I spent the better part of 2017 pregnant with my now 1-year-old daughter. Having had my son more than nine years earlier, I learned quickly that pregnancy at 25 and pregnancy at 35 are two very different experiences. The morning sickness and unrelenting fatigue I bragged about dodging while pregnant with my son almost ten years and many pounds prior apparently did not take kindly to my boasting and decided to make their presence known.
Most mornings, I was barely able to get out of the bed. My husband, who works nights and usually sleeps until at least 4 PM, covered my usual tasks, stepping in to take my son to school everyday. By the end of the year, I was 8 months pregnant and though the fatigue and morning sickness had subsided, I had stopped driving all together, so the responsibility for getting my son to and from school was all on my husband.
That took a toll on him, while having a mother who went from the fun one who did everything with him to basically a human sloth sleeping 16 hours a day took its toll on my son. A few days, my son asked to stay home and spend time with me. Since my husband was happy to get six or more uninterrupted hours of rest, he did not argue with me when I agreed to let my son stay hone, and so my son had racked up four unexcused absences by January when I had the baby.
After I delivered and while I was still adjusting to having a newborn again, my son came home with a letter from the school alerting me that he had reached four unexcused absences. The letter went on to request a meeting with me to discuss whatever issues may have been causing these absences, and to figure out whatever solutions to ensure that my son’s unexcused absences did not approach, meet or exceed the 20 for the year which would raise all the alarms with the Office of the State Superintendent and have more government officials than I ever care to have to interact with to be at my door and in my business.
In that meeting attended by the attendance counselor and assistant principal, I explained that nothing was wrong at our home. We had a good chuckle about how pregnancy was kicking my ass and the staff understood why my son would want some quality time with his mother whom he’d had all to his self for the past decade before abruptly having to share her attention and love. I left the meeting feeling respected and knowing that the staff was genuinely concerned for my child.
I did not leave that meeting feeling threatened or judged. I did not walk into that meeting with unfamiliar law enforcement agents sent there to intimidate me. I did not enter nor leave that meeting with a sense of dread, worried that I could possibly be facing criminal charges, left to the mercy of a justice system that is anything but just for Black parents.
That comfort, knowing that the administration and the staff intended to work with and not against me to ensure the best for my child matters. There is nothing I take more personally or have a more vested investment in than the well-being of my child. It was absolutely clear that the goal – the only goal – was my son receiving a quality education, and I was assured that if his attendance impeded that, staff was in place to help us solve whatever problems caused his excessive absences.
That is what I expect from people in positions of power who proclaim their commitment to serving the community. I expect principals, teachers, parents and all administration to work collaboratively, but I know that the school-to-prison pipeline is as real as if it had been literally built with copper from the doors of the classroom to the doors of the prison cells. And I know that too often, those in power are willing – eager even – to weaponize their power, fashioning the reaches of their authority into metaphorical handcuffs which hold Black people, especially poor Black people, hostage to the structural racism that devours us.
So when I see Kamala Harris delight in recounting a story of how she, in her capacity as District Attorney, sent “really mean” looking prosecutors from the homicide unit of her office to attend meetings between school officials and the parents or truant students, I am convinced that she took joy in employing the power of her position to insight terror. I am clear that she is one of those authorities who considers invoking the consequences she has the power to dole out to the most vulnerable a perk of her job. Kamala Harris, even though we share intersections of race and gender, is no friend of mine.
Now in this era where the trend is to exalt Black women as magical and spout the rhetoric about believing Black women, any criticism of Black women is easily touted as misogynoir, and not because of legitimate analysis of the Black woman in question. Setting aside Harris’ biracial heritage, which many fairly argue informs her politics and denies Black people any allegiance we may expect from fully Black people, and acquiescing to the mantra that we must believe Black women, if I must believe Kamala Harris because she is a Black woman, then I will. I believe her to be exactly the friend of white supremacist policy and systemic racism that she proved herself when she explained how she went about enforcing her truancy policy which threatened parents with up to a year in prison and a $2000 fine for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
I believe her own words when she fondly recalls printing up letters on her official letterhead, which included an imprint of the badge issued to her as a state official, and sending a letter outlining the consequences for parents of chronically truant children. I believe the look in her eyes that tells me she knew that parents receiving such a letter would be worried at a minimum and terrified at most. I believe that she sees an inextricable link between truancy and crime, and that her “tough on crime” edict was one obsessed with decreasing crime not so much as a measure of the overall prospering of citizens but as a badge of honor to be held up to solidify and verify her individual success in her role as a prosecutor.
And I believe her when she concludes her anecdote by telling her audience that one of the parents who’d been summoned for a meeting with the school’s administration and prosecutors was a homeless, single mother of three boys working two jobs. I believe that what the mother needed was resources and not threats of legal action. I believe that Harris and the school had the connections to help this woman obtain housing and clear any hurdles to her sons regularly attending school.
I do not believe, though, that parents are widely complicit in corrupting their children’s education by allowing them to miss school habitually. I do not believe that we can on the one hand admit that droves of poor children arrive at school early to eat breakfast because they otherwise would have nothing to eat, and on the other lend credence to stories of droves of poor children just skipping school to go out and commit crimes. I do not believe that we can ignore that some of these children skip school without their parents’ knowledge because it is easier than having to explain to their parents that they are being bullied everyday or that the work is too difficult or that the teachers humiliate them for needing more help. I do not believe that any person can claim to shoot straight from the hip about racism when addressing a white America that is at least resistant to hearing the truth about its racist structure can also champion a policy that whether broadly enforced or not, would inevitably criminalize and discriminate against Black people.
I do not believe Harris’ recitation of statistics claiming that 75% of truants become high school dropouts and that 75% of those in prison are high school dropouts is intended for any other purpose but to further stereotypes of that the Black and the poor are content to commit crime because we do not value education. I do not believe that financial resources poured into this program would not have been better spent placing liaisons in schools to forge the kinds of relationships with students and parents that would make both populations feel comfortable coming to the school for help in securing housing, employment, counseling and other services that aid stability, which is the largest barrier to good attendance. I do not believe that Harris’ intention was not to continue ruling with an iron fist, turning first to the long arm of the law rather than operating with compassion and building community.
And where the agents of the state who wield their influence to elicit obedience are concerned, familiarity is no solace. A Black (or biracial) person resigning Black people to the same doom as their white counterparts is no consolation at all. Black people doing the bidding of white supremacists do no less harm.
Kamala Harris’ and her HBCU education mean nothing if her politics mirror white men from Harvard or Stanford. Black overseers are still overseers, and the expectation that Black people will support Black politicians without respect to whether their politics are any more beneficial to us than their non-Black comrades is a tired one. If she wanted our loyalty, she should’ve earned it.
So, yes, I believe Black women, and believe Kamala Harris, because as Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”