My children are both respite from all the tragedy transpiring in the world, and a reminder of how high the stakes are. When I am with them—on our walks, playing in the field, reading them stories, giving them baths—I am not able to fall into the infinite hole of endless scrolling that so often brings me to despair. But also when I am with them, I am reminded of the brokenness of the world that their mother and I have brought them into, and get lost in a labyrinth of anxiety about how I might protect them from it.
I did not have children when the Movement for Black Lives was at its height. At protests following police killings six years ago, I moved through the night with brazen indifference about what might happen to me. I was governed by anger and thought little about the implications of what might happen if I were arrested, if I were hurt, or worse.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Letter to my son
As is the case for many other parents, my children have pushed me to reprioritize, reevaluate, and reorient my relationship to the world. My decisions are no longer singularly centered on me. They are shaped by my commitment to these two small humans who think of me and my wife as their entire world. This is a new reality for many black parents who did not have children when the Movement for Black Lives began, but who have young children now in 2020. So much has changed in our lives even when it feels like so little in our country has. Our children have raised the stakes of this fight, while also shifting the calculus of how we move within it. It is one thing to be concerned for my own well-being, to navigate the country as a black man and to encounter its risks. It is another thing to be raising two black children and to consider both the dangers for yourself and the dangers that lie ahead for them.
A week ago, George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after Chauvin kept his knee planted on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd, in a distressing echo of Eric Garner’s pleas five years ago, could be heard telling the officers around him that he could not breathe. Despite Floyd’s appeals, according to a court document, “the defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total.” It went on: “Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive.”
Floyd’s death follows a string of recent incidents in which black people have been killed at the hands of police and vigilantes: Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in South Georgia by a group of white men who chased him down while he was jogging and shot him as he struggled to escape. Breonna Taylor, who was killed when police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, entered her home with a search warrant looking for drugs that were being sold out of a house more than 10 miles away. There was also the incident involving Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York City’s Central Park who was captured on camera falsely claiming that a black man named Christian Cooper was attacking her. I imagine how easily a different story might have been told if Christian Cooper had not recorded the incident, if Amy Cooper’s distressed 911 call was the only piece of evidence from that moment. I keep thinking about that shift in the register of Amy Cooper’s voice, making it sound as if she was actively being attacked while on the phone—how she knew exactly what that inflection would signal to the person on the other end of the line.