Alton Sterling Is My Son, and I'm Scared as Hell

My sons don’t have the luxury of making youthful mistakes — young black men who make youthful mistakes end up dead.
Publish date:
July 9, 2016
gun violence, racial profiling, racial politics, police violence

Tragically, Alton Sterling will be dead for exactly 30 days on the day my eldest son graduates from college — by then Alton will be reduced to hashtags, screen savers, and protest signs. As I prepare for my son’s graduation party, Philando Castile’s mother makes funeral arrangements for the son we watched bleed out before our eyes as a gun barrel remained fixed on his broken body. I watch. I cry. I yell. I pray. I write. And I still can’t help but feel it’s all ineffectual busywork. And all the while, there is a white-hot rage brewing just below the surface of my skin because I could not save Philando or Alton or Jordan or Trayvon or Oscar. For that matter, I can’t even save my own two sons.

"What the fuck? Am I invisible today?" The truth of my helplessness has festered in my body like a noxious disease and erupted in the checkout line at Target. I snap after a white woman steps in front of me. She stares, appalled at my reaction. I am appalled at the fear that flashes across her cheeks in shades of pink. This white woman — who births the men that hold the power to ridicule, reduce, rape, break, burn, mutilate, and shoot my babies — is afraid of me; I don’t understand why she doesn’t understand my anger.

When my son tells me about a recent college escapade that involved drinking and partying and club-hopping, I am livid. I remind my son that he can’t do what his white friends do. “You are a big, dark-skinned man who is immediately seen as a threat.” He rolls his eyes and quickly changes the conversation; he knows I am compelled to give him the terrible truth. “Your life doesn’t matter to most people, and I’m sorry.” (Despite the blackness this country holds over his head like a cage, he has still morphed into something magnificent.) I often wonder how many mothers of white sons sit up night after night, steeped in their own fears, and wonder if their sons will make it home. My sons don’t have the luxury of making youthful mistakes — young black men who make youthful mistakes end up dead.

I have done everything this country demands I do to turn my two sons into “good” black men. The type of black men who won’t end up shot dead by those sworn to “serve and protect.” They are educated, articulate, well groomed, athletic, humble, and spiritual. My eldest, who attended a private boarding school, also played lacrosse, chess, and rugby. I understand the foolishness of this thought pattern. No man deserves to be profiled and systematically executed because of his color. The man holding the gun and shielding the biases behind the badge won’t wait to hear my sons’ SAT scores.

In the midst of wanting to ensure their survival, I also worked to gift them with a sense of self-pride. So I gave them Eyes on the Prize, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Richard Wright, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I played Tupac, Public Enemy, Prince, and Marvin Gaye. I put them in organized sports and multicultural classrooms. We shivered together at Barack Obama’s inauguration. I told them they could attend Howard or Harvard, and I would be proud either way. I kissed, hugged, and cheered them on. I worked on balance so that they will recognize their beauty in a world that hates their darkness and diminishes their manhood.

The juxtaposition of my son to Alton Sterling is impossible. They are one and the same. If my son were to be killed at the hands of the police tomorrow, the trolls would hack his Instagram and Twitter accounts, looking for the images that would turn him from target to thug. Photographs would be found in his social media accounts that might fuel the worst possible narrative, as he is 22 and cavalier at times.

I am only one black mother, and I don’t dare speak for the masses of women out there with black sons. I can’t fathom what it must be like for the women who have lost their children, husbands, brothers, and fathers to rogue police. I only know that I was scared as hell yesterday. I am scared as hell today. In light of the recent police shootings in Dallas, I am certain I’ll be scared as hell tomorrow.