Originally published in the Jackson Free Press August 20, 2014
On the day in 2002 that I welcomed my only son into the world, I felt joy worthy of a Stevie Wonder song. When Ajani Andrew Michael made his debut at a little over 5 pounds, my heart skipped a beat, and the heavens seemed to open for just a moment before the dark clouds of worry rolled in.
My worry started immediately since my son was born just a little early. So like a disproportionate number of black children, he would have to fight a bit harder due to prematurity. As my handsome boy lay on my chest, skin-to-skin, struggling for every labored breath, my mind was already thinking about how hard life for him would be.
I worried if I had made a mistake by giving him an African name that means “he who is victorious in struggle.” I thought about the odds of him being tracked into special education before the fourth grade. I felt guilty for looking at him and hoping that while I loved the deep richness of his father’s dark skin, his likely lighter complexion would insulate him from some of the profiling that comes from being a black male in America.
As a community health worker, I knew that he had to beat the first-year infant-mortality odds for black babies. I sat thinking all of this as I told him how perfect and beautiful he was, before he was whisked away to the neonatal intensive-care unit.
Since Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Mo., some have highlighted that the killing of young black men is a reproductive-justice issue. Reproductive justice is the right to have children, to not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments. It is based in human rights, just like the right not to live in fear for your child’s life due to the effects of racism and oppression.
Black mothers do not yet have reproductive justice. If we choose to parent, we have a long list of things to protect our children from. We fight to keep them safe from health disparities, educational inequality and the school-to-prison pipeline—the list goes on. Racism and oppression don’t take holiday breaks, and neither do “normal” parenting worries like first steps, colds and grades.
Add to the list the impossible task of protecting our children from racial profiling—a danger that could lead to police gunning them down one day.
Ask my kids who mommy’s favorite is, and they will all say “Ajani.” Truth is, there are no favorites, but I do hold my son close. I know he faces a world that doesn’t actually see him when they look at him. They see a threat, a thug, a problem or a stereotype. Imagine what would have happened if the officer had, instead, seen Michael Brown that day. He might still be alive.