May 262021
Plant Lives Matter?!: Parenting With Faith and Fear

One day I picked my 8 year old child up from a playdate at her friend’s house and before leaving she showed me the art she made. It was a poster in the style of a protest sign and prominently said, “Plant Lives Matter”. I just stared at it. Her friend’s mom, who is White, kind of glanced at me to see how I would react. “Plants lives matter,” I read, and then I made a noise that was part wonder, part shame and part stupefaction. I gave her friend’s mom a half wave, thanked her for the playdate and ushered my child out. 

How should I respond? Tell my child that her art is offensive and infuriating? Tell her that I’m glad she’s a budding environmentalist? Tell her nothing at all? The family she was visiting has a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard, and she told me that was the inspiration for her sign. I’ve tried to explain the BLM movement to her, in particular after we helped paint a community BLM mural on the street in front of the high school she will one day attend. She can’t seem to attend to the subject; she just floats off into her inner world. When I was child, I loved stories about confronting injustice. I couldn’t get enough of slave revolts, protests, Supreme Court decisions, protest literature and movies. This child though, is thoroughly wrapped up in the world of Wings of Fire novels, graphic novels, fairies and unicorns.

As a parent who works in both education and anti-racism, I was really torn about what to do. Do I force my happy little fairy to sit down and understand how the world will try to break her as it has tried to break me and women and girls who look like her? Or do I give her a few more days, months, of innocence? 

Into my maelstrom of ‘what-should’ came Waetie-Sanaa Cooper Burnette’s poem, To: The Faith and The Fear. Her poem is a beautifully crafted permission slip to parents of color. She confirms that we can pay attention to our children: how they are developing, their sensitivities and interests and grant ourselves the freedom to parent them/protect them as we see fit. 

I know Waetie-Sanaa from college. She is the founder of Breastpowered.org, dedicated to promoting breastfeeding and lactation education among families of color and their allies. Read below for a poetic exhalation:

The Faith and The Fear

by Waetie-Sanaa Cooper Burnette

Sometimes I fear for my Black Boy
As a Woman of deep faith I don't live in that space.
But there are days like today
when sleep eludes me.

I look at him breathing in and out....
Sleeping so peacefully.
But I fear for his bright eyes
His wakefulness and many questions 
His ability to see the truth
Because In shielding him for so long
in allowing for his innocence
I have not trained the sweetness out of him
I have not beat the joy from his soul
I have not prepared him to meet his abusers
 
I think to myself: 
How else could he have won the award in
Kindergarten for being the most Curious?

I tell you.
I did not shut him down.
I have held his hands
And rocked him to sleep
I have looked into his eyes for hours
Three years he breastfed. 
I have taught him how to hold a gaze
How to pray for his friends
How to dance & sing 
from the depths of his soul
 
From the moment I cupped him in my hands
Gathered him to my chest
And prepared him to crawl and then walk away
I knew he would return to me shocked one day
Dismayed
Perplexed by the idea 
that anyone could not love him
That others might hate him for no good reason 

But I wanted to delay and preserve that moment of irrationality for him for as long as possible
I kept it at bay....
I knew the unadulterated belief in his own goodness was his birthright.....
As it should.be for any wild and free child born on this earth…..
 
Shouldn't they all have the freedom to roam
and dig for bugs and collect frogs?
To fall & get up more times than they can count
To fall in love with your seatmate at school
Your neighbor 
Your first girlfriend 
A white girl who wrote him notes at recess
Uneventfullly, blissfully, neither of them thinking  it strange 
Because the only Emmett he knows of is his grandfather
And the white girl's mother and I both smiling, feeling both proud of some small symbol of progress and awkward all at once…

I have wanted so many things for my Black Boy
But it is getting harder and harder to fend off the fear
I have delayed many talks already
So he knows how to handle police to a degree
How to protect his sister 
If only by never leaving her behind 
To come inside right away 
at the very sign of trouble or strife 
or if the sirens result in parked police vehicles 
with us too close to the action
Sometimes it is better just not to know anything
 
At 8, certain things are required  
I try to keep the list short 
And my eyes watchful
Ready to intervene
Ready to speak up

He has watched me use my voice
He is not totally naive
But I cannot tell him about Adam Toledo
That he was just a Brown boy...
almost a baby to me
I cannot tell him the statistics
I will not weigh down his gait
with all of the names.
I refuse.
I am not sure what I am waiting for.
But tonight will not be the night.
He doesn't need to know that Adam was just a little boy or that he stopped running.
And still died.
 
So until that night, I will watch him closely.
Diligently.
Like a blind person in need of a seeing eye dog, 
I decipher situations to him.

You see that. You think that is just a toy gun.
Not such a big deal in the house or in the back yard.
It is just a game, of course.
It should be your right to play
Cops and robbers
Or what do you play now?
(It's a miracle to me that he's not too afraid to play it).
So just sit down a while.
Let me explain how easy it is for a nervous 
Police officer to think that a plastic gun is real.
So, no. If I am.not right here.
If I am not standing right here. 
No toy guns. Got it. Good. OK. 
And, if Aunty Lisa says no guns at all at her house
Then you need to understand that that is why.
Some people don't tolerate it at all. 
You understand? 
I understand, Mommy.
 
It is endless. It is endless. 
There is something new.... 
Something subtle all of the time.
And I am not shirking my responsibilities
I can see that he is getting taller and taller.
More handsome and more confident, 
Which is to say more of a threat to some eyes.
But I just cannot break him today.
I have spent years building and building
this beautiful, brown, sweet, boy. 
And today is not the day.
Today is not the day that I plan to break him.


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