I am a black woman raised in poverty, the mother of 3 beautiful black sons and the wife of an intelligent, loving, dedicated white police officer. This statement holds so much weight during these challenging times, and I have a pain that is deeply rooted in my being. I am crying out in absolute exhaustion from the centuries of demoralization, devaluation, inequity and atrocities experienced by those who look like me.
In my youth, I often assumed that I needed to emulate the majority in order to maintain some level of success in this life and as a way to protect myself from being harmed or judged. This is representative of a truth that has haunted my existence for as I can remember — choose to be the most-authentic, unapologetic me — or survive. It’s a notion that I have unknowingly instilled in my children.
In loving my boys I have attempted to prepare them for the world, using my childhood as a basis to craft their shields. As a small child, I was often teased because I was not only poor, I was extremely dark-skinned. I often cried myself to sleep, angry that my mother didn’t choose a man of fair complexion and that I wasn’t afforded the life that others with money had. I wore clothes from the Goodwill and thought powdered eggs were a delicacy. Despite the constant ridicule, insecurity and pain, I had one saving grace, I was pretty bright. I graduated valedictorian of my middle school and was in the top 10% of my high school class. I’m the first in my nuclear family to obtain a college degree and leveraged every experience to achieve a level of professional success.
This is but a brief snapshot of my existence and the bouts of cruelty, inequities and personal battles. It shares why I have armored my children with intelligence, conviction, love and a fierce devotion to the many facets of themselves. It is also why I thoroughly share with them the realities of what it means to be black men in America.
My oldest child graduated a few weeks ago from high school, amid a public health crisis, and moving cross-county, he graduated with a 3.9 GPA. As jovial as I was inside, it was now time for me to reinforce a message that I have been seeding to him for many years. With tear-filled eyes, I had to explain to my imperfect, yet-amazing 17-year-old son that I am scared for him to leave for college. Not because of something trivial like him making stupid young adult choices that many his age are afforded the ability to do, but because I don’t want to lose him as a result of someone else’s misapplied fear. It just takes one misstep and that could be the end of him.
And yet still I turn to my husband, a white police officer who I am confident has loved me like no other person has loved another in this world. He not only took on the mantle of loving my eldest son but gave me the ability to mother another two funny little men.
I never much thought about the longer-term ramifications of our union, the only thing that mattered when we began dating is that this man loved the real me. His line of work really didn’t matter to me until we were pregnant and that is when realities started to set in. I would not only get the typical distasteful questions that interracial couples often would, which are still troublesome but certainly tolerable. But I would also be asked how we would navigate the fact that our black children would be raised by a white police officer amid what is now a decade of watching unarmed black people die at the hands of people who looked like their father. It hit hard and heavy! I knew the additional weight this would carry and yet we were, and are, confident that our love would sustain us all.
What didn’t occur to me was that I would also have to fear for my husband. I think it foolish to have to substantiate his or our children’s character, but indeed he is a true public servant. Despite this fact, in the 6 years that we have been together, this is now the third time that I have gone days without sleep because of my fear that he would be harmed in the line of duty. That’s a truth that comes with his job, but for some reason in this heightened time of unrest, it is much more real.
In the last few weeks, my home city of Detroit, my new home of metro Atlanta and communities across the world erupted in pain because of the death of George Floyd not that long after Ahmaud Arbery was killed. I celebrated the power of the collective voice of people of all creeds demanding justice and feared the reality that my husband could potentially be harmed amid the civil unrest.
All sides lose if we don’t address the huge systematic inequities that exist in this county. My voice is of a black woman and I recognize the challenges faced by people of color across racial groups. From inception, we are bound to centuries of inequity and oppression. Our mothers have proportionately less access to prenatal care, higher infant mortality rates and limited access to high-quality childcare. As such, many black children have lower grade-level reading proficiency, lower high school graduation rates which limit access to higher-wage employment opportunities and so on.
And yet there are officers of the law who have an intimate acknowledgment of the inequities and work tirelessly to do their part in ending them. We cannot operate in silos and this country will surely be lost if we can’t find a resolve to make things better.
This may be a disjointed and emotional message, but it is mine. America, I am your daughter; my husband and my children are your sons.
K. A. Lindberg is a nonprofit executive who says she is committed to education, healthcare and equity.
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