Mama’s Boy: A Birthday letter to my black son

Mama’s Boy: A Birthday letter to my black son September 22, 2016



I hated missing you wake up on your first birthday in your forever home. You know how I love coming in your room, tickling your tummy, and giving you tiger kisses on special days. I would have loved to have seen your happy farmer dance or today’s birthday Beyonce Ballet. But in a sad way, I wonder if you are kinda glad that mommy is not home this morning.

It has been tough, hasn’t it buddy? Mom’s been intense, and she has been harsh. You don’t understand why she is ‘overreacting’ to your telling your teacher that you are bored. In your mind, such boredom is reasonable and justified. Yes, you are in the first grade, but you read on a 5th-grade level and write cursive better than most adults. So for your teacher to make you do ‘busy work” is in your words, “babyish.”

I know you don’t know why Mama is near tears when Daddy says just to let the natural consequences follow your actions. After all, he is right. If you don’t do the work, then you won’t get the grades, and you won’t get to do the things you like. Its what she tells her University students. But sweetie, what you and Daddy don’t understand is that that the consequences that apply to other little 7-year-old boys don’t always apply to you.

It doesn’t seem fair does it, that other little boys can pull pranks and act immature and everybody just chalks it up to growing pains? I know you wonder if their mothers nearly have a nervous breakdown every time they do something silly? Probably not. See son; the world will label them as mischievous and look at you and label you irredeemable.

I know you get frustrated when you are trying to talk to mommy, and she tells you that she is talking to Jesus. But son, sometimes it is those talks with Jesus that keeps me from falling apart. See while you are in the backseat contemplating your Paul Jacobs’ backpack or whether Batman could take on all of the Ninja Turtles, Mama is trying to make a deal with God.

See baby, Mama’s scared. No, I am petrified. I know you can’t hear them but Mama’s prayers, pleadings, and assorted vows sort of sound like this:

No, Lord, I will not be burying my son. No, I will not be talking to him through the glass. I will not let “The System” crush him and steal away from him the Divine calling you have placed in his spirit. No, Lord. I will not be making statements on CNN except for when he wins the Nobel Peace Prize or is recognized as the Provost at Duke University.
Silly, isn’t it? But sweetie, a lot of black mamas are saying the same prayer. That is because we know that things are changing and not for the good. It was always hard to raise black children. As a parent, you have to teach a kind of psychic toughness that other kids don’t have to negotiate. Two languages; two cultures; two of everything in hopes that this knowledge will not only allow you to get a good job but keep you safe. But 2016 is creating more fear than ever for mamas like me.

You see baby boy, most of us believed that if we lived in certain neighborhoods and made sure you were assimilated into the world of whiteness that you would be safe. Between immersion trips, nannies, Montessori, and extracurriculars, we wanted you to feel comfortable in this complex world known as American race relations. Somewhere deep down inside we knew that no amount of socio-economic class or networking would guarantee your safety but we hoped against hope that it would help.

But the truth of the matter is this what is cute at 7 will be criminal at 17. Those folks who coddle you now will sneer behind your back and talk about genetics and anger issues. The experience of President Obama, the son of an interracial marriage like you, only served to remind us that in the end no amount of education or accolade will ever make you immune to those who will always believe you are a threat to their civilized world. I know you say I should only read ‘happy news,’ but the comments by people made on a site called Breitbart, indicate that boys like you are a threat to the police and that you are an animal. They don’t care about your IQ, that you wrote your first symphony at 6, or that you can distinguish Handel from Bach—you are a black boy.

Mama is scared that the racism that was shamed into hiding when she was a girl is now back and giving well-funded press conferences. She is downright terrified that people that she knows and love can’t see the danger you are in EVEN if you do everything right. Mama never thought she would live to see a major presidential candidate, advocate IN PUBLIC that you should be stopped and frisked at will.

I am tired of being scared, but I know it will only get worse the older you get. When you learn to drive, I will need Xanax hourly until you get from place to place. Maybe I won’t even let you drive. I will just drive you everywhere you need to go.

Silly Mommy, you would scream. Yep, I am silly, but I am scared. See the list of black boys who didn’t come home is long. Even when they did everything right, they still didn’t come home. Their mamas had to go to the county to identify their bodies.
Baby boy, mama ain’t doing that. I can’t shed those kinds of tears. I won’t shed those tears. So here is the deal— I need you to adhere to the following rules until further notice or Jesus comes back:

No hoodies
No listening to loud music in a car with your friends

Don’t sell anything unless you work in a retail store
Don’t try to help a physically challenged child even if you are his caregiver, and you are laying on the ground with your hands up
Don’t carry a book
Don’t carry a gun
If a white girl is in an elevator just get off and let her have it to herself
If the police stop you-put your hands on your head and stand still. Don’t walk away. Don’t lean up against the car
Don’t walk in our neighborhood or any neighborhood at night and for Lord’s sake don’t put your hand in your pocket while you walk.
Don’t drive any car that is not in showroom quality-no busted tail lights, no potential for blowouts, or stalling.

Other than that baby boy…have a Happy 7th Birthday.

*not a picture of my son–public

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