I watch the press conference – a black boy of fifteen weeping tears into his shirt collar while his mother issues a statement to the press. Heartbreaking. Alton Sterling’s son I SEE YOU. I HEAR YOU. I don’t know how we got here. Hasn’t anyone been listening? Haven’t we been paying attention? I sob tears onto the page. I do not know HOW a person of color can go from selling, driving, riding, walking – laughing, playing, living and breathing one moment to being manhandled and shot to death the next.
I am terrified. I am afraid. I am grieved. I am angry.
I wonder about the teenage boys of color playing basketball in the driveway next door. I wonder HOW I can raise white boys and white girls who love well and see clearly and feel deeply… who say his name and write his name and hear his name. Alton Sterling.
When we first moved to this city with neighbors who are a variety of colors and stories – my kids kept referring to the kid next door as, “the brown boy.” Every single time they would call him “the brown boy” I would offer this suggestion back, “Why don’t you find out his name? Can we ask him his name? He has a name.” Fast forward a few afternoons later as the “the brown boy” sat on a chair on our deck and I decided to find out his name for myself, “Hey, what is your name?” He told me. And one of my sons turned to me, lifted his eyebrows in triumph, and waved his arm as if serving me the words on a platter. “There you go MOM – we have his name.”
From that moment on they make it a point to find out the name of every child who steps into our yard to play. Every kid has a name.
Treyvon Martin. His name was the one which gutted me, ripping my insides out as he received NO JUSTICE. I swirled and wept that summer the verdict rang through. I walked the path and wondered if there was anything I could do? How can a white woman speak, write, or act into the bleeding? Is there anything I can do?
The toddler boy next door he comes knocking on the door off our deck with expectant hope, calling the children to come and play. I wonder sometimes as I listen to the mingled sounds of their voices echoing off of the blue house – Will someone misunderstand their play? Will someone misinterpret their shouting? Will someone witness their fun and raise a call to the police?
In this city which swirls wicked where gangs, guns, violence and police power struggles are waged daily – HOW can our home turf be a safe place for ALL the neighborhood children?
I am raising white sons and white daughters who will never know the barriers and prejudice of living with darkened skin. No one will second guess their play or their work, their comings or their goings. No one is going to second guess their intentions or dreams simply because of the color of their skin.
Do you know how many times my husband has been pulled over on his way to work the night shift because of a broken headlight since we moved to the City of Baltimore? Four times. Do you know how many tickets he has received? Zero. Warnings? Zero. Do you know how many times he has had to sit on the curb while they run his license? Zero. Do you know how many times he has been punished for driving while white? NEVER.
Do you know how many times he has been shot dead while reaching for his wallet or registration? ZERO times. A privilege of driving while white…
Professional Mourners. Tear Bottles. Generations of Tears.
The mothers, grandmothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, girlfriends, lovers, and friends – another black woman has witnessed the murder of a black man, her black man. She is going to have bury him in the ground deep. She will have to comfort her children with what words? What words can explain this violence? Too many have gone before him and at this rate there will be many more to follow. We cannot go one night without more men of color being added to the rosters of the dead. Too many gone.
With tears and primal moans of grief, we witness their mourning. We witness the wailing of mothers and lovers losing more and more and more. Another white man wraps his hands around a throat. Another white man presses his knee into a back. Another white man takes his fists to a face. Another white man takes cold metal and fires its rage into a black man’s flesh.
In ancient Israel professional female mourners – poor women were hired by the wealthy to shed tears over the dead. They collected the liquid salt into little glass jars:
Black women – they do not require professional mourners. They know all too well the despair, the anguish, the grief. Women of color know how to mourn – they know lament. It is written on the memories of their tears for generations. There is purpose to their anger. There is purpose to their tears. The pain of generations all mingles down into their present weeping… and we can either watch with resignation or denial or we can choose to take up the lament with them. We can choose to learn from them.
We desperately need to learn HOW to meet their Primal, guttural moans with our own spirits’ groaning.
Tears for tears. Shouts for shouts. Rage for rage.
What hope is there when a man with a badge can raise a gun and fire steel into the flesh of an unarmed, defenseless black man?
Without a blink the colored man falls – dead.
Without a blink his mother calls out his name in anguish as his body grows cold, exposed on the street – dead.
His children bury their sobbing grief into their shirt collars – Daddy!
Their wives weep between the anguished, angered pleas – HE IS DEAD.
God, we need more than prayers here. God, we need more than faulty investigations.
We need more than pious white words from people of shallow faith or naively held beliefs and thinly-veiled, prejudiced sentiment.
We need something so soul deep it rips the roots of racism from the soil on which we live. Because BLACK LIVES MATTER!
We need something so vicious and violent smeared across the psyche of white minds we cannot do anything but weep and mourn, shutter and grieve and turn our faces and MOVE.
Jesus, count the tears. Count the many bottled tears.
See the streets run red with the black man’s blood? See the weeping tears shed by the black man’s son? Hear the angered sobbing of the black man’s wife? Hear the anguish and grief of the black man’s family? See the rising up in protest with shouts of truth by the black man’s community? Here the collective voice of the black man’s race speaking the names of all the dead and dying? -J.K. McGuire
As I watched Alton Sterling’s son weep inconsolably – I could feel his anguish and my own tears mingled with the ink of words on the page.
Alton Sterling’s son has a name: CAMERON.
I see you, Cameron. I hear you, Cameron.
See His Face. Say His Name. Write His Name. Hear His Name. Alton Sterling.
Whose name – whose face – broke you?