SONGS IN A KEY CALLED BALTIMORE
(I am frustrated because right here in my adopted beloved city called #Baltimore –> we have hit 293 deaths thus far! #BlackLivesMatter they do/ they do/ they do and we need to Sing this Song Until the Whole World Hears and Believes! I explore this idea in my poem, “Songs In a Key Called Baltimore,” in the upcoming special edition of Urbanite magazzine)
What’s it like to raise two young black sons in a city like this? As Karsonya Wise Whitehead says, it’s often infuriating, sometimes terrifying, and ultimately inspiring.
I would like to write a song about peace/about reconciliation/about a city coming back together and working for the common good.
I would like to proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter and then point to the ways in which this simple concept/screamed and shouted, cried over and prayed about/has transformed the city and altered our space.
I would like to teach my sons about peace even though I am raising them in a city where peace has never been the norm/where peace is not taught on the playground/nor practiced in the school/nor modeled on the street corner.
I try and hide my frustration because in the aftermath of the Uprising/a time when black and white people named their pain/life has settled back down to the familiar/to a time where black bodies are once again endangered, black life is once again criminalized, and black spaces exist, once again, only on the edges of both the city and our minds.
I am not old enough to remember life before Brown v Board, when black and white spaces were clearly marked.
I suspect (though) that it was not much different than it is now in places around Baltimore and places across America where the crime of breathing while black is still punishable by death.
My heart always skips a beat when a cop’s car is behind me while I am driving at night/ And though my sons are not old enough to drive, I am already frightened/concerned/angry/frustrated as I think about the day when they will be stopped for the crime of driving while black.
There are days when being black in America overwhelms me and makes me want to spend the day in bed/and times when being the black mother of black boys in Baltimore City makes me wish I had enough money to move them somewhere where I could keep them safe.
Safe from them—the ones who see their lives as expendable and unnecessary/and safe from us—those who look at them without realizing that they are mirrors that simply reflect all of who we are supposed to be.
I often think about slavery and how different life was when you could see the hand that held the chain that was attached to the ball that was tied to your ankle.
We come from a people who experienced this daily and still chose to survive.
Survival is our legacy.
And since we survived the Middle Passage as involuntary passages on a trip that sealed our fate/ And we survived slavery, whips and latches by learning how to give way and stay small/ And we survived the Civil War by claiming freedom at the hands of those who looked like our oppressors/ And we survived Jim Crow by teaching our children the unwritten rules that were marked by our blood/ And we survived black mayors who moved from our communities, took a piece of our spirit but left their humanity behind—we will survive this.
And though there are times when we are like strangers in a foreign land/We look around and wonder how we got here/We take stock and realize how little we actually have/We wonder how long we will continue to suffer and die at the hands of both the oppressor and of the oppressed—and despite all of this, we survive anyway.
There are days when I look at my sons and my heart swells with pride/ As I think about all that they used to be and all that they can become/ And then I stop and catch my breath/ I grab my chest and clutch my pearls/ I blink back tears and shake my head/because I am the mother of two black boys being raised in a post-racial world/where cries for justice for Freddie and for Tyrone West and for Rekia Boyd and for Sandra Bland and for Aiyanna Jones and for Tamir Rice still get swallowed up and suppressed.
There are nights when I stand in the doorway of their room—not to wake them up for the revolution but to simply remind myself that, just for a moment, they are still safe and they are still here.
All I want is what every other mother wants around this city—the simple comfort of knowing that my sons’ lives matter—to those who look like them and those who don’t/and that my work, to pour love, light, and truth into them, will not be in vain.
And with this very simple truth/as my songs of peace get lost in my never-ending cries for justice, I know we will survive. We will rebuild. We will move on. Survival is our legacy and surviving everyday—in this racist and unjust system—is our goal.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland and the author of Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.