by Brianna Suslovic
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Diamond Reynolds and her daughter Dae’Anna. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mother. In high school, I couldn’t wait to raise my future children with affirmations of their worth slipped into the everyday, in the form of Nina Simone’s song “Young, Gifted and Black” or Sesame Street’s video “I Love My Hair.” Now, I’m left wondering whether or not bringing a black baby into this world is something I can bear to do.
I’m not concerned with my ability to raise a black child in safety and love. I’m concerned with my country’s ability to hold me and my future children in that safety and love. I’m concerned with the possibility that my children might be exposed to violence—as witnesses or as victims—at the hands of the hateful and indifferent.
A police officer shot Philando Castile while he was sitting in the same car as his girlfriend and her daughter. Diamond Reynolds kept it together long enough to broadcast live as she was taken away from her boyfriend’s dead body by police, separated from her four-year-old. She kept it together long enough for her demeanor to be pathologized.
How do we hold space for those left behind in the wake of police violence? Who is there for the mothers, partners, siblings, and children of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile? What about the violence and trauma inflicted upon those surrounding a victim? Where is their victimhood? Where is their humanity?
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My mother used to say to me: “A mother should never have to bury her child.” That’s right. A parent should never have to bury their child. And yet, we live in a world where black parents do that every day as a result of violence perpetrated by a militarized police state.
I’m a social work student, and I’ve been feeling very small this week. What power do I have against a white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal, ableist institution that’s been around since the beginning of this nation?
My mind keeps coming back to the videos of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter. Who is holding space for them now? Who is helping them to cope with the trauma of violently losing a partner and a father-figure in front of their eyes, only to then be separated from each other? I’m stuck on the mourning, the grief, the melancholy that’s gripping my communities right now, and I’m stuck on what that experience must be like for Diamond and Dae’Anna.
As I sit on a predominantly white campus in grad school classes that don’t bother to acknowledge the violent, epidemic, and systematic devaluing of black lives, I let my mind travel to St. Paul, Minnesota, to the community that is now expected to grieve while simultaneously absorbing the trauma of a mother and her daughter who will never be held by Philando Castile again.
My mind skips to East Cleveland, Ohio, to the mother and sister of Tamir Rice. After this twelve-year-old boy was shot, his fourteen-year-old sister, Tajai, ran to him, only to be tackled and handcuffed by the same police who murdered her brother in front of her. She lost 50 pounds after watching her brother’s murder at the hands of the police. How do we help her and her family to heal, to live on in the face of the continued threat of police violence?
Grief is supposed to mean something like learning to live on after loss. For our families—chosen and biological—what does our mourning look like when losses never seem to end?
For the widowed families living without beloved members, what resources are there to help them with their recovery? Community care can only go so far—we’re pouring from near-empty cups, and that’s just not sustainable.
As a future social worker, I want to be there in the wake of tragedy for families who will face new emotional and financial challenges as a result of the trauma inflicted upon them. I want to make sure that the children who watch their parents and siblings die, either in person or on-screen, are afforded trauma care for their socio-emotional needs, created in moments of extreme violence. Existing as a Black child in this country means being told that you’re not smart enough or pretty enough—that you come from the wrong kind of neighborhood or the wrong kind of school or the wrong kind of family. The most striking #BLM protest sign I’ve seen? “They kill our fathers then make fun of us for being fatherless.”
The trauma and pain inflicted upon Black children, especially, must be addressed. Communities of color across the country are in need of comprehensive, free, accessible and culturally-competent mental healthcare. Intergenerational trauma and racial trauma are inescapable as Black folks living under white supremacy, but the least we can do is to keep taking care of our minds and our hearts. Trauma-informed counseling is needed in communities of color—for the families of Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, and so many others. In proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, we cannot forget those lives left behind.
Brianna Suslovic is a biracial black queer lady with lots of feelings. She’s especially passionate about reproductive justice and how it intersects with other social justice movements. She tweets at @bsuslovic and can be found blogging at briannasuslovic.com.