by CKrystal Stokes
I was at Walgreens after my children’s gymnastics classes, when I ran into a friend near the freezer section.
We immediately embraced, her long curly locks meeting my short afro; a meeting of differences in so many ways, yet connected in good memories.
We spent some time chatting and making plans to link up soon at the pool. My three children were with me in the store, laughing, playing, and impatiently waiting for me to stop talking ––much like every other child who accompanies their mom on social outings.
About 10 minutes into the conversation, two tall, white, male police officers in uniform walked into the store and into the same aisle in which we were standing.
They very quickly caught up to where we were, not saying much to each other; they drifted sort of eerily past the potato chips to the cooler where the drinks were.
We were most certainly within arms distance of each other, and yet we said nothing.
But for me the air was thick. I felt the shift immediately, and every fiber within my being went into high alert.
I quickly, but without much flair, eased myself closer to my children, creating a very distinct boundary between them and the officers, pulling the four of us closer to the racks of beef jerky and chips (even though I really despise beef jerky), all the while praying that the officers would move pleasantly on past us, and we would all make it home safe.
We had plans to see my baby brother that night and watch a movie later at home, and I had every intention of keeping those plans. My friend and I continued talking, but in my mind, all I kept thinking was how I did not want to accidentally bump or trigger the officers and end up in jail — or worse.
Like so many other Black mothers in this world, I carry an especially heavy burden.
I carry the weight of worry, the weight of sad, angry anticipation and fear of fatal misunderstandings.
My friend, through no doing of her own, had the privilege of being fully present in that conversation that day. She was most likely completely unaware of the feelings and thoughts surging through my being.
She probably assumed that my change in position and sudden arm around my son was just an act of love, and it was; but it was a move made both out of love and a strong desire to protect.
I’m sure she had no idea that I felt trapped in the moment, yet slightly relieved that her white privilege might have been affording me and my children some protection in that moment.
I stood facing my friend, smiling and talking, while glancing slightly toward the officers but feeling like I needed to maintain a no-contact relationship with them.
So I adjusted my gaze, smiled down at my kids and steadied myself, attempting to relax more into the conversation.
It’s interesting the way the mind works. The way fear and systemic racism work.
I remember standing there thinking: Why won’t they just speak? Why won’t they say “Hello.” or “Good day.” or anything?
Why aren’t they invested in making sure I know they are good cops––surely they know they are the ones whose actions would not be misinterpreted if they chose to engage me, but they didn’t even look our way and smile.
I can only guess about the reasons why.
My conversation with my friend continued, but I felt different.
I felt insecure and alarmed and sad that my young lion cub with the dark skin and wild locks who was standing near the chips talking about Ninja Turtles with his sisters and listening intently to the pool plans being made could be seen as anything other than the intelligent, creative, spirited child that he is.
As my mind raced, I felt my heartbeat rise and fall quickly as each moment passed and the officers were still near.
I did not feel safe near them. I did not feel protected by them.
I felt quite the opposite, and I spent every moment wondering if my proper English vernacular was upsetting or soothing them, wondering if the presence of my white friend standing next to me and laughing with me was appeasing them or pissing them off, wondering if the guns on their hips were ultimately going to protect or kill me.
I stood there with the memories of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille fresh on my mind and wondered why I didn’t just go home and make lemonade instead of stopping at the store, where I was now quite possibly going to die — or worse, be the reason my children got caught up in a situation that they didn’t deserve.
Let’s be clear: the officers never said a word to me or even looked at me much.
These thoughts were in my head, and they were in my head because of the blatant racism in this world and the horrific tragedies committed against Black people every day.
The struggle to be Black and feel safe in America is real.
And in that moment of grave unknown possibilities, I realized how very little I could do if these two officers did not value ALL lives/BLACK lives.
And I was concerned. I was nervous. I was anxious.
I was overwhelmingly sad, considering the possibility that, if these two officers felt threatened or put off by my Blackness or the Blackness of my children, that my day in Walgreens getting a cold drink on a Wednesday evening could have become quite quickly a nightmare, like it has been for so many other Black people.
I know that I am doing my most meaningful changemaking in raising my children. I take great care to give them the educational tools and empowerment that they will need to become responsible and caring members of this world.
CKrystal is an IHE graduate student and mother of three. Read more about CKrystal here.
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