The Real-Life Trauma of Mothers in the Black Community
When we leave a protest we can lie down our signs, but not our anguish and fear.
When the marches end and mothers outside the Black community take their signs and go home, they can “turn off” and disconnect from the struggle. The comfort of a warm shower can wash away the dirt and germs encountered during their interactions with the elements. And as they kiss their children goodnight, they can sleep soundly knowing if they become too tired of the fight, they have the choice to simply never return.
Unfortunately, the story is a much different one for Black mothers in this country. When the street march is over, the real struggle is just beginning.
We return home to our children and after a warm shower, we sit them down and remind them that we are advocating for their freedom, their equality, and their safety. Instead of resting in the security of being able to “flip the switch” when the going gets tough, we rest up, plan and pray for the strength and fortitude to continue the constant fight for the innocent lives we brought into this world.
Are we tired?
Are we afraid?
Do we wish we had an escape from the reality of worrying if our child will be the next hashtag?
But we live in a world where unfortunately we are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to concern for our trauma and emotional well-being.
Every time there is a headline of a Black man or woman murdered at the hands of the police, there is a mother whose life will never be the same.
We see her grief only momentarily, as reporters thrust microphones and cameras in her face for a comment. She courageously musters the strength to make a statement and then retreats to privacy to be comforted by her family, knowing that no amount of support will ever bring her baby back.
The rest of the mothers in the Black community feel her pain, though naturally on a much different level. We mourn and empathize with her and we march to end the brutality and senseless murders. But the nagging reminder of our inability to completely protect our own children from suffering the same fate causes a deep-seated trauma that feels like a gaping hole in our hearts, every single day.
We go to work to earn a living, but a call or text to our children that isn’t returned or comes much later than we expected can cause our entire day to be turned upside down. And if this lack of communication happens at night, it can lead to even more worrisome thoughts: Did he get pulled over for a traffic violation? Was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did they mistakenly drive through the wrong neighborhood? If they did get pulled over, did they remember everything I taught them about complying? Were they given the chance to do so?
I recently had a talk with one of my friends who’s White about being a Black mother during the racially charged climate in this country. Our sons are both 28-years-old and she confessed she was speechless when I shared the kind of conversations I’ve had with my son since he was in grade school, particularly my warnings about the police.
She told me she had always taught her son to seek out the police when he was in trouble and that it broke her heart to hear that I had to tell mine to call them as a last resort, and preferably not at all if I was available to help. As we continued to talk, I couldn’t help but feel wistful of the freedom she was afforded by her Whiteness. Naturally, all mothers worry about their children, but when it comes to Black and White mothers, there is a stark difference in the reasons.
To say that it’s difficult raising children in a country that has dehumanized Black people, particularly Black men, is a complete understatement. No mother should have to live with that type of fear on a daily basis, and no child should have to be disillusioned about their safety before they are equipped to take care of themselves.
The stress that this places on Black mothers often shows up on our faces, in our actions, and through the tone of our voices. But instead of a national conversation about the trauma we inherit from raising children in an environment that has been designed for their failure and demise, Black women are labeled as “angry” or as “attitude problems” by society.
We are the stark contrasts to our smiling, happy-go-lucky, and amicable White counterparts but this is by design, not by our choice. Our struggle is not on their shoulders, and our journeys represent a different set of circumstances.
While this is not to say White women don’t experience pain or adversity, the fact is they will always have the protection of society (and sometimes the protection of men from our own communities) when things become difficult.
History has proven this time and again, with one such example from a study conducted by Northwestern Law on missing White woman syndrome. While thousands of both Black and White women and girls go missing each year in the U.S. there are documented disparities between the amount of media attention each group receives. While the world may be able to immediately recognize Laci Peterson or Elizabeth Smart, chances are they may have never heard of Alexis Patterson, the 7-year-old Black girl who went missing on May 3, 2002, a month before Elizabeth Smart’s disappearance and six months before Laci Peterson. She has never been found and has received very minimal media coverage for her disappearance.
Black women have had a front-row seat to the disparity of our treatment in comparison to White women. This adds yet another layer to our trauma as we struggle to love ourselves in the face of a world that repeatedly forces us to question our worth.
The world is currently engaged in an extraordinary conversation surrounding the discrimination and systemic racism that Black people have faced in America for the past 400 years. George Floyd, a Black man who was viciously murdered by a policeman, has sparked a movement and resurgence to combat the police brutality suffered by Black men around the nation. And though Black women have joined the conversation and marched to help keep the attention on race-related issues, we are still worried about our children without pause.
We still fear that one day we might receive a horrific call that something has gone wrong while we are about the business of living our lives. We still feel that catch in our throats when the call or text is not immediately returned when we are out in the streets fighting for their safety. We still wonder why our children are often hunted down as prey simply for the color of their skin.
And we still wake up each day and go to sleep each night with the prayer that our child will not meet the wrong police officer who sees them as animals instead of precious, valuable, and worthy human beings whose lives MATTER.