“Mommy, is that going to happen to Anjelique?” sobbed my youngest daughter. My heart broke into a million pieces. I should have changed the channel or turned off that damn TV, but I couldn’t stop myself. The news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police was everywhere, and everyone across the country was feeling it.
I’m the mother of two adopted daughters. My oldest daughter, Anjelique, 11, is a black child we adopted from Haiti, and my other daughter, Mackenzie, 9, is a white child we adopted here in the United States.
We were visiting Austin and staying at a hotel while the news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police captivated the nation. I had stepped out to go pick up dinner for the family at California Pizza Kitchen. The traffic was awful. As I crept along the streets, I encountered a police barricade. A police officer directed me around it. I shrugged it off as something related to the pandemic. I figured that the mall had been shut down due to COVID, so I called the restaurant.
After I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, it felt like an eternity before the guy came out with my order. He apologized profusely, “I’m so sorry, but they shut us down.”
They Shut You Down Again?
“They shut you down again?”
I expected to hear him complain about coronavirus, so his response took me by surprise, “No. Bomb threats.”
When I got back to the hotel, I turned on the news. Bomb threats? How could there be? All I saw was a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Austin, nothing like the social unrest that later engulfed Minneapolis, Seattle, and many other big cities across the country.
That’s when Anjelique started asking me questions. Questions I really wasn’t prepared for, “What are they doing? Why are they protesting?”
I struggled to find answers that I thought were age-appropriate, “It’s a group of people who are saying that we have a problem in this country.”
“What kind of problem?”
Dance, Dance, Dance
At first, I tried to dance around the issue, “We have a problem in this country with racism, and these people are trying to make it stop.”
I continued my dance, trying to speak in lofty and general terms, but she kept asking and I kept dancing. Normally, Anjelique internalized everything and wasn’t the inquisitive sort. I never know what she’s thinking. She’d rather watch TV than tell me about her day, but she must have thought about racism because each question got deeper. I’ve done my best to protect her, but she is my black daughter so I owed her the truth. I could no longer dance. Besides, with Anjelique, I can’t really know what slips by or gets in.
I explained to her that there was a black man, who was killed by police who overused their authority. And this is what we do in this country when we get upset about something that we don’t like, and we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And in typical fashion, Anjelique goes completely silent and internal. She doesn’t say a word or ask another question, so I’m thinking that I gave her a bomb that went off, and she has to digest it. It wasn’t 10 seconds later when her white sister begins sobbing and asking me if they will hurt her sister, too. I gathered them both in my arms, sat them down, and proclaimed, “No way! I’d never let that happen. They’d have to get through me first.” But inside, I found myself asking, “Can I really promise that? Can I really protect her?”
At that moment, I realized that both of my children were dealing with this story. My black daughter has to face it every day, finding her way with so few mirrors around her. My white daughter has to face it because the sister she loves might be hurt or someone will judge her based on her skin color. And I was dealing with this story through new eyes.
“Shit! This is crazy,” I thought. My head was spinning. I had no idea. I had no idea how hard it was for mothers of black children. We, mothers, worry about everything: are they eating enough? Did they finish their homework? There better not be any alcohol at that party! Now, mix in race on top of that?! The worry that these poor mothers must feel every time one of their babies walks out the door or gets behind the wheel of a car or just visits their friends.
It’s Scary. It Absolutely Terrifies Me
It’s scary. It absolutely terrifies me that I can’t promise my child how others will react or judge her as a young black female.
Instead, I told her that I can’t possibly understand everything that she was feeling, but I was here for her. Other than being a woman, I don’t have a shared experience for us to lean on, so I may not be the right person to help with this. I mean, we do have black friends and maybe we can talk to them about this after we get back home to Dallas. Would you like that?
I created my podcast, The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds, for many reasons. One of those reasons was to remind people that the Labor movement advocates social change and justice for ALL people. The Labor movement has been and continues to be an architect and champion of numerous political and social reforms in America. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in his December 11, 1961 speech at the AFL-CIO National Convention in Miami, Florida, “The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy.”
If there’s one thing that I’m praying for, is that God will heal the racial divide in our great country. I hope and pray that the waters don’t get any muddier than they already are.
I cannot let this consume me, but as a mother, I won’t be able to stop worrying.