My son is tall for his age. In fact, at 8, he looks 10 or 11. He is broad shouldered, skinny, but like so many other Black boys his age, muscular and six-packed. Gap toothed. He is so shy that I often have to remind him to look at adults in the eye who greet him in my presence. It is only in his silliness that his real age is often revealed. In our neighborhood, he has been one of two, maybe three other Black children in his school. After I moved him to a neighborhood alternative school, he was the only Black child in the school of 250. That is not completely true: My neighborhood, an old arts community now gentrified with million dollar triplexes and rents few can afford in a Montreal economy, has a good share of bright Black folk—folks who, back home, would easily pass the paper bag test and perhaps, pass completely. Here, there are generations of light, mixed-race parents who have married lighter or married so blonde, their children are signified Black only by a kind of center-crown kink every Black mother knows. My ex-husband is a deep, bronze brown, and so my children—many hues darker than my skin– are occasionally mistaken as not my own.
“Look at my life/And tell me I fight.”
–Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”
I have been thinking about how, just like “Until the Quiet Comes,” Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me,” places a visual hope front and center of the simplest kind of imagined Black American life—that is, a Black American child’s life properly placed, in its proper context. A Black boy and Black girl cascade out of their coffins, spiral onto asphalt–hands legs akimbo–, and dance through a group of double dutchers. Here, there is normative joy, a site where Black childhood is not an American oxymoron. “This may be the new battle rap standard!” I will say later, excitedly, in front of my children.
“Battle?” they ask. “You mean, fight?”
“You know, with words, to try and show someone you are better by your words.” I start to explain LL Cool J, but that does not quite cut it. So, I lean in with the most honest answer I know: “Well, really, to try and make yourself exist, when the rest of the world does not see you.”
“Oh, like when Harry Potter uses his cape?” they ask.
“No, not like that, baby,” I say. “Because the rest of the world does not believe you matter deeply.” I stop. I can’t go on really, because the next “whys” will be met with something about Black skin and hatred that will produce a horror I am neither ready to induce nor face, if I am honest. My oldest child is nearly 9, and he can wait a bit longer.
- We are all pre-adult Michael Jackson of late. My 8 year old moved too far in, asking questions about Mike Brown that I could not answer. I needed a home that was enveloped in the brilliance of Black children. So, this. Especially this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkBS4zUjJZo. We are currently, per my daughter’s suggestion, working on a family choreography.
- I probably have not been this broke since my HU undergrad days when I rationed out my weekly food allowance to splurge on two 7-layer burritos at the Taco Bell on Georgia Ave. But, it is okay; the kids are alright.
- A hour or two of near silence and a bit of positive peppering next to my child’s body each day weighs more than I yet know how to measure.
- Music is everywhere, all the time, and we study like I used to read liner notes at age 10. Right now, they love Lenny Kravitz—namely, Mr. Cab Driver and amusingly, all the songs that reference his mama. We watch videos featuring Mrs. Roker too.
- I have not been to the gym this consistently in years. My kids get an hour of Netflix in the gym cafe in exchange for a treadmill and weights. I am grateful.
- My time has like, quadrupled in value. I wake up at 3:30 am, joyfully, brain racing.