by Kenyona Matthews
Dear unborn Black baby boy,
I saw you today. You, with your strong heart and spine, refused to turn over for the ultrasound technician. You stood your ground and would not budge. I jumped and shook my belly. I begged you to flip over so we could see your heart. You proudly and defiantly refused to budge.
Oh baby boy, please don’t be so stubborn.
My unborn Black son, you mesmerize me when I see the inside of my womb. Seven months in and I am in awe of you already. For a while, I enjoy loving you unconditionally and look forward to the life we will soon share when you are born. I have nesting Mommy problems. I worry about getting more diapers and wipes. I stress about finishing up my baby registry after my friends and family blessed me with almost all of the items needed to care for you. I focus on you and your new life. I pray you come into the world safely. Then, America’s ugly reality hits me as soon as I get on Facebook or hear the news. Another Black body lays in the streets. Another Black boy is taken from this world. Another Black person is killed for no reason at all.
I weep for the loss of a loved black soul and his or her mama. I am gutted by the reality that this could be you, my unborn Black baby boy. I am reminded of a cold hard truth. This world will never love and honor you like I do. You see, my beloved unborn Black son, since I learned of your existence, we have lost so many Black souls to racism. At least three Black men and one Black woman have died due to White privilege and racism. Those are the most viral ones. Those are the ones we hashtagged, but there are so many more. #ahmaudarbery #seanreed #breonnataylor #georgefloyd
Baby boy, America has placed a target on Black souls for hundreds of years. I know one day that target will be on your back. To be Black and male is to live in a constant place of contention with Whites. The same weekend a Black man died under the knee of a White cop, a White woman called the police and lied about an innocent Black man threatening her. To hear a man say, “I can’t breathe”. To hear him call for his Mama is gut wrenching, especially as I think about the little Black boy I am growing inside of me. As I carry you in my womb, I wonder, will this be your only safe space? Will this be the only time I will look at your stubbornness with pride and not fear?
You see, my unborn Black son, I know I have to teach you how to keep yourself as safe as possible. Early on, I will have to kill your innocence. Early on, I will have to remind you that we live in a majority White community, and you need to be on your very best behavior. Early on, I will have to teach you how to navigate Whiteness. Your childhood, baby boy, will be clouded with unspoken rules about how you have to act. In every power structure, people of color must navigate a very harmful and damaging minefield.
Even as a little black boy you will have to learn these complicated moves. The systematic grouping and labeling at schools requires that I prepare you in a very different way than White parents prepare their children. Black parents must be honest with their kids early on about how their race will affect them. I will teach you how to brush your teeth. I will teach you to be humble and kind. I will teach you about the world, using your schoolbooks and the books I give you. As a little Black boy, I will also teach you how to act when a cop pulls you over. I will teach you how to deal with being followed in a store. I will teach you how to keep your guard up early in life. Black parents must have harsh conversations with their kids at younger and younger ages. White people will never have these conversations about life and death with their kids.
The sad truth, making me weep as I prepare to bring you, my Black son, into this world, is that these rules will not guarantee your safety. At any point, Whiteness in America can see your fierce independence, stubbornness, and strength as less than human. At any point, Whiteness in America will use its outrage, at your mere Black existence, to vilify and kill you. At any point, you will be seen as a threat, my sweet child, and you will have to fight for your life. In one moment, white fear of black skin could end in your unjust death. Today, Black mamas worry about their baby boys, just like the mother of Emmett Till did so many years ago. Lynching has changed in form but still exists and is being recorded by cell phones now. America is still a place full of hate, insisting on controlling the black body. While I love your stubbornness now, because it speaks to your strength and independence, it scares me.
I am afraid that an officer will see your lanky body with a toy gun, and shoot and then ask questions. I am afraid that a neighbor will not know you live here and will attack you while you are wearing a hoodie stuffed with snacks. I am afraid that when you stand up for yourself, a White woman will call the cops to teach you a lesson. All of this scares me, my unborn Black baby boy. All of this will hang heavy on your shoulders, and it is not fair. From the day you are born, Whiteness will have its noose around your neck and be ready to hang its strange fruit. Until White people face the power of their whiteness and actively work to be anti-racist, I will worry about you. You have an older Black sister, and I have already begun to teach your sister these lessons. Raising Black Americans is scary and hard.
I bring your sister to my anti-racism trainings and speaking engagements all the time. I always explain to her my expectation. She is to be seen, not heard. She is to sit down and not interrupt the meeting. I will never forget one training where she acted like any other kid. She wouldn’t stop interrupting me, and she kept walking through the circle of people. She wanted to be involved in the event. She was playing loudly in the room, and finally, I lost it. I packed my stuff and left abruptly from the event. My friend ran after me and said, “Sunny, she is fine. You can stay. She isn’t bothering anyone.” I told her, “She can’t act like this in public. She has to learn this lesson sooner rather than later. People will judge her and me based on her perceived unruliness. It’s not the same for me as it is for you as a white person.”
Our system of privilege and oppression makes the lesson Black kids must learn a lot different than White kids. You must do your best, even as young as five, to convince people you aren’t bad. And the truth is, you may not even get a chance to prove it. You may be shot while jogging. Your life may be seen as totally inconsequential in the face of another person’s assumptions, borne from the color of your skin. My fear for you, my unborn Black baby boy, is that the odds are much more against you because you are going to be a Black man.
To my unborn Black baby boy, I make these promises:
I will always love and carry you in my heart once you leave my womb.
I will do my best to be your soft spot to land when the world gets tough.
I will always teach you to stand strong and proud.
I will always teach you to honor and love your black skin.
I will always do my best to protect and nurture your stubborn and beautiful heart.
I will not mince words when it comes to privilege, oppression, and racism.
I will not let you believe that the heavy weight of racism is your cross to bear alone.
I will do my best to keep your strong heart and spine filled with pride.
Stand tall because you are my beautiful Black baby boy.
Mama, aka Kenyona “Sunny” Matthews, is a motivational speaker focusing on issues of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. She is a University of Akron School of Law graduate who focused on civil liberties. She earned her bachelor’s from Guilford College majoring in Political Science, Philosophy, and African American Studies. Please reach out to discuss how her anti-racism trainings can help your community heal.
For personal anti-racism consultations, bookings and engagements, inquiries may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.