I remember when the Blind Side first came out. Everyone was raving about what a great film it was. When I finally watched the film, I thought you did a wonderful job as Leigh Anne Touhy, but the film itself was just more of the same white savior propaganda. I realize it was “based” on a true story, but the fearless, loveable, rich white woman saving the poor black gentle giant from the streets made me cringe. The scene in which Touhy confronts the gangsters in the projects was so unrealistictly offensive that I laughed out loud shaking my head.
So when life imitated art a few months later and you adopted a beautiful black boy, I wondered if you saw yourself as his savior or his mother. Obviously, that question hasn’t been answered since I don’t know you intimately, but minimally, I’m glad your son has some of the opportunities your celebrity and wealth afford. I don’t doubt you love him, though, because five years is a long time to care for anybody without developing deep emotional attachments and feelings.
I read a quote about from you last week. Asked about the “peril that African-American men face in this country” as it relates to your baby, you talked about wanting him to be safe saying,
“I want my son to be safe. I want my son to be judged for the man he is. We are at a point now where if we don’t do something, we will have destroyed what so many amazing people have done. You look at women’s rights; it’s turning into a mad, mad world out there. But sometimes it needs to get really loud for people to say, ‘I can’t unsee this.’ If I could ride in a bubble with him for the rest of his life, I would. But I can’t.”
Sandra, as the black mother of a black boy only a couple of years older than your son, let me tell you that you don’t know the real fear of raising of a black boy. See, most black mothers of black boys don’t get to be in their fifth decade of life with a national platform before we understand the imminent threat our sons are always under. By the time most black women birth black sons, we’ve accepted that the fight for our black sons’ dignity and safety is neverending and unpredictable. We learn long before we’re old enough to drive that black boys are not children worthy of the freedom to make mistakes, the nurturing required to grow and the time required to support them. We cut our teeth in elementary school watching our black brothers and classmates body slammed and stepped on by cops who invade our communities like troops at D-Day. Believe me, you don’t know our kind of fear.
You do not know our fear until you have to walk your black son into a school where white teachers and administrators underestimate both you and him. Fear is worrying whether your son’s naturally inquisitive nature that causes him to question directions he does not understand will result in a white teacher, unprepared for a black boy who’s self-assured before he has his first chest hair, referring your baby for detention or suspension because he was being “defiant.” Fear is knowing that you cannot walk into the school with a professional demeanor and be treated with the dignity any parent deserves from school staff. Fear is knowing every time you’ll have to rage, write letters and call the school board to ensure the your son isn’t being funneled through the school-to-prison pipeline.
You do not know what fear for a black boy is until you’re pulled over with your black 12-year-old son in the car and the cops shine a flashlight in his face treating him with the aggression you’d expect they’d reserve for murderers. You don’t know fear until you have to go batshit crazy on those cops letting them know if they even dream about so much as asking your baby his name you’ll have their badges and pensions. You don’t know fear until you have to assure your terrified preteen everything will be fine when in reality the only protection you can offer him is your willingness to lay down your own life to keep him from harm.
You can’t comprehend a black mother’s fear for her black son. The deck is stacked for you about as favorably as possible. You’re not only a rich white woman, but one who’s attractive, likeable and charitable. Though your status won’t ever fully extend to Louis, if ever and whenever you show up to a scene because your baby has been unfairly detained, harassed and rousted, the cops will immediately switch gears and do whatever they can to calm you and assure you they’ll make it right. School administrators won’t make negative assumptions about your education and finances, speaking to you condescendingly about your child. They’ll be certain that Louis is different from other black boys because he’s blessed to call such a wonderful white woman his mother.
You do not know this kind of fear. What you’re grappling with now is the reality that there are some things even your money, power and whiteness can’t secure. You’re recognizing that loving that little black boy and wanting to save him are not enough. You’re seeing that the status you enjoy as a rich, famous white woman is only shared with your black son pro-rata at best. You’re realizing that he’ll wear that beautiful brown skin wherever he goes with or without you, and that any protection you can give him will never be comparable to that which sharing your complexion would.
And you can at least dream of a bubble that would protect him from danger because your fear is manifested solely from proximity. You avoided the realities of what black boys and men face in this country for more than 40 years. Your awakening now is only because it’s become personal. Black women never get the luxury of sticking our fingers in our ears and covering our eyes pretending what we’re seeing isn’t there. We have to live this. We must confront our fear. We have to shatter our sons’ innocence before they need deodorant, sitting them down to have the soul-crushing conversations about what it means to be a black boy in America. We don’t have our whiteness as a shield, real or perceived. We must face head on our fear that our sons will be sooner fitted for caskets than prom tuxes.
We know the climate in this country is not getting worse because it’s always been incomprehensible. We’ve known that our boys were prey since we carried them through darks woods and muddy swamps to freedom. George Stinney was ours. Emmet Till was ours. Fred Hampton was ours. Yusef Hawkins was ours. Trayvon Martin was ours. Jordan Davis was ours. Tamir was ours. We’ve been praying for, shielding, hiding and mourning our black sons for centuries. We’ve been crying out for relief and humanity. We’ve been telling the press that our boys are under attack.
But we were told we were just fear mongering. We were accused of playing the victim. We were told to make our sons pull up their pants and be respectable. We were dismissed, ignored and ridiculed. Yet, your concerns are amplified enough to earn a headline. You’re championed as brave and heroic for voicing your fear.
Believe me when I tell you, you will never know our fear. I don’t question that you fear for Louis because all mothers fear sending their children out to face the world, but real as your fear may be, you do not know fear like ours. Yours is controlled and compacted. It gnaws and nags. You did not bring it home as soon as you adopted Louis. It was built and groomed by social media hashtags and murder porn.
But our fear is layered and impenetrable, tattooed fromcenturies of oppression. It’s volcanic and splattered. It consumes and devours. It was watered and matured before we ever became mothers of black boys.
You may fear for Louis, but you do not know the fear of a black mother for her black son.
This article was republished on For Harriet.