Black Girl, White Mother

I watched Michael Brown’s mother speak to the press for the first time with my two best friends. We sat in silence, tears rolling down our cheeks, turning over the question of how this could have happened in our minds.

A year later, I held the hands of the same two girls, while we watched Tamir Rice’s mother make an all too similar speech. A year before, none of us would have thought we’d be in the same position. We thought seeing and hearing one mother’s overwhelming grief would be enough for this country to understand.

I should have known better, because we’ve seen mother after mother stand before us and try to make sense of how their babies ended up dead so early and so unfairly. It goes all the way back to Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, who’s heartbreak was so profound that she left the casket of her 14 year old son’s mutilated body open for the world to see.

We see a black mother crying about her dead child every other day.

Every time I watch the familiar hunched over body, see the bloodshot and teary eyes, hear the shaky and shallow breaths, I think of my mother. I imagine her standing in front of the hundred microphones, trying to hold it together as she thinks about her dead black baby.

I could easily be the next person considered too threatening by the police. My 5-foot-10-inch stature, pigmented skin, and smart mouth could intersect at the wrong time and wrong place and leave me bleeding out in the street.

My mother is different though. Unlike Geneva Reed-Veal, or Sybrina Fulton, or Lucy McBath, my skin does not match that of my mother. Her skin shows bright and white, complimented by blonde hair and green eyes. I’m brown, coffee, or caramel colored.

My white mother has shaped every single part of my life. The simplest things—from how I take care of my hair, to what my ideal Thanksgiving meal looks like—are because of her. Her values, her language, her culture—they made me into the woman I am today. Her white skin gave me my lightness. It gave me my loose curls. It gave me my comfort in living and existing in the white world.

Her whiteness has characterized my life. And I don’t doubt it would characterize my death too.

My mother would stand in front of the nation, and cry about me, and people would listen. People would see her pain; they’d feel it twisting in their guts. Her words would carry a weight that would extend beyond a week of protest. Her words would reach beyond just the black community.

I know this because I’ve seen the difference having a white mother makes. I’ve seen it with my high school’s administration, who rarely listened to my black classmates’ black mothers, but always had ears for my mother. I’ve seen it in walking into stores and being immediately greeted versus being glanced at and ignored. I’ve seen it sitting on the curb, two cops in front of me, being giving the option of being escorted home instead going to the precinct after they spoke with her. After being caught red-handed breaking the law, my mother’s conversation with that police officer is what prevented me from spending the night in a cell.

I don’t worry about my death at the hands of a police officer, because I am confident my white mother will get me justice.

My white mother will make other people care.

My white mother will make the non-black people, who could turn the news off when they see my name in a headline, listen.

My white mother, will make people understand what it’s like to lose their child, just because they weren’t white.

Kacey E. Gill ’20, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Grays Hall.

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