|Another Mother's Grief (from M.A. Reilly's Collage Journal made on 8.11.14)|
Tonight, I am wondering what I might say to my teenage son who stood 6 feet tall next to me, unwavering, as we all listened to Bob McCulloch tell America--tell the world--that a St. Louis County grand jury returned no indictment of Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown. Officer Wilson discharged 12 shots at an unarmed teenager--just two years older than my own child. These are facts not disputed. Wilson fired his gun 12 times at Mike Brown, killing him with a shot to the boy's head.
Tonight, I'm trying to find words, knowing the inadequacy of speech, as I watched my son turn away and walk back upstairs closing the door to his room after telling his father and me he was not surprised by the outcome.
This is America, he says.
He sees the United States as an unjust place--a place of racial and economic injustice. He has already known the repeated sting of not being white discharged by white boys who enjoyed protection from their acts by white teachers and administrators at school. Places where white principals say, We don't notice color here. We don't see color.
White privilege is a fearsome thing.
This absence of indictment confirms what my son has told us he knows: America is the land of institutionalized racism. It runs through our blood. A river that is centuries old. It is deep. No white sheet can hide such savagery.
Tonight, I'm thinking about the long, long list of parents who have had to endure injustice when their children's blood was spilled. When their babies were cut down. When their boys and girls were murdered by men sworn to protect. I am the granddaughter, the niece, the cousin, and the sister to police officers--those sworn to protect.
Tonight I am worried that my son, a Korean teen, cannot count on the police to read his intentions correctly. To see him as his mom and dad know him. Given the history of our country is it possible to believe that in a time of ambiguity a police office won't read his difference first? Won't read him as not white? Won't read him as other. Won't read him as threat? Is he a young man who will be allowed to make a foolish mistake without it resulting in his death?
No amount of Abercombie & Fitch, Apple or Yankee accessories will reverse his status of other.
So what do I tell him? What should his white mother say to him?
We talk again, after he asks me to help him study for an English exam he'll take tomorrow. After we talk about The Things They Carried and Romeo & Juliet--about needless deaths that span centuries and I talk to him as only a mother can. I make him promise me that if he is facing arrest, like 1 in 3 young men do in this country before the age of 23, that he'll submit. He'll lie on the goddamn ground. He'll put his hands up. He'll keep his mouth shut. He'll do all this to keep himself alive cause facing a white man with a gun could well be his death.
Tonight I'm tired. Tonight I am remembering the original definition of courage--a definition that in the 1400s meant to tell all of your heart. Tonight I am feeling a keen kinship with mothers across the globe prompted by that definition, by the actions reported in Clayton, MO. Prompted, perhaps because I began to cry once the prosecutor mentioned the conflicting issues of witnesses because I knew with certainty that no indictment would be forthcoming.
What we tell our boys and girls, what we say from our mothers' hearts, we should tell out loud. We should tell all of our hearts. Keep safe in this unsafe world we've made. Work to make it better than we have done. Know our failure and be undeterred. But keep safe, first. Be safe.
To remain silent is to be complicit.