“A mother’s job is never done. Even when her children grow up, their well-being comes first.”
As we celebrate Mothers’ Day, I am reminded of the truth of that old saying—and not in a good way. In fact, it’s sad for me to think that Black and Hispanic mothers still must worry about their children’s safety well into adulthood. But if events of the last thirty days have shown anything, it’s that for our young people even the most innocent situations can turn into ugly confrontations with the potential for a deadly outcome.
First in April, there was the story of the two black men who were arrested and escorted out of Starbucks in Philadelphia in handcuffs. Their crime: declining to order coffee while waiting patiently for their colleague to arrive.
Next, there was the story of three black teenagers who were shopping for prom clothes at a Nordstrom Rack store in Brentwood, Missouri when they noticed several employees were following them. “I was nervous the whole time,” said Mekhi Lee, one of the teenagers. “Every time we moved, they moved. When we looked up, they looked up.” While in the store, the teenagers said they were also harassed by an elderly white woman who allegedly called them “punks” and asked, “Are your parents proud of you for what you do?” After leaving the store the three boys were confronted by police in the parking lot who told them that store workers believed they were shoplifting. The teenagers were released after being interrogated and it was determined there had been no theft.
Soon after that, three black women in Rialto, California were leaving an Airbnb when they were swarmed by officers after a white woman who lived in the neighborhood called the police, thinking the women were burglars. Like the Nordstrom teenagers, the women let go only after a humiliating public interrogation.
And finally, last Tuesday, black Yale University student Lolade Siyonbola, who had fallen asleep in a dormitory commons area, was awakened by an angry student who told her she couldn’t sleep in the area. After a contentious exchange, the white student upped the ante by calling campus police.
“I deserve to be here. I pay tuition like everybody else,” an outraged Siyonbola told responding officers after they repeatedly asked her to hand over identification. “I’m not going to justify my existence here.”
But sadly, it seems we’re reverting to a time where black and brown people must do exactly just that. Increasingly, we must show our papers and justify our existence. All of which makes our jobs as mothers doubly hard. We encourage our children to reach for the stars. We want them to be fearless and feel like they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. We don’t raise them to be fearful and timid and allow others to trample over their rights. But at the same time, we know that anytime a black man or woman interacts with police, there’s a real potential for tragedy.
As our children grow and leave the nest, it would be nice to think that we could finally kick up our heels, relax and watch them prosper. But we know that is not the world in which we live. As mothers, we must constantly be vigilant. We must impart in our children a precious wisdom. That there is a time be fierce as warriors, but there is also a time to know when not to fight— to put the sword away and live and fight another day. As mothers, our work is never done.