Ahmaud, Breonna, Christian, George, and The Talk Every Black Boy Receives
OPINION BY TIMOTHY PEOPLES, as posted by Baptist News Global, May 29, 2020
I was having an at-home physical. You may be familiar with them; you have to get one for life insurance coverage. I guessed my blood pressure would be high, given the national news I had been trying to absorb throughout the day.
The nurse jumped right in and began her list of questions. Almost all the answers were “No.” She then asked, “Does your mother have a history of high blood pressure or diabetes?” And that’s when I froze, because George Floyd cried out for his momma before he took his last breath.
“America, we have been crucifying our own for too long.”
I had a flashback to first grade, to the first time my mother gave me The Talk. Every black mother has given this talk to her son; it’s pretty much universal in black households in the United States. It begins – at least in my experience and in that of others in my family – with the mother discerning whether her son is ready for this news because she knows this just might shatter his world.
My mother got down on my level, kissed me on the cheek and with tears in her eyes said, “Baby, you are a black boy in a white man’s world.” She was very intentional about her choice of words: boy versus man.
She continued, “That’s all you will ever be to many of them – a black boy. When they see you, they will assume trouble. They may even deny you a future. And I know this might seem degrading, but there are some things you have to do for Momma when approached by a white man, especially those that think they are powerful.”
The first few times my mother delivered The Talk, I would say something like “Momma, I’m different! They won’t hurt me. I’m nice and polite and the cutest,” trying to catch a breath in the midst of a familiar but suffocating conversation. And she would say back, “You all Momma got.” And I’d start crying with her.
This hard truth became more apparent to me my sophomore year of high school. One morning I missed the bus and needed my father to take me to school. We rushed out the door, but as soon as we pulled onto the street of the school the cops pulled us over. In the rush, my father had forgotten to pick up his wallet atop the kitchen counter. Now, our family had lived in this small town in Oklahoma since the 1930s; everybody knew us. But this day, I guess the police officers forgot who we were. They forcefully grabbed my father out of the car, threw him to the ground, cuffed him and held him in the county jail for days. Just enough time for him to lose his job for being a “no show.”
Fifteen years later, I still hear my father’s voice, while lying on the asphalt, telling me to run on to school, that he would be OK. And 15 years later I still bear the guilt that it was my fault. If I had just awoken five minutes earlier that morning, I would not have missed the bus.
These conversations with my mom continued even after high school, usually with just a few protests from me: “But Momma, I’m a first-generation college student…. I have an Ivy League degree…. I have good credit!” She would always say, “All they see is your black skin.”
All I can think is that George Floyd’s mother had given him the universal black son talk, perhaps multiple times.
Maybe he had responses like mine or maybe not. But in those last breaths on May 25 in Minneapolis, with his face pressed to the pavement and a police officer’s knee pressed to his neck, he cried out to her, perhaps signifying she was right and knowing that we black men are only safe in our mother’s arms.
Lord, I know George Floyd surely wished it wasn’t true. And in the year 2020 in the United States of America, I surely wish it was not true. But our mommas know best, I suppose.
Today I am trying my hardest to find solace in another man who cried out to his mother, and to his father, when he was bleeding and suffocating on the lynching tree, being put to death by people who believed they had more power than he. I’m trying to find solace in Him, not because I’m a pastor, but because His story does end with change, with redemption, with a new perspective on social constructions and power.
But the hope of transformation that comes from Jesus’ story had to be spoken out, cried out, called out by the ones who were working toward redemption and change in their own context. And that is what is required today: for voices to cry out, egos to be put aside, unjust actions to be denounced and unjust policies to be challenged. It requires the majority to see the injustices and to rise up on behalf of the abused and the oppressed.
“All I can think is that George Floyd’s mother had given him the universal black son talk, perhaps multiple times.”
It takes another Pentecost to happen for each and all of us to yield to the redemptive power of the Spirit and to use our tongues to call out for justice.
Most of the time the scripture readings for Pentecost Sunday end before we get to Peter calling out the people and their systems for crucifying Jesus and the listeners’ response: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” And Peter exclaimed, “Repent!” (Acts 2:37-38)
America, we have been crucifying our own for too long. I surely hope your heart has been cut by the tragedies of Ahmaud, Breonna, Christian and George – just to cite four victims whose names have circulated recently in the news media.
I sure hope we are ready to repent and move with the Spirit of God, because right now when my momma calls to give me The Talk, about all I have left to say is, “I have life insurance now, just in case it’s me next.”
Timothy is senior minister at CBFNC Church, Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point. He is a graduate of Adrian College and Yale University Divinity School.