Two mothers share their perspectives on privilege, racism and fear.
April 10, 1996 ties us together and reminds us of our difference.
We met about three years ago. One of us is a PhD student and one a professor. We quickly noticed we had a lot in common and our desire to become friends was mutual. We were both first generation college students, non-traditionally aged PhD students (tackling this in midlife is/was not easy). We are both divorced, raised our children largely alone, and at times navigate the academy proudly and like working class women. We rejoice in our common public health interests, grounded in social justice and health equity, and we are thrilled to work together on related projects when we can. Our sisterhood was sealed when we realized our sons were born on the exact same day, April 10th, 1996. We often joke that our connection is due to experiencing the pain and joy of childbirth at the same moment in time. Our screams and cries might have crossed paths that day somewhere, somehow. Yet, today, when neither of us expected it, we are connecting on an even deeper level defined by another moment of motherhood and pain.
We write today, about the world being on fire, about racism and about “the talk” that only one of us had to have with her children. You see, this is where we differ, one of us is a black woman and one of us is not.
When one of our sons goes for a run, one of us need only to remind them to wear a mask and take off their headphones, “Watch out for traffic”, “Watch out for COVID”. That is all but it is a lot, traffic and COVID. However, when one of our sons steps out of the door, one of us must also consider that his skin color and socially assigned race means he may be a target of discrimination anywhere he goes. “Watch out for the police”, “Watch your back”, “Remember what I taught you” are the reminders given in motherly love.
We reflected on motherhood, the hopes, dreams and fears we have for our children, especially our sons. We reflected on the sirens we both hear from different ends of our city. We acknowledged that one of us has the privilege to change the channel and look away from what does not threaten us “directly”. And yet, for one of us, privilege is delegitimized, such that turning away is not an option. Doing so heightens the risk of exposure of her family to harm, brutality, and even death.
Motherhood is never easy but in comparison, overseeing the daily survival of children from racism in America is a burden one of us has never had to bear. Motherhood for one of us is scarred by a worst fear coming dangerously close to reality– the memory of our beautiful baby boy turned young man in handcuffs or dead at the hands of the police.
On April 10, 1996 two amazing young men were born, statistically speaking, one will live longer, earn more, have uninterrupted access to quality healthcare, is less likely to be arrested, and of course is far less likely to spend time in jail because of the color of their skin and that is it. The color of their skin. All mothers should be outraged, marching, crying, feeling the burn and pain every time a mother loses a son to racism and all its related fallout. None of us should be able to feel safe, free, at peace while others are in fear.
We question, why is the socially assigned race of our privileged son the basis for the covert justification of weaponizing it against our other son? Why would any mother allow it to continue unchallenged? Perhaps, in another 25 years, we will sit down and write something else together that reflects on the joy of having long answered some of these public health questions and as scholars, friends and mothers full of love for our boys, for all boys, for all children, and grandchildren we will celebrate years of justice and peace.
Racism is a public health crisis.