One day Black mothers will let you see our anger
Those who only know our suffering may not be ready for our rage
One day, a Black mother will stand before the media and an assembled crowd. She will be surrounded by friends and family, and attorney Benjamin Crump will have his palm of affirmation in the small of her back. She will step to the microphone, with tears in her eyes, and she will not call for patience and calm while we wait for justice.
She will stare into the cameras, and she will say instead:
The fire this time.
This is an image of a Black mother’s rage. Some of you, who thought we were only made of suffering, will swear you didn’t see it coming. The rest of us understand it is a miracle that our fury didn’t boil over long ago.
Julia Jackson, the mother of Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Wisconsin man shot at least seven times in the back in front of his children by Kenosha police responding to a domestic disturbance call, stepped before a phalanx of cameras Aug. 25 to call for healing after days of protests resulted in smashed windows, fires and clashes with police. The damage and destruction “doesn’t reflect my son, or my family,” said Jackson, grief-stricken but composed. She called on Black and brown people to “use our hearts, our love and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other.”
It is a noble, heartfelt, compassionate plea often echoed by Black mothers turned prayer warriors for their communities, and for the nation. These women historically have faced overwhelming odds, and used the high ground of their pain to call for justice. It reassures those who feel it is too transgressive to be Black and angry, so they call upon us to protest with a spirit of cooperation.
By now the rituals surrounding state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies are old and familiar. The police shoot or kill a Black person after an encounter, that, no matter the circumstances, everyone knows would begin and end differently if a white person were involved. This, by the way, is why there are no stories going back decades of anxious white parents having “the talk” with their adolescent children about how to survive a traffic stop, as there are with Black parents. Why humiliations at police hands, including all their laughing depredations must simply be borne because the goal, no matter how grievous your broken taillight, is to live to fight another day. That fact alone puts the lie to what America sells itself to be.
It means it never has been America to me.
In this ritual, Black people take to the streets to protest and some smaller number engage in destruction of property of a kind that is foundational to American history, like, the Boston Tea Party.
In the reaction to Blake’s case, that results in armed white people rolling into a city where they do not live with the stated aim of protecting property and supporting law enforcement, who vow to protect and serve, but seem, always, to end up shooting Black people.
These are the people who urge us to have faith in a system that continues to fail us. Who ask us to accept a standard they never would, with a grace they do not have. Who urge us to do nothing, nothing at all, at least nothing that would make them uncomfortable, while the police continue to kill us and our children.
I’m reminded of the screen saver on my phone a few years ago. It was an image of LeBron James wearing a T-shirt reading:
WE SIT DOWN,
WE SPEAK UP
As a Black mother, facing the nation and the simple truth that white people as a cohort have been serially unable to get a hold of themselves, I have come to understand that the social contract is broken. Do you remember the scene in The Matrix, when Neo becomes self-aware? To some of us, this moment feels like that. There are calls for peace issued in bad faith from politicians and police chiefs, and white people who carry long guns past officers who offer them bottled water, and a delusion of valor that we are uninterested in arguing with, because we can no longer hear them.
We are instead thinking of the fierce, nearly overwhelming love we feel for our children, and begging, dear God, let it end, let justice roll down and injustice be washed away. Let it burn.
I hope this dark premonition will never come to pass, chiefly because that means another Black body has fallen, and a Black mother is in pain. I do not actually think that it will because I know, just as white people know, that we are not like you, and we will not visit the hatred and violence and revenge upon you that you have done to us. But it is our job to see around corners, which is why we are often cast as saints and spiritualists in movies. As a Black mother, I am telling you, we are the last defense of America, and if you lose us, you lose the last, best hope for this nation.