By Yuliana Kim-Grant
You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable. — Ta-Nehisi Coates
As the mother of an eighteen-year-old, I am learning to “embrace the change” or, rather, the inevitability of him becoming a man. These words by Coates are words I want him to understand completely, for these words are to be subsumed into the depths of his very being as he faces the world as a Black man. In Between the World and Me, Coates tries to articulate the idea of Blackness to his teenage son. The book is searing in its clear-eyed look at the lasting chains—both literal and metaphorical—of slavery.
Raising a Black son when you are not Black is complicated. Some could argue that being an ethnic minority offers some measure of a guide, but as his mother I can say that Blackness trumps all the Otherness in this country. When I met my husband, I thought I was woke. I thought I had an understanding of racism, having been a victim of it, thought about it, studied it, and certainly argued about it for much of my young adult life. This early hubris has, over time, been gently, and at times, violently toppled, leaving just the remnants of what I thought I knew.
Like many mothers, I worried and continue to worry incessantly about my child. During the first few years, I neurotically took his temperature, ever on the lookout for sickness. But the usual fears all parents have for their child have been a mere teaser as my comprehension about what his color will mean for him for the rest of his life casts a shadow over everything else. I will be honest when I say there have been moments when I thought I didn’t have the strength to raise him as he needed to be raised, to prepare him for the inherent injustices that he would get to know intimately, and to teach him to understand that his body, as Coates writes, is, in some ways, not his own.
With each new Black death at the hands of those who are here to protect, another part of me dies just the tiniest bit, this new death another affirmation that my son’s body is not his own, his fate dictated by the isms that he had no part in creating. In the moments when I want to get down on my knees, begging for a sign that this can’t be life’s reality for my son's reality, my faith gets shook.
As I see my beautiful son grow, the outlines of his manhood more clearly etched with each day, I find myself turning more and more to the notion of grace to keep me from coming completely unmoored whenever I see his body as being owned by those who had whipped and chained so many men and women hundreds of years ago. As I embrace the change of him leaving home to forge his own way, I try to not buy into the pessimism that many would argue is wholly warranted. Instead, I try to picture a day when he will feel true ownership of his body, the threat of it being taken from him by the whim of someone else no longer a daily reality of his life as a Black man in the United States of America.
Yuliana is a yoga teacher, author, wife, and mother. Find out more about her at https://www.yulianakimgrant.com.
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