To My Son
What is there to be said? I can only feel anger for so long until it ferments into the cold reality of endless despair. In the echo chambers of our social media spheres we are all shouting, all screaming, all crying the same thing. The hopelessness of such a familiar grief suffocates me, but outside of the safe spaces created by our collective mourning the world is evil and unfeeling.
I don’t know what to tell you. There are no rules that will protect you, but I’m reminded that they were never meant to. I can’t wrap you in cotton wool, or keep you as a baby clutched to my chest forever, so I will try my hardest not to let my fear infect you, but you have to know something: this world was built by boys like you, men just like you, on your backs and with gold reserves replenished with money used to buy and sell your life, 10.5 million times over, but it was not built for you.
It’s like they never expected us to live to see it, or to live to try and stake our own claim on lands of milk and honey that were watered by our blood. They kill us, our bodies a macabre display, entertainment for picnics, retweets and collectible front covers. They have us feeding on each other, consuming our dead like cannibals. There is no dignity even in death. I’ve had to chase images of lifeless men from my mind, but when I lie down at night I dream that they are your daddy. Or you.
So what remedy is there for this madness? What will satisfy their lust for our blood? What will steady the quiver of their fingers over triggers that make them believe that they are God? Maybe this is why we self-medicate with religion and superstition, our faces upturned to the heavens waiting for some kind of greater intercessor, one that will strike those that have positioned themselves against us, the same ones who have rewritten our histories and try to erase us from the present.
They want me to teach you to “respect authority”, as if they are civilised enough that they would not shoot at a body prostrated in submission. They want me to tell you to dress smarter, dress better, as if a suit could tame the unchecked barbarity that festers within them. They want to execute you, with no consequence, no accountability, no retribution and I am weary.
I can’t imagine the heartache of a mother whose son was lynched in another chapter of state-sponsored terrorism and the murder of black people, but even what I feel now is unbearable. I feel the dead weight of all of their names pressing on my chest, the sobs catch in my throat as tears run silent and free. Yes, I will cry, but when I’ve finished weeping and praying, and when the fear has left my body, I will get up and scream that your life matters – that their lives mattered – until my voice cracks and lips bleed. Don’t worry, son, your mother has got her anger back. It’s all I’ve got for now, but it will do.
In memory of Philando Castile, Sarah Reed, Alton Sterling, Sheku Bayoh, Sandra Bland, Jermaine Baker, Tamir Rice, Olaseni Lewis, Michael Brown, Mark Duggan…and everyone else.
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Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts for various publications online and offline, and is also an occasional public speaker and workshop facilitator. She tweets regularly from @JENDELLA and more of her work can be found at www.jendella.co.uk.
You’re Doing It Wrong is a bi-monthly column by Jendella Benson on parenting, relationships, and the kaleidoscope of small victories, anxiety and unsolicited advice that is modern family life.