What it means to be the mother of a black teenage son right now

two black boys sitting in the surf

By Kai McGee

I am a boy mom. Can that be a thing, just an easy, breezy thing? It cannot, not for me anyway. I am the mother of a Black son. I am the mother of a Black son born in the United States of America. I am the mother of a teenage Black son in 2020. There is a heaviness to that sentence that has been waking me up in a cold, debilitating sweat the last few weeks and my belabored breath is searching for release.

When my boy cub was born fourteen years ago the air was lighter, my dreams for him bigger, bolder, untethered. My newborn was sweet, lovable, cuddly, unthreatening.

Today the air is thick, polluted, dark, frightening. There’s been a dramatic change in the landscape of America. The veil that covered the realities of being Black in a country built on racism and injustice hadn’t yet been pierced in such a visceral way for my family. 

His limbs are long now, his voice right after it cracks is deep, commanding. His shoulders are broad, his hugs are strong— and his melanin is dark.

I fooled myself into believing that he was safe when he was a yummy toddler. I was certain he was equal when he walked into his first-grade class. We lived in Texas then and his best friend was a white child named Cole. In those early days, I decided that we didn’t see color. That the boys’ friendship would not be jaded by my knowledge of history. Fresh start, equality, level playing field. Until the murder of a twelve-year-old Black boy named Tamir Rice. Tamir was fatally shot and killed by police at a recreation center because he was presumed to have a weapon. The weapon the child was playing with was a toy gun. The police officers were not indicted.

After the Tamir Rice murder, things shifted. My son was no longer allowed to play with toy guns in the backyard or on the block with his friends. The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others were a not-so-subtle wake up call that if I didn’t speak with my son about racism and color, I was putting his life in danger.

So we did what all Black families do—we had “the talk.” The talk is when a parent looks into the eyes of an innocent soul and is forced to remove that innocence. When the talk is complete everyone involved leaves empty, angry, with their light dimmed. It’s a necessary evil. As I told him that day and each day since, “the goal is for you to make it home. We’ll figure out the justice part after you’re back in my arms.”

So, I pray every night, “Please God, just bring my baby home—alive.”

The stress and adjustment to quarantine life has been exacerbated by the murders of our Black brothers and sisters: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. George Floyd was a gut punch. Mr. Floyd was slowly and callously killed in broad daylight, with witnesses screaming, pleading for his murderer to stop. The police officer wouldn’t budge, knee on neck, determined to take a life, for no other reason than he could. The sounds of Mr. Floyd begging for air,  crying for his mother caused my womb to ache as if I had given him life myself. I believe there is an ache in the wombs of all Black mothers. We don’t bring life into the world for it to be taken because our children are of a darker hue.

I’ve been sitting with the reality that this world will never see my son’s heart before they see his color. He will never be seen for his humanity before he is seen as a threat. I’ve had to sit with this, and let it burn, let it sting and then let it go. It was becoming too much to hold. The stench of fear that festers is not something I want to carry.

I see the world exactly as it is, I have the wisdom and historical callouses that permit me to exist in the duality of being jaded and optimistic. My teenage son doesn’t have that perspective yet. He’s watched the Eric Garner and George Floyd videos, he sees the protests, he feels the unrest, he is watching history unfold. The dictionary definition of racism to him is palpable.

His group of friends are diverse both economically and culturally. Their biggest concerns are when athletics will resume and if they’ll be back on campus in the fall. Days are spent with Snapchat, TikTok and listening on loop to the new Drake song, “From Florida with Love.” My son is aware of the social unrest, but I’m grateful it’s not consuming him. His last assignment of the school year in literature is to learn a rap combining all the acts of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. As he practices, he’s joyful, silly and focused. I see remnants of the boy and flashes of the man. In this moment his light is not dimmed, and his potential is limitless. 

A midsummer night very long agoooo, a man Demetrius in love although, his soon to be wife was very down low…

As I listen while moving to the beat, I realize I’m breathing, easily and unencumbered. Feeling ease in my breath right now is a much-needed respite. Watching him exude confidence and swag lights me up from the inside out. Navigating his future is not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fair and it will at times be painful. But I remind myself, he’s alive and he will thrive. I will continue to speak life and excellence into his spirit. I will guide him on the ways to repair his wings when needed, believing that in this life, he will soar.

Kai McGee is a #boymom and writer managing quarantine life with her son and pomerchon in South Florida. Connect with her on Instagram @onanaturalkai.

Photo by author of her son and nephew

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