We’re not in the midst of a global pandemic; we’re in the midst of two. I keep my children at home to protect our family and others from the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus. With so little information on how to cure this phenomenon, sheltering in place has been the only obvious solution and our state’s government and others have been clear in their directives. I know this virus is dangerous. I’m happy to comply. But what of the other pandemic that’s been claiming the lives of Black and Brown people for centuries? Where is the PAUSE order on racism?
As I shelter in place with my Black sons, this quarantine has brought me comfort for unexpected reasons. Under the guise of COVID-19, I’ve been able to keep my 13-year-old Black son at home and by my side for months. I’m free from wondering what will happen as he walks from the school bus to athletic practice. There’s no arguing about why he can’t “walk around downtown” with his friends with no clear plan and no adult supervision. “Why not, Mom? My White friends do it. You worry too much.”
I wonder if a young George Floyd thought his mama worried too much.
Yesterday, two of my Black sons and I ventured out to the store. The 13-year-old was tired; he’d been helping me deliver food to those in need for hours. When he asked to stay in the car alone, the older one teased me. “Won’t someone call the cops if you leave your kid alone in the car?” He still thinks of his younger brother as a baby, not a 6-foot giant who was recently accused of “trespassing” while taking a walk around the corner from his grandmother’s house. I let him nap in the car and rushed through the store, praying he wouldn’t be the next Willie McCoy.
My young adult Black sons are eager to get back to normal. They miss their jobs, their friends, the space outside of their tiny twenty-something-appropriate apartments. Not me: I want to keep them quarantined forever. With masks over their beautiful smiles, it’s even harder for them to convince the White women they walk by that they are friendly and safe. “No cause for alarm, ma’am. See? I’m so polite and articulate.”
Then again, his smile didn’t stop a South Hill neighbor from calling the Sheriff’s Department to report my son for waiting outside a friend’s home for me to pick him up. And their smiles didn’t prevent my son and his friends from being pursued by an off-duty police officer who eventually put two boys on the ground at gunpoint. And this February, nothing stopped six U.S. Marshal vehicles from approaching my home at 7:30 a.m. in full SWAT gear, swarming our property and demanding to speak to my son about a situation with which he had absolutely no involvement. Who can I call about that? Where is my RACISM-19 hotline number?
As our county enters Phase 2 Reopening, I want to know when our country will safely re-open for Black and Brown people. When will it no longer be a public health risk to simply exist in Black and Brown skin? Where is the phased plan, the CDC data, and the control room for that? How can I keep my children safe from BOTH viruses?
Kareem Abdul-Jabar wrote recently that, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.”
Racism is White people’s problem and it’s ours to solve. White people, particularly White women – and especially White mothers – must take it upon ourselves to let that sunlight in. But until then, and for as long as possible, I’m keeping my kids inside because the sun is too hot out there and they will burn. And with all this dust in the air, they can’t breathe.