By Kimberly Palmiero
Marcia and Carlos T. Carter with their three sons, from left to right, Elijah, Daylon, Isaiah. (Photograph courtesy of Carlos T. Carter)
When I see George Floyd, I see myself and I see my three sons.
As I watched the video of his death, I sobbed like I had lost a relative. My heart ached as he cried helplessly for his mother and the white and Asian cops refused to acknowledge his humanity or right to go home alive to his family.
We went to the march and I saw tears drip from my wife’s eyes and saturate her mask after she read the words “I Can’t Breathe!” on a light post. The emotions that I tried to bury bubbled up and I tried to hold back my own tears as I thought of my three sons and my fears for them. Shortly after that, a white woman provided my wife a blank piece of cardboard and she wrote: “I want my three sons to live!”
I felt raw. I could no longer feel numb because I had to face my feelings and fears for my children. And sometimes, even for myself.
Every parent expects the best for his or her child. Our first instinct as parents is to love and protect our children. However, wanting your kids to live is something that should never have to be expressed, as that should be a fundamental human right and privilege. This is something that not even Captain Obvious would dare to think necessary to say, unless he or she was black or brown.
Yet as a black father, I am constantly concerned about the well-being of my sons, from being profiled and pulled over by police, to being profiled in our predominantly white neighborhood or streets. My wife Marcia and I share these fears and concerns because for too many, black + male = criminal or threat.
My fears are not new. My father, Nehemiah, told me that when he was 12, he was walking through the woods in Selma, Ala., and saw a “strange fruit” — a black man hanging from a tree. He did not really tell me how he felt. But he told me that his father, my grandfather, told him to never speak of it again.
Imagine that a 12-year-old boy, seeing a black man in his likeness lynched, had to internalize these feelings. This is no different from what parents are feeling today as we watch black men and women be slaughtered in ways that people would not slaughter a dog or cat.
The collective trauma and pain run deep. Yet before a scab of healing can completely form, it is reopened to process another death. Black people are tired of being second-class citizens, tired of the lack of injustice, and afraid for our children’s lives.
These fears are stoked through the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and Tanisha Anderson. The list goes on.
My wife and I must constantly educate our sons about how to handle interaction with police. We even caution them from walking around the neighborhood at night for fear of their being a perceived threat.
Marcia, my wife, is especially vigilant and concerned that something will happen to her children.
“I am afraid that they may be somewhere, either by themselves or away from us, and treated unfairly, resulting in their being harmed in some way. I am becoming more and more afraid that the things happening to ordinary black women and men and children can easily happen to my kids. This makes me feel scared and paranoid,” she says.
We are supposed to be the land of the free. But how can one be free when one must adjust one’s behavior to accommodate people’s perceived biases to make others more comfortable and to keep oneself safe?
Yet as I see white allies outnumber black protesters, I am hopeful that people have had enough.
I am hopeful that they realize that hate cannot drive out hate.
Instead, we have to come together in love and solidarity to stand up against murder, hate, and injustice.
I want people to not let the narrative supporting the humanity and equal treatment of black and brown people be hijacked by looters and troublemakers.
I want people to listen to the collective voice of people who realize the obvious: that black lives do matter. That black and brown people are human and deserve the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. That my three sons have the right to live free.
That they should have the right to be judged not by their skin color but by their character.
I pray for a vaccine for COVID-19. I also pray that people will also be inoculated with the vaccine of love and compassion that will protect us all from the virus of hate, murder, inequality, and oppression.
We are better together, and black people have the right to live free just like everyone else.
I want my wife to never have to worry about her three black sons being able to live.
And I don’t want to have to fear for my three black sons.