Natalia Temesgen

After another senseless killing, how do I make my black son feel safe?

Protesters pray over Tyler Johnson, son of Terence Crutcher, in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, in Tulsa, Okla., during a protest of the Tulsa Police shooting of Terence Crutcher.
Protesters pray over Tyler Johnson, son of Terence Crutcher, in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, in Tulsa, Okla., during a protest of the Tulsa Police shooting of Terence Crutcher. Associated Press

I am still regrouping — maybe that’s not even the right word — after seeing the video of Terence Crutcher being fatally shot in Tulsa, Okla., by police.

Like many of you, I am getting new information on the circumstances of that event: information that might complicate the image of Mr. Crutcher in our collective consciousness. Even with that, it boils down to this: a black man was shot and killed when he needed help. It shouldn’t have happened.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been planning our son’s first birthday party. I’ve gotten RSVPs from some tiny guests. I’ve gotten the cake ordered. And now, I’m just excited to celebrate him. It’s hard to believe a year has passed so quickly. This week, it is especially wonderful to acknowledge his life.

The first time I had maternal anxiety about a black son came after learning about the killing of Trayvon Martin. I didn’t have a son yet. I wasn’t a parent yet. But I knew it was someone I wanted to be, and I knew if I was blessed to carry children, they would have brown skin like my husband and I. I didn’t know I would have this boy. But I already feared.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that fear. I was pregnant and I had the feeling it was going to be a boy. So when the ultrasound tech told me that it was a girl, I was a little crestfallen. I remember walking to my car thinking, “I remember how tough it was growing up as a girl — especially those pre-teen years when I felt so out of place and awkward.” I believed that a boy would be unburdened. No legs to shave. No prom dresses to squeeze into. No catfights with fake friends.

Now here we are with our precious girl and boy, and my ideas make no sense. Our girl is one of the most interesting and resilient people I have ever met. And this darling boy is nothing but smiles — unless I leave his line of sight without warning. I believe he will grow up that way: happy, easygoing and beautiful.

What if he plays his music too loud in a public parking lot? What if he walks through a neighborhood where he isn’t recognized? What if his car breaks down one day on his way home from college class? Do I believe my son will always make the right choices? No way. None of us do. I pray God will lead him down a path of righteousness. That some temptations will completely bypass him. But even with all of that, I have no promise that he will be safe in his own country.

How do we make this country safe for all of our children? We tell them the truth — the truth about our history, our present, ourselves. We practice what we preach (or we don’t preach it at all). And we love them fiercely, and pray just as fiercely for birthdays, and more birthdays, and more birthdays.

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at nntemesgen@gmail.com.

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