He was calling for his mother, they say. While that officer knelt on his neck and crushed the life out of him, George Floyd cried out for his mum. Floyd was close to his mother and her death two years previously had devastated him. Some say perhaps he saw his mother’s spirit in his final hours as she came to claim him.
I would like to believe that was the final face he saw and not that of his killer. I would like to believe that his mother appeared right by him, and told him she had never left his side, and told him he was loved and that she was taking him home. I know that no matter how grown you become, no matter how long it’s been since you buried her, in times of trouble you call for your mother.
Back when I was breastfeeding, I remember that strange sensation of my milk coming in at the sound of any baby crying. If it was my baby wailing, the milk would soak through my shirt. Mothers I knew would talk about their pregnancy hormones making them hyper emotional. ‘I’m crying at everything, even that stupid advert.’ However, it’s not just hormones out of whack that makes us weepy. It is that strange pull, a deepened connection to every living and growing being. An innate, almost cellular understanding that you are a custodian of life. Not just the life you nurture, but every life.
It has been years since I was nursing, nowadays instead I feel my blood rush in. It’s pounding in my ears right now. Somebody’s child has been killed in the street. Again. Every time I hear of another murder of a Black citizen by police, my eardrums fill with pressure. My lungs tighten. I. Can’t. Breathe.
This time, it feels like the whole world is rising. Ordinary people, public figures, global corporations demanding justice. Are they finally starting to get the message? No lives matter until Black lives matter too. Until all of us are free, none of us is free.
Stats tell us America is the epicentre of COVID-19. As I see protestors gathering in the US and around the world, my heart swells. And it sinks. Black and Brown bodies, already more vulnerable to the virus, putting their lives further at risk. Still I support any movement against a virus that is far older, much more deadly, than coronavirus. America is its epicentre. But make no mistake, racism is a global pandemic.
For what feels like forever, Black and Brown people have tried to sanitise ourselves so we can move safely through this world. We have hidden the depth of our anger and pain behind a mask of strength and smiles. It’s time for the masks to come off, because they won’t save us. They won’t save any of us. Whether you are a silent carrier or a super spreader, everybody on this earth is infected. And we can’t fight this virus alone. We need a common cure.
The first few days after #GeorgeFloyd began trending, in my social media feeds I saw Black people agitating and hurting and asking when will it stop. I also noticed the absence of White voices. Too many White people, White mothers in my community, keeping mum. Why are you holding your breath? Didn’t we tell you somebody’s son was murdered in the cold light of day?
You don’t have to watch the video. I haven’t and I won’t. I’m not interested in seeing any memes. George Floyd was not a meme. He was a human being. Somebody’s father. Somebody’s child, just like you.
When I look at the photo of a young George Floyd cradled by his mother, I wonder what life she dreamed of for her boy. I imagine she had the conversation every Black parent raising children in a racist environment has with their kids. How to act in a public space so you don’t get in trouble. What to do if trouble finds you, especially if trouble is carrying a badge or a gun.
But there is no talk to shield yourself from a killer with a rap sheet taller than Trump’s lies. There is no talk to prepare you for the brute force of a knee choking your windpipe. And no matter how much we say and with how much love we say it, none of our talking as Black parents means anything if White parents aren’t talking to their children too.
There is so much to do.
‘There is so much to do,’ my niece echoes, ‘I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start.’
Start where you are. If you are responsible for raising a child, make it your responsibility to raise the topic of race and racism. Please don’t stick to empty platitudes like ‘everyone is equal’. You need to get to the heart of the matter: about what race means, how it was constructed, how it has impacted the world. How racism continues to erode the safety and humanity of Black and Brown people all over the globe.
If this sounds like it’s over your head, it is time to educate yourself alongside your child. Commit to being a lifelong learner on what it means to be a human who might not look anything like you.
Start where you live. What does your bookshelf look like, your movie library, your social circle? What are your children learning from you directly about race, culture and inequality? What have you told them about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter? What are they picking up from your silence?
We are custodians of life. Our children will inherit the world we make, including all our mistakes. What legacy are we leaving for the next generation? Imagine if Derek Chauvin’s mother had talked to him again and again about the integrity of Black bodies. Imagine if she had raised him to believe in the value of Black lives.
Imagine if every mother on the planet responded to racial injustice with the same sense of urgency as they’ve reacted to the coronavirus?
It is time to teach your children that Black history can’t be contained in one calendar month. It is the history of the world. We are all descendants of Africa and there is no story of humanity that does not interweave with the stories of Black people. I’m not just talking about slavery and colonialism, I mean world wars and global inventions and industrial revolutions all the way to the cyber age.
I wrote a love letter to my eldest when he turned 8. In that post, I shared a quote from when he was just 2. It feels like yesterday when he made what I found to be a strangely precocious, funny and poignant statement.
Flash forward 7 years and Ezra will be that man his toddler self spoke about. Still my adorable 2-year-old in my eyes. But in the eyes of racists, a stereotype. A potential threat. I wonder if life will be easier for him by then or if society will still have its knee on his neck?
I have conversations with my boys about growing up Black, a minority, in a country that hasn’t reckoned with its racist past or present. No matter your ethnicity, I hope you have conversations with your children too. Keep it real about racism. Also teach them about respect and recognition and appreciation and celebration. So that they might grow up more open, less fearful, more ready to embrace cultural differences. So that more children can move safely through life, without socially distant masks or sanitised accounts of who they are. So all our children can breathe.
Did you like this post? Please consider buying my book Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World, out on September 3, 2020 by Yellow Kite (Hachette UK). Available for Pre-Order on Amazon UK and Waterstones