Friday, July 27, 2012

Black Women’s Public Cries: Mothering, Death and Activism

Trayvon Martin
I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down to write this piece; each time I walk away thinking I’m not ready for this. The pain I feel about the loss of our children leaves me with such grief that I literally become immobile. After the recent shootings in Aurora, CO I thought about dusting this piece off—I wrote this piece on Mother’s day 2012. However, I was still crippled. It’s taken me a few days to comprehend the depth of my feelings. I realized that I was mourning. I was mourning in a way that I’ve never mourned. It seems that every since the brutal killing of Trayvon Martin, I’ve been in mourning for the children of my community.

Trayvon Martin’s murder touched me in a way that I can’t always explain. It is only upon reflecting on my feelings with an older, and much wiser, woman was I able to name the fact that I was in mourning for this child. A child I never met. Yes, I was compelled by the nature of his death. But for me it was something much deeper. It was as though I had lost my child.

As the weeks progressed and we learned more about Martin’s murder, I made a conscious decision not to listen to any of the rhetoric of the case. Although I made this decision, I continued to think about this “case”. Particularly, I kept thinking, If this were my child, how would I respond? Would I become an activist and mourn publicly, or would I mourn only in private? Then I started thinking of all of those Black women who lost their children to colonialism, the institution of slavery, and the institutionalization of racism and its correlate poverty. Then I stopped and asked myself, what would society look like if all these Black mothers choose to challenge the systems that robbed them of their children? Also, what would society look like if all of us who “other-mother”, as I found myself doing for Trayvon Martin, also publicly cried out?

 What would a global social movement, in protest against the brutal and senseless killing of our children, look like?

There is no way for me to chart the loss, broadly defined, of our children at both the national and global levels. But consider the following:
  • In 2008, Blacks, [in the U.S] constituted 17 percent of the youth population (10-17). They constituted:
o   31 percent of all juvenile arrests.
o   26 percent of all juvenile arrests for drug abuse violations.
o   52 percent of all juvenile arrests for violent offenses.
o   58 percent of all juveniles sent to adult prisons. 
  • African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications [ColorLines] investigated. The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population. 
    The U.N.  32 children under 10 among the dead in Syria
  •   More than 400 children in Syria have been killed since the start of the uprising last March, according to human rights activists.  .
  •   In 2008, 65,646 children age 0-9 died of AIDS in South Africa
In his speech to the National Urban League, President Obama stated, "Every day and a half the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater" in Aurora, Colorado. Our children are dying!

These are somebody’s children. They have been removed from our communities as a result of structural violence—poverty, lack of health care, lack of education, and racism. We will probably never see the faces of their mothers. We’ll probably never see their tears. Many of them will remain nameless and unknown to us. Hopefully they will be comforted by a loved one. Hopefully, some stranger will walk by and bless them with a smile. 

Over time, many of us will forget their stories. As the media spotlight another story, the cries of these mothers will move to the recesses of our minds. We’ll move on to worry about what’s for dinner, how to make the next car payment, and the everyday challenges we face. Sometimes the tragedy is just too much for us to bear and we need a reprieve—we need to avert our eyes. We leave these mothers to mourn on their own. But, what if there is an alternative? What if we turn our grief into action?
Mamie Till Bradley, Emett Till's mother, crying over Emett's coffin
 What if we moved the conversation away from gun access (a valuable and much needed dialogue) to include poverty and other forms of oppressive structures? How might this help to form a movement that’s inclusive of mothers and other-mothers? We cannot turn our heads in the face of such violence. We need to (re)claim our communities. We cannot sit back and wait for others to come in and do it for us. They will fill our ears with rhetoric and no action. Our fore-mothers, such as Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, provide us with a platform to build a movement. We need to write, we need to sing, sing like Nina Simone so that the world can hear our pain, we need to influence and make policies—in both the public and private sectors, we need to occupy the streets. We need to throw open our coffins and show the world the brutality our children suffered. We need our version of MADD. We need a mother’s day to honor these women. Such a day is needed to let them know that we recognize their pain. We need a social movement—one that addresses the multiple causes that encourage and perpetuate the deaths of our children. Let's turn our grief into activism.

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