Letter to My Unborn Son

My father e-mailed me an article about an unarmed black man a police officer shot ten times. After reading the headline my first reaction was to delete the e-mail. I didn’t want to read another news story about a black man getting killed because he was perceived as a threat. I am still thinking about Trayvon. Stereotype threat is real and alive, especially in “colorblind” America.

Eventually, I steeled my nerves enough to read the article. Here was a man who got into a car accident. He survived the accident only to be perceived as a threat by a nearby home’s occupant. Here was a man who survived the accident only to have a woman call the cops on him. Here was a man who survived the accident only to have ten bullets enter his body. Here was a man who survived the car accident but could not survive an encounter that too many black people fear will happen to their male loved ones: a deadly interaction with a police officer.

I don’t know if I want to have children or not. The jury is still out.

The older I get the more I realize my reticence surrounding having children is really my hesitation to raise black children in America. It’s weird because I am the prime example of a beautiful life in the United States. I was born middle class, attended great public schools, graduated from a private university, and immediately re-entered into the middle class when I became a teacher.

Yet here I am wondering if I can guarantee the same will happen for my children. I doubt America will be so kind to my children as it undoubtedly has been to me. I have different fears when I think about being the mother of a male child versus a female child.

My anxiety, if that’s the right word, with raising black male children centers around tragic events such as these. I once spoke to a woman who went through a difficult pregnancy. She feared dying during delivery. Living in the United States, it’s easy to forget that child birth used to be the number one cause of death for women. In some areas of the world, it still is.

Regardless, this woman already had a young son and you know what her biggest fear was?  It wasn’t death. It was that her black son would wallow in foster care. Granted, she was married so her husband would have become the primary caregiver. But this fear of hers highlights what she knew innately, though she couldn’t cite statistics: Black males are the least likely to get adopted in the US (If you want to read more about the color of foster care, I highly suggest Dorothy Roberts’ book Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare).

Call it a logical fallacy if you want, but that adoption statistic highlights what I already believe: black men are not valued in American society. And please, don’t even think about mentioning President Obama as a rebuttal.

Thinking about all of this, I decided I needed to write to this potential male child of mine and, in so doing, attempt to write out my own fears.

Source: Creative Commons

Letter to my Unborn Son

Dear ___________,

I write this letter to you at a time of transition in my life. Naturally, your moment of delivery into this world will be another celebrated turning point, and I can only hope and pray that you arrive healthy, of sound body and spirit, and ready for what life has in store for you. Regardless of whether you’re healthy or not I will love you. Whether you’re of sound body and spirit or not I will love you. Whether you are ready or not for this world I will love you.

I will love you with the awe-inspiring power of love I’ve received from family and from the community you’re now entering: the African-American, the Black community.

I am choosing to love you with a fierce, protective, and unyielding love because I know I decided to bring you into a society that does not, and will not, do the same. I decided to bring you into a world that loves to show how some people who look like you rob, shoot, steal, kill, and do drugs.

I have chosen to bring you into a world where the only celebrated person that looks like you has a basketball, football, or mic between their hands. Sometimes it’s as if the full you doesn’t exist, the you that may like to write books or poetry, the you that may become a scholar, the you that may be a doctor with a healing touch instead of a destructive touch.

In spite of all of this, I have chosen—like millions of other Black women before me and the millions that will come after me— to have you leave the safe dark space that is me to enter a world of blinding lights, glaring headlines, and uncertainties.

I am scared. Scared if I’ll be a good mother and, even more, scared that life will not be as good to you as it was to me. But you know what? I realize that a big reason why life was good to me is because my mother was good to me. So, I will do my best to be good to you. I will do my best to have our home be a haven against a world that may not support you.

That being said, I will not make excuses for your behavior. You need to treat people well even if they do not do the same to you. I’m not saying to be a pushover, I’m just saying to believe in a greater good and know that a greater power is watching what you do.

Be like the history of our people. Be strong. Be brave. Be beautiful.

Being brave means living your truth and not what society or even I expect you to be. It means being confident enough to not live in the ways that are expected for black American males if those ways don’t bring peace to your spirit; for it is yours and yours alone. Not mine. Not society’s. Yours. I am here to help nourish your spirit and guide it, but in the end what you choose to do with your inner light is between you and God. If you honestly feel like the two of you are aligned, I can’t help but be supportive of that.

And please, despite the oppressions of this society please do not use those oppressions as a reason to hurt the group that loves you with a fierce and oftentimes foolish love: black women. I, your mother, am a black woman. A deep-hued black woman.

Don’t ever forget that.

I believe one of the most powerful things I can do on this earth is to help rear an American black man who openly respects black women. We, black women, are the group certain black men repeatedly call out of our name for billions of other people’s entertainment. We are the group that is used as a prop in music videos to show certain black men have “made it,” then in the next scene portrayed as materialistic, angry, selfish, and dishonest. We are the ones realizing too many men are more than willing to give us a kid but not their last name. We are not innocent, but we are human; we deserve more respect than we currently receive.

You, my baby, mean the world to me. I will do my part to make sure that the world is your oyster instead of your prison. Just know that when the world is kind to you and when the world attempts to break you, I will be here supporting you along the way. Always.

I love you.



4 thoughts on “Letter to My Unborn Son

  1. This was incredibly powerful and moving. As you may or may not know, I too fear bringing children into this world. Our reasons are very different (mine relate more to the unsustainable consumerism in our society and I would not want my kids to suffer through massive environmental changes like natural disasters, food/water shortage, etc.) but the deep dark fear of failing as a mother along a challenging landscape is the same. I offer you this and I offer it only because it helps me to at least entertain the idea of procreation…. 1. It has always been brutally difficult to raise children and that will never change. Even if society isn’t “there” yet, the world (read: the US) is the safest it has ever been for a child to be different — be it black, gay, slow, whatever. We are the most tolerant we have ever been today and by the time you have children, it will be a bit better. 2. There is only one way to be part of the making of a better society and that is by adding people to it that will carry the flag. If socially conscious, intelligent and morally responsible people stop having children out of fear, we will as a society miss out on the next generation of wise and grounded leaders. 3. There are no guarantees in life. I could die tomorrow, you could, or one of our hypothetical babies could at some point in the future. This could be due to race, health, or just plain freak accidents. The world is not safe. This does not mean that we as a people — as a human race — should recoil. We can only do our best, give our best, and see what happens. Yes, we may endure terrible nights of worry. We may even endure terrible losses. But trauma is formative, it is redemptive, and with the experience of it, our children will be better prepared for the real world that awaits once the time comes for us as parents to depart.

    Hang in there love. Keep dreaming. Keep exploring. Keep writing.

  2. Thank you so much for YOUR words here. I do wonder about the environmental impact I, and we as people, have on this world. You bring up some really thought-provoking points. It has always been difficult to raise children for one reason or another (i.e., war, food shortages, man vs. environment when the technology wasn’t what it is today, etc…).

    You are truth-telling when you say nothing is guaranteed. I can have a child in the most “ideal” situation and still have a traumatic event happen to my child. I once heard that the decision to have a child is a decision to allow your heart to walk around freely, unprotected, for the rest of your life. I have to think about that (and potentially write about it in the future). That being said, the “guarantee” of living a full life in the US is being cut short for too many black males due to police brutality. We have come a long way from lynchings and such, but we still have a long way to go.

    To your second point, I agree! Towards the end of my letter, I discussed how I wanted him to be so that he adds to the African American and the wider community.

    “Trauma is formative.” I am going to have to remember that.

    Your words just inspired me to keep dreaming, exploring, and writing. Thank you!

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