My Son Was Born With a Bull’s-Eye on His Back

Life As Mom, MMM Showcase, Parental Intel Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reposting this essay that ran on BlogHer in the summer after the heartbreaking, infuriating news out of Ferguson, Mo., this week: No indictment for the police officer who killed Mike Brown. I don’t know what to do next, friends. I just know that this cannot be our story repeated over and again. -NB

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I learned a hard truth about mothering black boys long before I had one of my own.

It was November 11, 1987. I was a teenager living with my family in a quiet suburb in Montreal. We woke up that morning to news that a young man, just 19 years old, had been shot and killed by a constable in a police station parking lot. The teen, Anthony Griffin, was black and unarmed. The officer, white and middle aged, had a standard issue .38 revolver.

BlackLivesMatter

My father, a man always ready with an easy, squint-eyed smile, was grim as he told my older sister, brother and me about the killing. The familiar-sounding name of the dead man sent my father to the phones next: to make some calls, check in with friends, see if Anthony Griffin was one of ours, while holding his breath like my mother, praying that “no” would be the only reply. But my “cousin” (i.e., family without blood relation) Leo called and cut into their hopes: He knows Anthony Griffin. Knew him. They ran in the same, loose circle. Of course they did. Leo and Anthony were young black boys, hardly men, growing up in Montreal, still living at home with their long-ago naturalized Caribbean immigrant parents. They played basketball and hockey and went to clubs with their boys and called up girls on the basement telephone late, late at night. Leo was Anthony. They were the same guy.

Anthony Griffin’s last night on earth started as an argument with a cab driver in the city just before dawn. The cabbie claimed the kid was trying to jump the fare and called the police. Anthony was nervous, reported the newspapers, because of an outstanding warrant, and once the police cruiser he was in had reached the station, he bolted. The arresting officer, Constable Allan Gosset, said he yelled at Anthony’s back, twice ordering him to halt. And he did. Anthony stopped and turned around, with his hands up in surrender.

That’s when he was shot. One bullet to the forehead.

Officer Gosset, who had been on the force for 16 years, said he had only intended to scare the fleeing youth into surrendering and that the gun went off accidentally. Charged with criminal negligence, he was acquitted twice—for the initial charge and later homicide—by all-white juries. However, seven months after the shooting, a police commission found Gosset negligent and recommended his dismissal.

By then it didn’t matter. The outrage was already loose; years of patent discrimination and racial profiling by the police had mangled any trust and left Montreal’s black community breathing fire. This murder of an unarmed teen was the last sliver of disregard, the last dribble of spit to the face of a people consistently benched despite playing by the rules. They took their fury to the streets in organized, nonviolent protests holding placards that screamed out for justice. I should say we, because I was there, along with my family, chanting and marching and drawing hard, permanent lines in the cracked mosaic that spelled out: NO MORE.

I yelled and roared with the crowd as we coursed the downtown streets. I was partly caught up in the drink of adult anger and exasperation, but after the heat in my own pumping fists had simmered, I felt scared again, edging up to panic. The reality of it rushed around me and gripped my throat: I was wrong about my parents. They weren’t exaggerating about the Way Things Are in This World.

It took my Barbados-born father 20 years of living in Canada to see that even though the prejudice wasn’t in-your-face, it was still there, rubbing on your thick skin, wearing it down, slow and sure. He started to see the racism was institutionalized; it said yes, you may have a job and a house with a basement and yard, and a comfortable life, but there were limits for you as a black person. He started to see blatant bigotry as a beast running toward you in daylight, attacking you from the front—a far less lethal option than encountering the snake in the grass at night. Then Anthony Griffin was killed, and the alarm sounded even louder for my father. In his mind, this young boy’s execution was the clearest example of how assumptions and racism—even disguised—broil into something truly horrible: his own son could one day be killed simply for being black.

Anthony Griffin stayed with me.

He stayed with me until he didn’t. Until I grew older and a little colder and simply tired of seeing this erasure story—the one about the unarmed black boy dusted away like pesky lint—play out over and again through decades like some hopeless movie trope, only with slightly different details, different faces, families, cities, and courtrooms. It’s the same verdict, though, the same tragedy with no real change in sight. Black boys were less than; that was their worth. Instead of growing angrier, I accepted this, begrudgingly, as fact.

But then Oscar Grant.

Then Trayvon Martin.

In between Oscar Grant’s killing by a BART police officer in Oakland, California, and Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting by a neighborhood watch captain in Sandford, Florida, something changed. I became a mother—a mother to a baby boy.

Heartsick and angry, I watched the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story roll out. This was Anthony Griffin all over again, 26 years later. I felt raw, breathless, sad, and ultimately helpless. And seeing Trayvon’s mother—numb and broken, a grayness seeping out through her eyes—it buckled my knees. This story cannot be our thing, on loop. Our brown-faced children cannot continue to be shoved into early graves. This hunt must be called off. Mothers, fathers, and like-figures must infuse a newer message and reaffirm it so these endangered children believe it deep in their bones: You are worthy. You belong here. You matter.

I’ve told myself that I have time. My son is only five years old now. Soon—not tomorrow, but soon—I will have to have The Talk about what others assume about him, about his life, about his intentions as he browses through a store or strides down the night’s sidewalk. It won’t matter if he’s wearing a three-piece suit or hoodie and jeans as he walks fresh into the lives of certain strangers, he’ll still get the double-take: that long side look soaked in suspicion and dread, because he’s laughing too loud (and black), walking too slow (and black), driving too fast (and black). His being here (and black) will be a problem for some, and they will see it as their right to bring forth a solution, set a course correction to protect the lives that really matter. And, no, that does not include yours, black boy.

Still, I don’t want to fill him with dread and fatalism. Even though he’ll be inundated with countervailing messages about his lack of worth, I want this child to find his way to becoming a fully realized man—the husks of resentment and bitterness tumbling in the trail behind him, sloughed off like useless, old skin. Like my folks did for me, I want to show my son that while there are people who will likely see him as a threat, there are also others who will be ready to embrace him, revere him, and come prepared to wholly love him.

But I’m not ready for all of that. I’m not ready to blow stinging dust into this kid’s bright, kind eyes. Not yet.

I want our brown boys to have the space and time to be hopeful and undaunted, counting forward not down to the days to come when they can play basketball and hockey and go to the club with their boys and call up girls late, late in their parents’ basements.

I want them to have the passport to be black, and just be.

This essay was originally published on BlogHer.com.

{mom.me} Your Fall TV Cheat Sheet on Returning Shows

MMM Showcase Tuesday, September 23, 2014

As usual, there has been a lot of talk about the new shows hitting the small screen this fall. But, real talk? How many of them do you think are still going to be on the air come Christmas? Exactly. A slim few. It’s a regular deathwatch out here. And may the odds be ever in your favor. So instead, let’s talk about some of our battle-tested, network TV faves that are coming back and bringing excitement, fun and a little shelf life with them.

RELATED: 6 Things I Learned About Motherhood From Clair Huxtable

Here’s a quick who-what-when cheat sheet for the 10 returning shows we’ve been waiting for all summer. If you’re not caught up on the current seasons, be warned: We’re spillin’ and spoilin’. Bookmark this post and get your binge going.

1. “The Good Wife” (CBS, September 21, 9 p.m.)

Photograph by DAVID GIESBRECHT/CBS

That this show is entering its sixth season and still so strong, so sharp and so, well, good makes it somewhat of rarity. And last year’s action-packed season was a powerhouse. We were left shocked and shaken by Will Gardner’s death; reeling at Diane Lockhart ditching her firm and joining the Team Florrick/Agos; and intrigued at Eli Gold asking “Saint Alicia” to run for State’s Attorney — her husband and now Governor Peter Florrick’s old job. And we haven’t even begun to unpack the hot, complicated, double-crossing muddle that is the relationship between in-house investigator Kalinda Sharma and smirking law partner Cary Agos. We are ready for the ride, Good Wife!

2. “Homeland” (SHOWTIME, October 5, 9 p.m.)

Photograph by CBS via Getty Images

Full disclosure: I gave up on “Homeland” midway through season 2. But there are plenty of folks who have been edge-of-seat for almost a year waiting to see what happens next, and Season 4 promises to really shake things up. First off: Nick Brody is dead. Like, legit dead. No tricks. Meanwhile, Carrie Mathison, who was preggo with Brody’s baby, is struggling with single parenthood. The action shifts to Pakistan, as Carrie takes on the assignment of field operative there to overseeing a drone strike program. She leaves baby back in the U.S. (possibly for good?). Saul is back, as is Quinn, plus a bunch of new characters. However, knowing “Homeland,” the newbies might not last all 12 episodes.

3. “New Girl” (FOX, Sept. 16, 9.p.m.)

Photograph by FOX

After the will-they-won’t-they question around Nick and Jess was resolved (they did), and Schmidt started dating both Cece and Elizabeth, the show began drifting south. Then Schmidt moved into the empty flat across the hall and Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.) returned — pushing poor Winston’s already back-burner storyline into Weirdo With Cat territory. It felt like the show lost its focus and fizz. The writers wisely decided to turn the boat around with a bombshell breakup of Nick and Jess and moved back to the hilarious hijinks we’ve come to expect from the group. Season 4’s premiere episode was funny ha-ha and felt like a reboot of sorts. A new “New Girl,” even. (Had to do it!)

4. “The Mindy Project” (FOX, Sept. 16, 9:30 p.m.)

Photograph by FOX

Sound the horns, release the doves: Mindy and Danny are together! The show’s second season was pretty great. They homed in on the right mix of hilarious and heartwarming: a steamy kiss on an airplane, Dr. L and Dr. C getting together only to later have the tear-soaked “I don’t want to mess up our friendship” break-up, and everyone running around NYC until the two finally made up and made out on the floor (literally) of the Empire State Building’s observation deck. It was like a mash-up of “When Harry Met Sally” and basically every Nora Ephron rom-com. Season 3’s first show was aces. Lots of laughs, raunchy jokes, plus a Dancing Danny — you can’t ask for much more.

5. “Modern Family” (ABC, Sept. 24, 9 p.m.)

Photograph by ABC

Phil Dunphy will always be my guy, but the fresh funny just wasn’t there for me these last two or three seasons. But that said, things definitely happened on the Emmy-winning show last year, the biggest being Mitchell and Cam’s wedding in the two-part finale. The planning of the nuptials took over most of the season, and this being a sitcom, naturally there were plenty of shenanigans leading up to the big event. In the end, Lilly’s dads were hitched surrounded by their large and ever-loving families. Season 6 promises the intro of a bunch of new guest-stars, and maybe — if we’re lucky — maybe that absent freshness will make an appearance too.

6. “Nashville” (ABC, Sept. 24, 10 p.m.)

Photograph by ABC

The big question from last season is: Whom will Rayna choose? Cowboy Luke, who popped the question on stage after their duet of “Ball and Chain”? (Of course.) Or will it be her original love, the wounded and recovered Deacon, who told her that he finally knows how to love her and gave her back their old engagement ring? Juliette is ready to come clean to Avery about sleeping with slimy Edgehill records chief Jeff Fordham, but it’s too late! That damn Gunnar and Zoey already filled Avery in. And another big secret is unwittingly spilled when Will tearfully confesses to Layla that he’s gay. Problem is, the reality show cameras are hidden and rolling. Oh, and Scarlett decided to pack it in after unraveling on stage, but Gunnar serenades her with one of sweet ditties and she just might change her mind about leaving.

7. “The Vampire Diaries” (The CW, Oct. 2, 8 p.m.)

Photograph by CW

The biggest news for Season 6 is bad boy vamp Damon Salvatore and good witch Bonnie Bennett are dead* after getting trapped on the Other Side when it imploded. The asterisk is because on this show, people rarely die and stay that way. Plus, Damon finally got the girl — Elena Gilbert — and they were happy. Elena’s vixen doppelgänger Katherine is no longer (boo.), while history teacher/vampire hunter-turned vampire Alaric Saltzman returns (yay.). Meanwhile, the Travelers’ spell left Mystic Falls drastically changed: No vampires can enter the town. It looks like Matt Donovan, basically the only human left on the show, is going to have to step up.

8. “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC, Sept. 25, 8 p.m.)

Photograph by ABC

Moving into Season 11 without the excellent Cristina Yang roaming the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial eating people’s souls for breakfast, I’m not sure how Mer, Der and the team will fare. Last year, we found out that Meredith Grey has another half-sister (RIP Lexie) working at the hospital: cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Margaret Pierce, the love child of Dr. Richard Webber and Mer’s deceased mother Dr. Ellis Grey. And Meredith revealed to her longtime love Derek that she really doesn’t want to move to D.C. with him. Tension! Speaking of tense, Callie and Arizona broke up, made up and finally decided to use a surrogate to expand their cute family, while Jackson and April got hitched and — oops — got pregnant. Definitely makes room for some interesting developments this season.

9. “Scandal” (ABC, Sept. 25, 9 p.m.)

Photograph by ABC

Season 3 left us with Olivia Pope no longer able to handle President Fitz and their “difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.” Liv shuts it all down and hops on a plane with backup boyfriend Jake Ballard to destinations unknown. A broken Fitz and first lady Mellie struggle to deal with the death of their son Jerry, Jr., who was actually poisoned by puppet master Papa Pope. On the subject of bad dads, Mellie reveals to Fitz that his father, Big Jerry, raped her 15 years ago, Awful! And self-proclaimed monster Cyrus Beene is a single dad after his husband James was shot in the face — by Jake! As for the rest of OPA: Harrison is likely a goner, and that Huckleberry Quinn romance (ew) still haunts my dreams. (P.S. I’ll be taking over Mom.me’s Twitter handle for Scandal’s Season 4 premiere. Join me!)

10. “Parenthood” (NBC, Sept. 25, 10 p.m.)

Photograph by NBC

Every episode brings waterworks, and with this being the final season, we need to just give into quivering lips and bring out the jumbo box of tissue. Last year Julia and her hubby Joel separated and considered divorce, while Sarah reconciled with mumbling Hank. Amber and her PTSD-suffering soldier, ex-fiancé Ryan had a quickie in the hospital bed after he was hurt, and we saw Amber buying a pregnancy test in the finale. Sweet-pie Drew’s college FWB Natalie became his full-fledged girlfriend, and he drove off to meet her in The Pontiac that Grandpa gifted him. Speaking of the elder Bravermans, Zeek and Camille finally moved out of the old family home. The show’s executive producer Jason Katims has hinted about “losing a member of the family” in this final season, so … gird yourselves! (BtwI will be recapping Parenthood’s farewell season every Friday here on mom.me!)

{mom.me} 6 Things I Learned About Motherhood From Clair Huxtable

MMM Showcase Friday, September 19, 2014

Are you sitting down? Because what I’m about to share is startling, and I’m only looking out for you here. Ready? All right. Here it is: This week, September 20, marks the 30th anniversary of “The Cosby Show.” This means the groundbreaking show debuted three decades ago, folks. It also means that we’re bloody old.

clair-huxtable

(Photo credit: Mom.me)

Like so many “Cosby Show” fans, I have a thousand favorite moments. Certain scenes left an indelible mark on that part of the brain where all things pop culture collect and take root. The whole Huxtable fam ja-ja-jaammin’ on the ones in the studio with Stevie Wonder(!). The Gordon Gartrell shirt. The excellent Elvin Tibideaux Takedown about his chauvinist ideas, masterfully delivered by head mama in charge Clair Huxtable: “And if you don’t get it together, and drop these macho attitudes, you are never gonna have anybody bringing you anything anywhere any place any time ever.” Man! It was classic wig snatching, and it was glorious.

RELATED: 9 Questions Moms Across the Land Are Tired of Answering

In fact, many of my top scenes involve Clair Huxtable. She was soft and solid, serious and silly, compassionate and commanding, confident and charming, and so damn fly in her jumbo earrings and shoulder pads. Clair Huxtable was the ultimate example of what having it all looked like way before it even became A Thing (granted, one that we soon realized was unattainable.)

So in honor of “The Cosby Show’s 30th anniversary, here are the 6 lessons I’ve picked up from Clair Huxtable on motherhood.

1. Mom Gets in the Picture

GIF via Tumblr

Whether it’s being part of a lip-syncing, choreographed dance routine to “Night Time Is the Right Time” to celebrate her in-laws’ wedding anniversary or snatching a hoagie from right under Cliff’s nose, Clair made sure she was in on the fun, experiencing things as a joyful participant instead of a smiling observer standing just outside the frame. It’s more fun inside the circle. And I’ve long made a strong effort to get — and stay — in the picture.

Read the full post on mom.me.

{mom.me} 9 Questions Moms Across the Land Are Tired of Answering

Life As Mom, MMM Showcase Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I get it. I do. There’s just something about babies that brings out the Barbara Walters in a lot people. These sweet, new, tiny human beings make folks feel like they can ask the mothers basically anything and, moreover, they expect us to be naturally ready with answers to all their queries — from the innocent to the downright intrusive.

The first few times we — if I may employ the Royal “We” here — are pretty OK with answering a couple of these questions. We’re even OK with responding to the same one a few times over. But there comes a moment where the line in the sand gets drawn and we’re done.

Lucille Ball

(image from GETTY IMAGES via Mom.me)

Maybe it’s the confluence of sleep deprivation and the ice-cold realization that our old life is at the bar laughing about us, and it all comes to a head. You’ve been asked that question too many times and it’s only causing the stress in the pit of your stomach to mount up at the back of your throat, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. And if you had your druthers, you would look at the next person who rolls up on you toting those dingy queries with steely eyes and say: “Eff off! No, not yet!” It’s what I like to call FONNY™ (pronounced: phony).

Now, because we’re friends, and I want your friends and relations to be aware of the thin ice on which they are walking, here are nine of their questions that need to be voted off the island. Print it out and mail it over to them, with a real stamp and everything, because this is legit business.

Read the full post on Mom.me.

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