As I’m writing this, the next unarmed Black victims of state violence are moving toward an all-too-familiar destiny.
The demographics of these people will vary. Some will be young women in the nursing profession. Others will be young men who play straight-ahead jazz on the tenor saxophone, love the sciences, or even have dreams of playing professional basketball. Some will be people who simply want their humanity to be respected by the world.
There will be diversity in their geography. Some of them will be from the Rustbelt or Midwest. Some of them will be from homes in the South, and some will have ties to the Caribbean or West Africa.
How they live, how they engage with the educational, economic and spiritual economies of this country and how they encounter the police will also be different.
Perhaps one will be a 12-year-old academically motivated child that likes to play with toy guns in a park near their house. Maybe one will have a fairly lengthy criminal history and be pulled over by the police for a minor traffic offense. These victims of state violence may be sitting on the couch or in bed sleeping in their own homes.
But, no matter how diverse these people will be, no matter how divergent their paths will be, and no matter how different their stories will be, nearly all of them will share an immutable thread—they will call, call on, or cry out for their mothers when they are negotiating with their fate.
It has become one of the most painful and haunting soundtracks of the civil rights movement of the 21st century— the terrifying last moments of an unarmed victims’ interaction with the state.
We have seen more videos and heard more 911 calls that capture a slice of our collective trauma and pain than we are comfortable with as a society. The shrieks. The disoriented rage. The muted and muffled tears. The guttural cries for mother, ma, or mama.
We are used to hearing calls for a mother’s attention. When a sports figure has achieved greatness on or off the field, we often hear them calling for their mother, praising their mother, or giving accolades to their mother.
When we are vexed by a problem or situation, we often times call our mother or call for her mother for solutions. Or simply when we need a trusted confidant, we call for our mothers.
But no matter how normalized calling for our mothers is for us in some situations, we will never get used to hearing Black victims of State violence, crying out for their mothers with their last breaths. Nothing prepares us to hear a Tyre Nichols, or a Tony Robinson, a George Floyd, or even a Jesus of Nazareth, attempt to summon their mothers while life is slipping away from their bodies.
But from my perspective, it signals something important for our community. We certainly live in a society in which enshrined patriarchal and Eurocentric values—the need to have authority over, to dominate, to punish with violent enforcement—anything that contradicts those values—govern our society. Black bodies surely contradict those values.
As people of the African diaspora begin to push back, fight back, and resist the values of the dominant culture, like in the instance of George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, or Tony Robinson, we see them call out for their mothers to aid in their fight. This is not by accident.
By calling on their mothers, they are literally summoning and channeling the antithesis of patriarchy to help them. I am not setting up a binary opposition male and woman. Nor am I asserting that all mothers act a certain way or conform to a certain standard. I’m saying in these instances, mother is a symbolic figure that represents humanity and decency. One who not only represents life, but someone of any gender who accepts the mighty call to love without limits, to always be in a teaching posture, to be sober-minded enough to lead, and to be crazy enough to protect.
It may be and sound unfamiliar in a society in love with violence, guns, dominance, and the romance of individualism. However, that is what mother represents in Black and Latin, trans and queer communities.
And those cries for mothers signal to us very clearly, that if a spiritual awakening is going to occur, if a solution is going to materialize, if justice is going to come, it will be through mothers.
On this Mother’s Day, let us not let the cries for mother be in vain. Let us continue to work for peace, work for justice, work for love.