but it was a KKK hotbed until just a few years ago. It’s more hidden now, but it’s still here.”

Her response was immediate, and it wasn’t just emotional. Her breathing quickened; her face went pale, and she was unable to relax until we were miles into the country on the other side. I couldn’t identify, but I “got it.” She’s experienced “difference” her entire life. And I, except for when travelling in Africa (and the “difference” I experienced there brought, for the most part, privilege), have not.

This morning I woke early. We are preparing for a move to one of those very neighborhoods where the other mothers in it live everyday with this fear for their children, where I, too, will experience it more, simply because of location. Because of this upcoming move, our house looks like a picked-over junk shop. It is at the stage when everything formerly “in”—cupboards, closets, drawers—is out, and all knickknacks are off shelves and ledges, revealing hidden dust.

Late last night I moved the verse plaque from the windowsill above my kitchen sink. Behind the plaque I found a picture of my black son taken several years ago when he was in preschool. At some point I’d tucked it behind the plaque and forgotten about it.

This morning, up before anyone else, I read updates on the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I cried. I prayed. Then I went to the sink to fix myself some tea. And there was the smiling face of my beautiful son, like a treasured photo of a lost loved one, placed in a spot where one sees it several times a day.

And for one moment, the shoes tightened, hard, and I remembered the words I’d read just a few minutes earlier in one of the news reports. Philando Castile’s mother, speaking to a group of African Americans mourning the death of her child, told them, “This could be your son.”

If one is truly to grieve, lament, repent, this is what we must understand.

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10 thoughts on “Treasured sons

  1. Read your delightful poem on dine and rhyme … that lead me here. Your words are powerful and sadly this racist attitude exists in every country, just that some suffer more than others.
    I am about to start a discussion on not just accepting diversity but actively supporting it – until we do this then these kind of mindless killings can continue. It’s about educating everyone to support diversity and marginalise those that don’t!

    • (I thought I responded to you, but my response isn’t showing up in my comment feed, so I thought I’d try again. If you already got it, sorry for the repetition.)
      Thank you so much, calmkate! I like the differentiation you made between “accepting diversity” and “actively supporting it.” That’s a very important difference.

  2. Jen, as I read the article in the paper about Chicago having the highest number of deaths over the 4th of July weekend, my heart was gripped with fear for all of you. Then I remembered how you and Dave about the path God led you to your decision. I know you are following God. The Holy Spirit reminded me that this is what trusting in God’s Sovereignty. Trusting won’t take away the risk but it will enable us to have His peace. I have no doubt I will waffle back and forth between trust and fear, but I know who has you all in His Hands and I fully trust Jesus. It does sadden me to think of the higher risk our sweet Patrick has… I am so proud of you and Dave. Continuing in prayer as you follow our Lord, Jesus Christ. I love you all!

    • This was so encouraging to read, Mom. Thank you so very much! We’ve had such a “strange” feeling of peace on this journey, and that has been bolstered by your prayers. We are so grateful to know that you both continually pray for all of us. Love you so much!

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