A Mother’s Litany

Lyric essay on Ferguson, by Courtney Morgan 1

by Courtney Morgan

Because I am white.
Because my son is black.
Because he’s half black. Because he’s black. Because one drop.
Because he looks black. He’s not white.
Because no one had to teach me about race.
Because I didn’t have to learn about my color.
Because I could grow up thinking race was the past.
Because I thought being open-minded meant not thinking about it. Because that was good citizenship.
Because we are all people.

Because now I have to teach my son about race.
Because now I don’t know how.
Because my son’s father told him, young, you are black.
Because the world told him, young, you are black.
Because it made me mad. Because it made me sad. Seeing him, young, cut up and put into a box. Because I couldn’t understand.
Because I couldn’t fit there with him.
And he is my son.
Because I wanted to tell him, you are me. We are the same.
Because the world told me all along that I was nothing/anything/everything. I was white.

Because one of my subject positions is white.
Because one of my subject positions is mother.

Because when we read about segregation he asked me:
Mommy, why would they hate me?
Because when we read about segregation he asked me:
Mommy, would you let me eat in your restaurant?

Because how do you answer that question?
How is that a question a child could have to ask his mother?
How is that a question a human being could ever have to ask at all?

How do you explain that a few decades ago, he wouldn’t have been born. That a few decades ago marrying his dad would be illegal. That Alabama didn’t strike the anti-miscegenation laws from its constitution until 2000. That we haven’t come that far.

Because I have been teaching him to read and tie his shoes.
Because there is so much more to prepare him for.

Because he is my son.
Because all you want, ever want, is to keep your son safe.
Because all Samaria Rice wants, is to keep her son.
Because all Lesley McSpadden wants, is to keep her son.
Because all Gwenn Carr wants, is to keep her son.
Because all Sabrina Fulton wants, is to keep her son.
Because there is this nightmare image, just outside of my periphery, dancing on the edges of my vision, that I can’t even look at. A demon. A boy, lying on the ground.
Because I can’t keep him safe.
Because the world told him, you are black.
Because a life is a life is a life.
Because it is not.

Because I need him to know now, you are black.
Because I want him to know now, you are a piece of something I am not.
Because I have to tell him now, you have to go somewhere that I cannot go with you.
But I will be behind you.
Because you have a weight that I never have to bear. That I cannot bear for you.
But I will be behind you.
Because you face a tearing that I never have to face. Torn from yourself and stood face to face with an identity that someone else puts over you like a mask.
But I will be behind you.
Because there is a smell of dried blood and burnt flesh that runs in your veins that doesn’t run in mine.
But I will be behind you.
Because you are a part of a community and a pride and a pain that I am not a part of.
But I will stand beside you.
Because the world will tell you what you are. They will decide before you even open your mouth.
Before you put your hands up.

Because your life, my son, matters.
Because your life, my son, doesn’t.

But still we live in a safe neighborhood.
But still you will get a good education.
But still you have class privilege.
But still you will be cloaked in some of my white privilege, especially when you’re seen with me.
But still you could be President.
But still some will see you and say, they can make it. If they want to.
But still, some will see you and see only: threat. hoodie. thug. hulk. demon.

Because this is not about me.
Because this is not about my loss.
Because I can be angry.

 

But you, my boy, are black.

 

 

I have been conflicted about sharing this piece. I didn’t want to drown out black voices. I didn’t want to convey the sense that my voice or perspective is more important, is as valid even, in this moment. I didn’t want to speak for others, not even my son, whose life experience will be different from mine, who will teach me as much as I will ever teach him. I also didn’t want to convey that this is important to me as a white person only because it affects me directly in this way.

But there is something in this message that I did want to share, that felt crucial and pressing and necessary to say. And that is, that families are not black or white. One in ten same-sex married couples are interracial. 9 million people checked more than one race box on the 2010 census. And I wanted to say also, that this country is not black or white. These are issues that both divide and unite us, but they affect us all, and will continue to affect us all in ever more integral and profound ways.

In our house, this is an issue of family. In our country, this is an issue of national identity. We are all affected. We are all responsible for addressing this.

 

 

Courtney Morgan erotic fiction writerCourtney Morgan is the founder and managing editor of The Thought Erotic. Her collection of stories, The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman, is forthcoming from FC2 in Spring 2017. Her writing has appeared in Pleiades, The Red Anthology and American Book Review. She is a recipient of the Thompson Award for Western American Writing and was shortlisted for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Fiction.

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