He was walking to school in the morning air, right before the sun warmed away the chill. Backpack slung over one shoulder, dangling as he shuffled in his high-tops. The entire sidewalk belonged to him – maybe everyone else got a ride with their mom or arrived early for a free breakfast.
He didn’t look lonely or sad. He didn’t look worried. To the naked eye he didn’t look vulnerable.
But as I drove by him in the school zone I prayed, “Lord, keep this boy safe today and every other day of his life.” It was instinctive.
I saw a brown boy walking as a call to prayer. This is the new normal.
Or this is my new normal, the perpetual awareness of my own son’s vulnerability when he is the brown boy walking to school, to the mailbox, to the park. To be brown is to be vulnerable, it has so little to do with what he does or does not do, it seems. A brown boy walking threatens people, even if it is my son walking to the park with a pocket full of marbles to play in the dirt.
Beware of brown boys with bulging pockets – that is the new normal.
But this isn’t new. This has been reality for too many brown boys for too many decades. Now it’s newsworthy, now it’s trending and has a hashtag. Now I have my own brown boy and can’t un-see what I’ve seen on the nightly news or un-hear the stories other mothers tell. Now every brown boy I see, no matter how tall or how young, is a call to prayer. I pray for each one to be safe, for each mother to have peace.
Now I see brown boys and their mothers, women like me who love them, and feel a solidarity that is more than skin deep. Love for our sons; fear for their lives and hope for their futures bond us. I pray for the mothers, too. I pray for them to be protected from the agony of ever losing a son to racism or hate. But I know the landscape is often hostile, riddled with a pale fear, and so I also pray for these mothers to be strong.
Maybe this sounds like hysteria to you – a brown boy walking alone demands my immediate prayers? But when your son lives life in brown skin you can never be divorced from the risk posed by racism, you cannot easily (or ever) forget other boys who were unarmed, assumed dangerous and shot. Did fear pull the trigger – or hate? Doesn’t matter. Those brown boys, plural, aren’t coming home. And irrational or not, I fear a day that my own son won’t come home.
I keep remembering the young boy walking to school, his backpack hanging haphazardly off his shoulder. He has yet to fully grasp the weight of what he carries. Or maybe he has. Surely his mother has considered the heaviness of brown skin, the burden of vulnerability.
It was a week ago and yet I still see him, like a phantom, reminding me to pray.
I saw a brown boy walking – and he remains a call to prayer. They all do.