I Can’t Breathe

I didn’t watch the video. I couldn’t.

I saw the picture and read the story. Violence against black people in America is nothing new to me. I’m sad to say it doesn’t even shock me.

My last year in high school in Texas a black boy was tied to the back of a pick up truck and dragged to death by a group of white boys. There wasn’t twitter and Facebook then to push the story beyond a brief mention in the news for about a week.

I know some of the names, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Delrawn Small. The gram doesn’t let you forget.

There was something about the George Floyd murder that caught my attention. It hurt a different way. It was in broad daylight on a busy street. It was over a counterfeit $20 bill. Even if he was guilty, the penalty for that crime is not death. The officers looked so calm. I didn’t see the tension, struggle and threat of violence that the movies portray to justify the police killing the ‘bad guy’.

For at least 3 days straight I could think of nothing else. I had to pray for the image to leave my mind. I kept thinking black men are being hunted and killed. I am a mother to 2 beautiful boys that will grow up to be black men. In moments alone, I found myself crying and fearful for my sons.

Last summer I had an experience that really showed me how close I was to the realities of those considered far from me.

Since 1999, Atlanta has been a second home to me. We have spent at least a month in Atlanta every year over the summer. As a Spelmanite, I had already started preparing my husband for the boys to do at least a year at Morehouse if they decided to go else where for university.

Last summer after an awesome vacation in Atlanta, Henry and I flew back to London. As we stood in line at Heathrow Airport, there was a lady in front of me with two children. One was about 9 and the other at least 5. The five year old was mucking about, lying on the floor, playing with the ropes, doing what little children whose parents don’t mind do. Henry and I were standing together, at times chatting, at times people watching.

I guess Henry was getting tired of standing in line. In the past I’ve always carried him when he got tired of standing, but at 5 months pregnant with my father’s voice ringing in my ear “don’t carry him, don’t carry the suitcases, don’t carry anything”, the best I could be was a support for him to lean on.

As the line moved, the little boy in front of us created a bigger and bigger gap between himself and his mum. At some point, Henry caught his eye. Without saying a word, Henry holding the boys gaze, pointed at the little boy’s mother. This little boy freaked out. “Get away from me!!! Don’t touch me!!!! It’s him!!!” The boy ran up to his mum screaming and crying. He was having a proper melt down. His mum asked him what the matter was and the little boy frantically pointed at Henry. His mum looked at me and smiled. His older brother rolled his eyes and said he didn’t touch you. I subtly but deliberately held my son close to my side.

I am a great believer in personal space so we were at any given time at least a meter from the little boy before the incident. After the incident, I dropped back another 3 feet. I kept thinking what if I wasn’t here. My siblings and I started travelling alone from about the age of 7 (back then times were different… I guess…), I wondered, what if this had happened 10 years from now. If Henry is like his dad, Uncle C or my grandad, he will be very tall with broad, rugby player shoulders. If he is like his dad, my dad or his Uncle C, he will be more passive than Ghandi. In this climate where black men are seen as predators before even being considered human beings what would have happened to my baby. I tried to engage him and distract him for the frantic child. My baby seemed completely unmoved by the incident. When we got home, I casually asked him what he though of the incident. His dad was on the phone so he said to us “the boy was being naughty… and daddy he was white”. I’ve never discussed race with my child, but somehow he had registered the child’s race as a part of the incident.

I didn’t mention that the child in question was blonde with blue eyes because it didn’t matter to me. What concerned me was that a white child bigger than my son, was clearly intimidated by my child and falsely accused him of violence when nothing but a stare down had taken place. I kept thinking if he was older and that incident had occurred, would observers speak up for the innocent black boy or stand in silence as another white child lied against him. If the authorities got involved would they investigate properly or just take the word of the white liar.

I talked to my mum about the incident when it occurred, and she said I should not live in fear but instead keep praying for my children. She said Henry keeping his composure the way he did, showed a strength of character that should be a comfort and reassure me.

I don’t know what else to do, so every time I think about it, I say a little prayer and ask God to remember His sons and keep them from wickedness.

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