You Can’t Understand The Pain of Black Mothers
You can try, but unless you yourself are a Black mother, you won’t and can’t understand the collective pain of Black mothers and the persistent fear that comes as its attendant. I can’t help you understand it. You may try to wrap your brain around it, and you should try to because to try is to bolster your own humanity, but no, it will remain elusive.
You can read a thousand books on the subject. You can pour over Beloved, Toni Morrison’s scorching, illuminating writing on this very topic, based on a real Black mother, Margaret Garner, who in this pain did the single most excruciating thing to protect her child from the harsh world and the realities of slavery. You can read it a million times. You could memorize every line in the movie and word in the book and while it may foment requisite anger in you, the intergenerational trauma that courses through the very veins of Black mothers, the knowingness around the socially assigned meaning of the immutable characteristics of our children and how they are still received in this world because we have felt it directed at our own beings will still be foreign to you.
Likewise, you can love The Color Purple. Your copy may be worn out and soft, with the pages loose. You may have seen it on Broadway 14 times. Perhaps it is your favorite movie. You can know and believe that Oprah Winfrey was robbed of the Oscar in her role as the troubled Sophia, but you don’t know Sophia’s pain the way we do. And we know we know it and we can’t explain it to you how we know it, but we know it. You have to trust us. Believe Black women.
You can’t watch all the videos of Black women being battered and abused by the police, by men, and by other women, that circulate on the internet to bolster social awareness, and more problematically as entertainment. You can replay the video of that woman in Fort Worth whose son was attacked by a man in their neighborhood for allegedly littering, and who tried to come to the defense of her small child, to stand for him, to seek answers from his assailant, and who was instead attacked herself by the police along with her teenage daughter, thrown to the ground and arrested the same way a Black mother who knows this metronomic pain does. You don’t understand the helplessness endemic in our plight of raising children in a country and a world so frequently indifferent to or intent on their demise and that doesn’t trust us to care for them or allow us to protect them fully.
You can read about every Black child that was ever murdered or abused because of their race. You can read about Emmett Till and the lie that cost him his life until you are blue in the face. You can look at the photograph of his bloated and broken body that his mother shared to hold a mirror up to the country, and see yourself, and you still won’t know the deep piece of Black mothers, even ones who can’t imagine the separate and distinct pain of losing a child in and of itself that I cannot fathom, that that pain touches. The pain of knowing that nothing that the child is alleged to have done or was proven to have not done or a million things worse could have ever justified the callousness with which his life was torn violently from the face of this earth.
You can’t compare any other suffering to the suffering of the knowingness that when our children die, even when they are women and men, that society doesn’t mourn them sufficiently. That Tamir Rice was murdered for playing with a toy gun in the country in the world that most fetishizes guns and markets them readily to children and that the man who killed him lost his job not for the killing of the innocent child, but for a tangential untruth on his job application might trouble you. That Aiyana Stanley-Jones was indefensibly shot and killed by a SWAT team while laying on her own couch with her grandmother might make you lose sleep, but you don’t feel these tragedies the ways we do in our bones and mortal fibers.
You could hear George Floyd call out for his mother and it could haunt you and shake you to the center of your being, but you don’t know the pain of our repeatedly seeing our nightmares realized. You don’t know the unwilling and self contradictory pain with which we must discuss these things with our children to prepare them for living, breathing, and existing. You don’t know the pain with which we must strip them of their innocence before time, because the fear that comes with the pain demands it and because the systematic and privatized anti-blackness that instills and precipitates the pain, persists.
If your children or prospective children or children of your friends and family are citizens of the United States, you don’t know the deceitful pain of knowing that if they and other children like them should have a right to their lives, clean water, education, better health outcomes, safe housing, security, access to wholesome food, and every other basic human right is of little to no consequence to their country, one of the most prosperous countries on the face of the earth by way of exploiting Black labor, because they were born Black, and as Baldwin said, “for no other reason.” Otherwise why wouldn’t they have always had or even now have uncomplicatedly clean water in Flint? It doesn’t make sense I’m sure to you either, but you don’t know the pain of it, the way we do or know the ironic guilt and simultaneous relief we feel when our children don’t suffer the slings of their Blackness in these ways.
You can’t understand the mortal fear that presents to the very moment of the birth of a child when we know that the fatal statistics say that the doctors do not believe us about our pain, and they don’t believe us about our children’s pain and sometimes this costs us and them our lives and their lives. Black mothers must arrive in the birthing room ready to hope that we won’t become a part of a trend that exists only because we are Black. That exercise is painful, perhaps more painful than bringing a child in to the world, a dull and cumbersome pain that we carry in silence.
I count my blessings, I mark my privileges, but I can’t see another Black mother unable to protect her child or defend her child or to prevent her child from meeting the fate assigned to too many Black children in this world, without seeing my own self. When I watched that video of that woman trying to protect her son, I involuntarily clutched the kitchen sink from the pain, the same way I did when I was in labor with my own child, and I cried the mournful tears of all Black mothers so that the pain can seep from my body enough that I can do something about.
I know my friends and neighbors will say, but not you, not here, surely not you and as well meaning as they are, it only amplifies the pain that no medication can soothe because I know that they say this only because they don’t understand the excruciating pain of a Black mother.