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Black Parenting Matters: Raising Children in a World of Police Terror

Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00 By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | Op-Ed
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(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)My child's breath is a freedom song. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. The rhythmic pulse of air he powers is love, is life, is liberation. In. Out. In. Out. My child is breath. "I am here," his body says with each inhalation. "I am alive," his body offers with each exhalation. Each breath is a life force and each life force is a gift, is Holy. He is Divine.

He is more than mere existence. He is complex sinew, meat, blood, mind, matter, running, laughing, playing, smiling, healthy. He is boy in motion, chasing balls, jumping rivers, leaping meadows, climbing trees.

He is an idea made flesh.

He is a rebellion. A riot. A rage against the machine.

At a Black Lives Matter protest my son sounded a call: "What do we want?" He also sang the response: "Justice." The drumbeat of our fellow marchers punctuated this question: "When do we want it?" And he knew the answer: "Now." My son is The Revolution. This is why: Twelve million to 20 million African people were stolen across the Middle Passage. About half did not survive the journey.

From 1882 to 1968, there were 3,446 recorded lynchings of Black people in the United States. That averages to about 40 people of African descent hanged, sliced, torched, drowned, beaten, hacked each year. That averages to about three to four lynchings per month, which averages to, every week or so, one Black body lynched, one Black body clawed by white mobs.

To survive this, is to be a revolution, the inheritor of revolution. We are the children of those who survived. My husband, my son and I are their promise song. Because of them, we are here, and our survival is a revolutionary act.

For white people, survival is a daily experience that is taken for granted. For African Americans, survival is a daily act of intentionality and purpose. Survival is a daily ritual Black people must perform. Survival is item number one on a daily to-do list.

I fear police violence, the merciless criminalization of brown boys.

I am a Black woman on a mission. I fear police violence, the merciless criminalization of brown boys. I fear the dehumanization of Black people that makes the police so swift in their use of force.

From January 1, 2015, to May 30, 2015, at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police in the United States. This does not include the numbers of Americans killed while in police custody. Of the victims who were unarmed, about two-thirds were Black or Latino.

I fear more than police brutality. I also fear the lies that fuel police terror. I fear the systematic way stories about Black people's encounters with the police are twisted and turned by the voice of the state. I fear the way the narrative is controlled by the state so that even our experiences do not belong to us.

I have experienced the terror of state forces circumscribing Black life. I have witnessed the incrimination of Black people, seen the state blame them for their marginalization. We have been kicked down and then blamed for being so low. This I have seen with my own eyes.

Rodney King deserved to be beaten, Trayvon Martin was not crying for help, Walter Scott was threatening the officer, Eric Garner could breathe, could breathe, could breathe ...

Cell phone cameras have offered a kind of counternarrative to these tales. And we bear witness. We do. We Black folk, we remember and tell the truth of what happened, what continues to happen, to us.

My husband and I continue to craft counternarratives to the prevailing mythologies regarding Black life. My husband and I parent our child as a counternarrative - as truth. He is brilliant, beautiful, precious, perfect. He is the embodiment of his parents' love. Our love is revolutionary, too. Every whisper I send across his brow tells him this. I tell him, we are descendants of those who chose to survive.

I must ensure that my son lives. Despite the terror that is this state, he must live.

Our ancestors made a choice. It was a decision. As they felt the liquid parts of their own bodies seep into dust, they must have considered taking the machete to their own beating heart, and slicing it. Blood is 7 percent of the human body. Water, 75 percent. Tears and sweat drip in droplets, like dew, into dust. Dust and soil and clay and loam. We are the worms turning the soil, churning earth above Earth. Drip. Drop. The self into the soil. Why not burrow underground, sleep, grow the land from the grave? Why not pour the liquid self, the essential self in? This dribble is a trick. Wouldn't the greatest trickster laugh at the sun, pound the chest to move the liquid inside, cut into the self and end this torture?

But, my ancestors chose to survive. I know this, because I am here. Our charge from the ancients is transparent, explicit and plain: live.

I must ensure that my son lives. Despite the terror that is this state, he must live.

Do not reach into your pockets when stopped by police.

Do not flinch or swerve and do not ever, ever run.

When the police ask for your identification, ask them for permission to get it. Ask them for permission to reach into the exact pocket or bag before you get the very thing that they just told you to get.

Maintain your cool while all this is happening.

Politely say, "Please call my parents, and they can answer your questions."

They will continue to ask you questions. Do not answer their questions. Do not say, "Officer, I was coming from that location or going to that destination." Do not give them any information at all.

Get as much information as you can. Try to remember the officers' names, the street address or cross streets where you have been stopped. If you can, try to memorize badge numbers.

They will continue to ask you questions. Just tell them you cannot speak to them unless your parents are present.

The questions might continue. They might handcuff you and take you to a precinct. There, the questions will become an interrogation. You must only say, "I have to wait for my parents to come to me."

Your parents will come to you. We will find you. In the meantime, remain silent. Know this: We who love you are coming to you.

I do not want to instruct my son in this way. How do I free him from the shackles of psychological death, from the death of the mind, and from the shackles of emotional death, from the death of the spirit, as I free him from the oppressor looming all around?

The only antidote, really, is to give him the tools to be fully invested in his own liberation. This means showing him how to write protest banners and discussing the contributions to the freedom movement made by Ruby Bridges and Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass.

Guiding our child to a freer way of being in the Black Lives Matter era is only the newest iteration of Black survival.

To enable his full investment in liberation, we also discuss his contributions to The Movement. We march with the masses in this Black Lives Matter era and show him the line he walks to move us closer to full recognition of our humanity. He is on a continuum, a path stretching through time. We pray that the same spirit that overcame the overseer will live in him and overcome the officers who act like overseers when they police Black and Brown bodies.

Enabling his full investment in liberation also means exposing him to the teachings and care of others who will not commit microaggressions, act on internalized white supremacy and undo our work. We have come this far and refuse to go back. We as a people have come so far.

I held fast to my belly the night Barack Obama became the first Black president. Our son rested there, living inside me as we danced in the streets, celebrating. Later that night, my husband and I discussed the wonder of it all, that our child's first president would be a Black man. That he would never know life without a Black president. That a Black president would be normal to him, that a white president would be a diversion from his norm. We became more intentional in our liberation parenting that night. We discussed ways we would parent to freedom.

Guiding our child to a freer way of being in the Black Lives Matter era is only the newest iteration of African-American survival. My husband and I refuse to allow anyone to dim our son's light. We refuse to allow the weight and woe of this world to wear him. We insist that he triumph. We insist on his victory. We advocate and challenge and we resist. We resist racist violence. This occupation of the Black body will not be his experience.

Our ancestors stole time from their owners to teach young people how to survive. Our grandparents snatched time from their employers to teach young people how to survive. We take time to do the same. We know saying Black Lives Matter is another way of saying Black is Beautiful. We know our beautiful Black son matters.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Eisa Nefertari Ulen

Eisa Nefertari Ulen is author of the novel Crystelle Mourning, a novel described by The Washington Post as "a call for healing in the African American community from generations of hurt and neglect." She is the recipient of a Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center Fellowship for Young African American Fiction Writers, a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship and a National Association of Black Journalists Award. Her essays exploring African American culture have been widely anthologized, and her most recent essay, "Black Parenting Matters:Raising Children in a World of Police Terror" was published in the Truthout anthology, Who Do You Serve, Who Do Your Protect? Eisa has also contributed to Essence, The Washington Post, Ms., Health, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Root, TheDefendersOnline.com, The Grio and CreativeNonfiction.org. She has taught at Hunter College and The Pratt Institute and is a founding member of RingShout: A Place for Black Literature. You can contact her online at EisaUlen.com and on Twitter at @EisaUlen.


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Black Parenting Matters: Raising Children in a World of Police Terror

Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00 By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)My child's breath is a freedom song. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. The rhythmic pulse of air he powers is love, is life, is liberation. In. Out. In. Out. My child is breath. "I am here," his body says with each inhalation. "I am alive," his body offers with each exhalation. Each breath is a life force and each life force is a gift, is Holy. He is Divine.

He is more than mere existence. He is complex sinew, meat, blood, mind, matter, running, laughing, playing, smiling, healthy. He is boy in motion, chasing balls, jumping rivers, leaping meadows, climbing trees.

He is an idea made flesh.

He is a rebellion. A riot. A rage against the machine.

At a Black Lives Matter protest my son sounded a call: "What do we want?" He also sang the response: "Justice." The drumbeat of our fellow marchers punctuated this question: "When do we want it?" And he knew the answer: "Now." My son is The Revolution. This is why: Twelve million to 20 million African people were stolen across the Middle Passage. About half did not survive the journey.

From 1882 to 1968, there were 3,446 recorded lynchings of Black people in the United States. That averages to about 40 people of African descent hanged, sliced, torched, drowned, beaten, hacked each year. That averages to about three to four lynchings per month, which averages to, every week or so, one Black body lynched, one Black body clawed by white mobs.

To survive this, is to be a revolution, the inheritor of revolution. We are the children of those who survived. My husband, my son and I are their promise song. Because of them, we are here, and our survival is a revolutionary act.

For white people, survival is a daily experience that is taken for granted. For African Americans, survival is a daily act of intentionality and purpose. Survival is a daily ritual Black people must perform. Survival is item number one on a daily to-do list.

I fear police violence, the merciless criminalization of brown boys.

I am a Black woman on a mission. I fear police violence, the merciless criminalization of brown boys. I fear the dehumanization of Black people that makes the police so swift in their use of force.

From January 1, 2015, to May 30, 2015, at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police in the United States. This does not include the numbers of Americans killed while in police custody. Of the victims who were unarmed, about two-thirds were Black or Latino.

I fear more than police brutality. I also fear the lies that fuel police terror. I fear the systematic way stories about Black people's encounters with the police are twisted and turned by the voice of the state. I fear the way the narrative is controlled by the state so that even our experiences do not belong to us.

I have experienced the terror of state forces circumscribing Black life. I have witnessed the incrimination of Black people, seen the state blame them for their marginalization. We have been kicked down and then blamed for being so low. This I have seen with my own eyes.

Rodney King deserved to be beaten, Trayvon Martin was not crying for help, Walter Scott was threatening the officer, Eric Garner could breathe, could breathe, could breathe ...

Cell phone cameras have offered a kind of counternarrative to these tales. And we bear witness. We do. We Black folk, we remember and tell the truth of what happened, what continues to happen, to us.

My husband and I continue to craft counternarratives to the prevailing mythologies regarding Black life. My husband and I parent our child as a counternarrative - as truth. He is brilliant, beautiful, precious, perfect. He is the embodiment of his parents' love. Our love is revolutionary, too. Every whisper I send across his brow tells him this. I tell him, we are descendants of those who chose to survive.

I must ensure that my son lives. Despite the terror that is this state, he must live.

Our ancestors made a choice. It was a decision. As they felt the liquid parts of their own bodies seep into dust, they must have considered taking the machete to their own beating heart, and slicing it. Blood is 7 percent of the human body. Water, 75 percent. Tears and sweat drip in droplets, like dew, into dust. Dust and soil and clay and loam. We are the worms turning the soil, churning earth above Earth. Drip. Drop. The self into the soil. Why not burrow underground, sleep, grow the land from the grave? Why not pour the liquid self, the essential self in? This dribble is a trick. Wouldn't the greatest trickster laugh at the sun, pound the chest to move the liquid inside, cut into the self and end this torture?

But, my ancestors chose to survive. I know this, because I am here. Our charge from the ancients is transparent, explicit and plain: live.

I must ensure that my son lives. Despite the terror that is this state, he must live.

Do not reach into your pockets when stopped by police.

Do not flinch or swerve and do not ever, ever run.

When the police ask for your identification, ask them for permission to get it. Ask them for permission to reach into the exact pocket or bag before you get the very thing that they just told you to get.

Maintain your cool while all this is happening.

Politely say, "Please call my parents, and they can answer your questions."

They will continue to ask you questions. Do not answer their questions. Do not say, "Officer, I was coming from that location or going to that destination." Do not give them any information at all.

Get as much information as you can. Try to remember the officers' names, the street address or cross streets where you have been stopped. If you can, try to memorize badge numbers.

They will continue to ask you questions. Just tell them you cannot speak to them unless your parents are present.

The questions might continue. They might handcuff you and take you to a precinct. There, the questions will become an interrogation. You must only say, "I have to wait for my parents to come to me."

Your parents will come to you. We will find you. In the meantime, remain silent. Know this: We who love you are coming to you.

I do not want to instruct my son in this way. How do I free him from the shackles of psychological death, from the death of the mind, and from the shackles of emotional death, from the death of the spirit, as I free him from the oppressor looming all around?

The only antidote, really, is to give him the tools to be fully invested in his own liberation. This means showing him how to write protest banners and discussing the contributions to the freedom movement made by Ruby Bridges and Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass.

Guiding our child to a freer way of being in the Black Lives Matter era is only the newest iteration of Black survival.

To enable his full investment in liberation, we also discuss his contributions to The Movement. We march with the masses in this Black Lives Matter era and show him the line he walks to move us closer to full recognition of our humanity. He is on a continuum, a path stretching through time. We pray that the same spirit that overcame the overseer will live in him and overcome the officers who act like overseers when they police Black and Brown bodies.

Enabling his full investment in liberation also means exposing him to the teachings and care of others who will not commit microaggressions, act on internalized white supremacy and undo our work. We have come this far and refuse to go back. We as a people have come so far.

I held fast to my belly the night Barack Obama became the first Black president. Our son rested there, living inside me as we danced in the streets, celebrating. Later that night, my husband and I discussed the wonder of it all, that our child's first president would be a Black man. That he would never know life without a Black president. That a Black president would be normal to him, that a white president would be a diversion from his norm. We became more intentional in our liberation parenting that night. We discussed ways we would parent to freedom.

Guiding our child to a freer way of being in the Black Lives Matter era is only the newest iteration of African-American survival. My husband and I refuse to allow anyone to dim our son's light. We refuse to allow the weight and woe of this world to wear him. We insist that he triumph. We insist on his victory. We advocate and challenge and we resist. We resist racist violence. This occupation of the Black body will not be his experience.

Our ancestors stole time from their owners to teach young people how to survive. Our grandparents snatched time from their employers to teach young people how to survive. We take time to do the same. We know saying Black Lives Matter is another way of saying Black is Beautiful. We know our beautiful Black son matters.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Eisa Nefertari Ulen

Eisa Nefertari Ulen is author of the novel Crystelle Mourning, a novel described by The Washington Post as "a call for healing in the African American community from generations of hurt and neglect." She is the recipient of a Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center Fellowship for Young African American Fiction Writers, a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship and a National Association of Black Journalists Award. Her essays exploring African American culture have been widely anthologized, and her most recent essay, "Black Parenting Matters:Raising Children in a World of Police Terror" was published in the Truthout anthology, Who Do You Serve, Who Do Your Protect? Eisa has also contributed to Essence, The Washington Post, Ms., Health, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Root, TheDefendersOnline.com, The Grio and CreativeNonfiction.org. She has taught at Hunter College and The Pratt Institute and is a founding member of RingShout: A Place for Black Literature. You can contact her online at EisaUlen.com and on Twitter at @EisaUlen.


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