The collective memory was triggered, and my trauma was in full force. I felt my mind return to black children on the auction block while white families placed bids in hopes of buying their labor potential during slavery. My heart hurt as thoughts of a time when freedom was a legal status but not upheld, and young black children swung in the breeze as their bodies hung from trees, crept into my head. I saw the decades of mob justice that connected to the story of Emmett Till and who knows how many other black boys whose lives were stolen by white terror.
Despite having happened at various times throughout history, all of those events had one thing in common: All too often, black motherhood means existing on high alert, waiting for the moment you will fight for the safety of your children against one of the many manifestations of white supremacy. Black motherhood means often being powerless, but determined to fight to the finish regardless.
I’ve seen this unwavering spirit depicted on the screen more times than I can count. I’ve also witnessed it in my mother, as she fought a school system that attempted to criminalize my brother and me. And I’ve seen it in myself as I prepare for the day I will fight for my children.
I saw my son’s future in the eyes of those young boys. My fictive kinship was in full force. I wanted to wipe their tears, kiss their faces, and nurse their wounds as I would do for my own son.
“Those are our boys,” one woman said in the second episode, and I cried. ALL black boys are MY boys, and I wanted to go back in time and fight for my boys.
The first episode broke me. I could see the signs of emotional discomfort on my brother’s and my husband’s faces, too. I was angry, I was terrified, and I was in pain.
Watching those boys be ripped away from their lives, and particularly their mothers, was too much for me. Truthfully, I didn’t know if I could continue watching the series. But if they were forced to live it, I was determined to watch it.
Somehow, I made it through.
I'm well aware of the systemic inequities in our criminal justice system. I know that my husband, my brother, and (later on in life) my son already have two strikes against them for being dark-skinned black males. I know my daughter isn’t free either.
When They See Us forced me to envision a not-so-distant future, when my children will get a first glimpse of the system that doesn’t give black children a grace period.
It was indescribably heart-wrenching to watch. But unlike the black mothers before me, my first glimpses of what’s to come have been mostly through media. I’m fearful yet grateful that black life is being depicted in a way that validates our experiences while allowing others to witness the ugliness of the system that dehumanizes us.
The series reminded me to hold my son tighter, love him harder, and be prepared for the inevitable day that I fight for my children.
As I wait, I extend gratitude to the foremothers who showed me the ropes and were forced into sacrifice before me. And when that time comes, I intend to win—for all of us.
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist whose work can be read in The Washington Post, InStyle, The Guardian, and other places. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
This post was written through our Daily Kos freelance program.
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