This one was shot in his grandmother’s yard. This one was carrying a bag of Skittles. This one was playing with a toy gun in front of a gazebo. Black girl in bright bikini. Black boy holding cell phone. This one danced like a marionette as he was shot down in a Chicago intersection. The words, the names: Trayvon, Laquan, bikini, gazebo, loosies, Skittles, two seconds, I can’t breathe, traffic stop, dashboard cam, sixteen times. His dead body lay in the street in the August heat for four hours.
He was jogging, was hunted down, cornered by a pickup truck, and shot three times. One of the men who murdered him leaned over his dead body and was heard to say, “Fucking nigger.”
I can’t breathe, again. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds of a knee and full weight on his neck. “I can’t breathe” and, then, “Mama!” George Floyd体育投注平台 cried. George Floyd cried, “Mama . . . I’m through!”
His mother had been dead for two years when George Floyd called out for her as he was being lynched. Lynching is defined as a killing committed by a mob. I call the four police officers who arrested him a mob.
The kids got shot and the grownups got shot. Which is to say, the kids watched their peers shot down and their parents’ generation get gunned down and beat down and terrorized as well. The agglomerating spectacle continues. Here are a few we know less well: Danny Ray Thomas. Johnnie Jermaine Rush. Nania Cain. Dejuan Hall. Atatiana Jefferson. Demetrius Bryan Hollins. Jacqueline Craig and her children. And then the iconic: Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile.
Sandra Bland filmed the prelude to her death. The policeman thrust a stun gun in her face and said, “I will light you up.”
I call the young people who grew up in the past twenty-five years the Trayvon Generation. They always knew these stories. These stories formed their world view. These stories helped instruct young African-Americans about their embodiment and their vulnerability. The stories were primers in fear and futility. The stories were the ground soil of their rage. These stories instructed them that anti-black hatred and violence were never far.
体育投注平台They watched these violations up close and on their cell phones, so many times over. They watched them in near-real time. They watched them crisscrossed and concentrated. They watched them on the school bus. They watched them under the covers at night. They watched them often outside of the presence of adults who loved them and were charged with keeping them safe in body and soul.
This is the generation of my sons, now twenty-two and twenty years old, and their friends who are also children to me, and the university students I have taught and mentored and loved. And this is also the generation of Darnella Frazier, the seventeen-year-old Minneapolis girl who came upon George Floyd’s murder in progress while on an everyday run to the corner store on May 25th, filmed it on her phone, and posted it to her Facebook page at 1:46 A.M., with the caption “They killed him right in front of cup foods over south on 38th and Chicago!! No type of sympathy </3 </3 #POLICEBRUTALITY.” When insideMPD.com (in an article that is no longer up) wrote, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” Frazier posted at 3:10 A.M.体育投注平台, “Medical incident??? Watch outtt they killed him and the proof is clearlyyyy there!!”
体育投注平台Darnella Frazier, seventeen years old, witnessing a murder in close proximity, making a record that would have worldwide impact, returned the following day to the scene of the crime. She possessed the language to say, precisely, through tears, “It’s so traumatizing.”
In Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” which is set across the bleak black stretch of Ohio after the First World War, the character Hannah plaintively asks her mother, Eva Peace, “Mamma, did you ever love us?” To paraphrase Eva Peace’s reply: Love you? Love you? I kept you alive.
I believed I could keep my sons alive by loving them, believed in the magical powers of complete adoration and a love ethic that would permeate their lives. My love was armor when they were small. My love was armor when their father died of a heart attack when they were twelve and thirteen. “They think black men only die when they get shot,” my older son said in the aftermath. My love was armor when that same year our community’s block watch sent e-mails warning residents about “two black kids on bikes” and praising neighbors who had called the police on them. My love for my children said, Move. My love said, Follow your sons, when they ran into the dark streets of New York to join protesters after Eric Garner’s killer was acquitted. When my sons were in high school and pictures of Philando Castile were on the front page of the Times体育投注平台, I wanted to burn all the newspapers so they would not see the gun coming in the window, the blood on Castile’s T-shirt, the terror in his partner’s face, and the eyes of his witnessing baby girl. But I was too late, too late generationally, because they were not looking at the newspaper; they were looking at their phones, where the image was a house of mirrors straight to Hell.
My love was both rational and fantastical. Can I protect my sons from being demonized? Can I keep them from moving free? But they must be able to move as free as wind! If I listen to their fears, will I comfort them? If I share my fears, will I frighten them? Will racism and fear disable them? If we ignore it all, will it go away? Will dealing with race fill their minds like stones and block them from thinking of a million other things? Let’s be clear about what motherhood is. A being comes onto this earth and you are charged with keeping it alive. It dies if you do not tend it. It is as simple as that. No matter how intellectual and multicolored motherhood becomes as children grow older, the part that says My purpose on earth is to keep you alive has never totally dissipated. Magical thinking on all sides.
I want my children—all of them—to thrive, to be fully alive. How do we measure what that means? What does it mean for our young people to be “black alive and looking back at you,” as June Jordan puts it in her poem “Who Look at Me”? How to access the sources of strength that transcend this American nightmare of racism and racist violence? What does it mean to be a lucky mother, when so many of my sisters have had their children taken from them by this hatred? The painter Titus Kaphar’s recent Time magazine cover portrays a black mother cradling what should be her child across the middle of her body, but the child is literally cut out of the canvas and cut out of the mother, leaving a gaping wound for an unending grief that has made a sisterhood of countless black women for generations.