What happened to Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer is a deep-seated fear of a never-ending nightmare for the entire Black community, especially for Black men. Due to an unfortunate stain on our history, Black men are so often rendered inferior in all totality, demonized by the myth of the brute, Black rapist, or the uneducated thug deserving of death. And while these Black men- whether they are North American or from across the globe- hold the tremendous burden of being feared and spurned by society, so do the women who love them.
Being the mother, daughter, wife, sister, or girlfriend of a Black man is a challenge of the best kind. They are funny, intelligent, and beautiful, like many men. The difference is that they hold an unusual kind of knowledge- one that is so valuable in our world, but also so truly disheartening: Black men know that at any moment, they can be framed, arrested, hurt, or killed.
This fear is wholly justified. With the hyperawareness of Black bodies in "white" spaces as well as centuries of singling out Black men as being the bullseye for hate and violent crime, Black men are socially and criminally targeted more often than other men.
Like many Black mothers, it can be assumed that Michael Brown's own mother, Lesley McSpadden, had her share of fear for her son as a young Black man. But she was also proud: defying (mis)represented statistics of uneducated Black men, Michael was starting technical school in the Fall. But the fear- the crushing anxiety and worry that her son may run into trouble- turned into reality.
As a young woman who was a relationship with a Sudanese-Ethiopian man for over 2 years, I can share in this fear. Every time my partner was on his way to see me, I feared him getting pulled over by the cops. Every time we went out in public, I feared and anticipated people treating him ill because he was Black. Every time he left home to drive a taxi to make extra cash for school, I hyperventilated until I would become dizzy at the mere fact that my young, Black boyfriend was working the nighttime bar hours in the white city of London, Ontario, picking up rowdy, aggressive white men.
Sometimes I would hear them in his taxi as my partner talked to me from his Bluetooth headset. "Don't you speak English, motherf----r?", "I'll beat the shit out of you, n-----r", "Go back to your country, we don't want you here."The anger, disbelief, and hopelessness you feel on the other end of the line that at any moment things could take a wrong turn is debilitating. The hopelessness and fear that my partner felt is unimaginable.
In our daily interactions with news and pop culture as well as anti-racist movements and protests, Black men become the representation of violence in America. However, Black women seem to fade into the background, as do the women who have raised them, cared for them, and loved them.
The violence against Michael Brown, a young Black man, is also violence against women.
While I do not in any ways try to dissuade from the very real and embedded issue of the racial divide between white and Black groups, as well as the very apparent belief that whites are entitled to open season on young Black men and ethnic male minorities, I simply wish to present a different side of the case, one that aims to remember that death and injustice affects all members involved.
What Lesley McSpadden lost was the chance to raise her son. That is violence. Ms. McSpadden faced the multiple oppressive forces of having to raise not only a young boy, but a Black son in a community where two-thirds of the population is Black, yet only 3 of Ferguson's 53 officers are.
Based on a Western social service system with little-to-no experience dealing with women of colour and their children, Ms. McSpadden, like thousands of women, were automatically denied the right to seek appropriate counselling and resources for herself and her child. This stems from a macro-issue of the lack of knowledge, training, funding, and education for social service workers on dealing with Black women's differing experiences of poverty, motherhood, and domestic issues, as well as their distinct histories, oppressions, and needs.
Many social service organizations are still approaching women of colour with a "one-size-fits- all" model of counselling, as they do when a rape victim is a non-white female. This model and its solutions are based on a standard, working-to-middle-class white woman. Social services and communities are ill-prepared to deal with the real challenge that mothers face when raising Black sons into a world that already sees them as targets.
Our fear for Black males is unbearable. Every time that partner, lover, child, or brother steps out of the house, there is a very real chance that something will go wrong. There is a chance that he will encounter supremists, or a group of young white men looking for a punching bag, or a racist police officer having a bad day. There is a greater fear knowing that should anything happen to this Black man, that justice may never be served, and he will be blamed for causing someone else to inflict his injuries, robbery, arrest, or death. It will be his fault. And no matter if you fight for a lifetime- no matter if the world was blessed to have him in it- society will always blame him. Ms. McSpadden has acknowledged this portrayal of her son, and when asked during a CBS interview if Michael showed anything to suggest that he had an aggressive temperament, she replied with an answer that is all too familiar: "No, he was just tall, big and black."
In the U.S. and right here in Canada, the women close to these Black men walk a fine line between what is imagined and what could be reality. We hold the compulsion to tell them "be careful!" one more time as they walk out the door. We resist the urge to call or text them every few hours to see if they are okay, and blow up their phones and Facebook inbox when they don't respond. We study every line in their face so that we'll never forget them. We go to bed with the dread that they are never safe.
Rarely will you hear a Black male tell you he is afraid. This has a lot to do with a history of machoism and hypermasculinity used in order to counteract the pain and the emasculation of Black men centuries ago at the hands of white men. You may hear Black men joke about the time they were walking home and got stopped for no good reason by a cop patrolling the area. They may joke about the time that an employee and her colleague followed them around the department store. But hardly will you hear them say how truly fearful it is to be a Black man in North America. If we, as their loved ones are horrified of our men being hunted, I cannot imagine the daily "responsibility"; the hope, that by being a Black male, you do not encounter a situation that puts you at risk.
I am aware that Black men kill other Black men at an alarming rate. I choose not to address this, because it seems to be one of the only justifications for people to use when a Black man is killed by a white man, as we've seen in the case of Michael Brown. What it does is try to diminish Black male credibility and white guilt by turning the issue into a "Black" one. The issue with Michael Brown is not a "Black" issue, and nor was it ever. It is a white issue. It is a power issue. It is a fear issue.
Victim-blaming and using the excuse that Black men kill each other more than white men is an insulting generalization that all Black men are violent, all Black men are dangerous, and that all Black men are deserving of punishment. This belief is also insulting to the women in their lives who know them and love them, and speaks once more to the lack of resources available to Black men and Black families, and a social system that makes "theories" on Black men based on these generalizations.
These generalizations turn young Black boys into Black men, causing conflict by assuming that a young boy understands the full responsibility of his actions, thus giving white folks the justification to the shoot a Black child if he behaves in a way that bruises their ego. "My son didn't deserve it. Nobody's child deserves to be treated like that - nobody's," said McSpadden, amidst tears. A mother lost her opportunity to raise her Black son in a world that saw his existence as a problem. A child lost his chance to prove them wrong.
Ms. McSpadden does not need to be blamed for not doing enough as a mother for her child. Michael Brown does not need to be crucified for behaving badly amidst millions of young boys doing the same. As his father, Michael Brown Sr. said, Michael was "just a normal 18-year-old, finding his way."
At the end of the day, no one knows what their children are doing when they are not in parental supervision. Parents forget that the teenage years are a time where identity is formed and contested, and a time of experimentation, whether it is with drugs, sex, or crime. However, it seems that if you are an 18-year-old Black boy, you're end justifies your means. In our society, there is a "moral" obligation that to be defeated, Black men must be killed. This includes Black children.
Some 18-year old children have the luxury of fighting back without the fear of getting shot or killed. These are not Black children. The issue is that there is the same crime happening amongst white and Black kids, only the punishment is different. Did Michael Brown supposedly assault an officer? Maybe. Have many other kids, in particular, white males assaulted officers? I'm positive. Do they get shot 6 times for it? Do we blame their mothers for their bad behaviour? That is a question that many refuse to answer because admitting the truth releases a world of racist contradictions that are well-kept behind victim-blaming, guilt, and denial.
What happened to Michael Brown could have been any woman's son, brother, grandchild, friend, lover, or husband. As long as the heavy-handed hate and belief that Black men are no more than savage animals deserving to be put down, the women of these men will always stand to lose them.
Losing Black men to violence, arrest, injury, or death also affects future generations; if we keep killing Black men, if we keep placing targets on their backs, how will young Black boys begin to see themselves other than disposable? How will young girls get to know, befriend, and care for them as they grow older if these boys aren't able to grow with them? How will Black mothers be able to instill in their Black sons that they are loved, when internal racism and self-hate are penetrating his mind at every angle? And how can mothers be mothers when society has decided to discipline their children with justifiable arrest and death? There can be no answers to these questions when a solution is so far from being created. For Ms. McSpadden, she was not given the chance to even try. For her son, Michael Brown, fear of the Black man got the best of a small-town officer playing Cops and Robbers, only for him to realize that he was dealing with a child.