I remember mama.
Once, when I was in Sunday school at about age five, I watched jealously as another child was playing happily with a little rubber change-purse thing, squeezing it open and letting it snap shut, over and over. The kid had gotten it from the Coca-Cola Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi and, for some reason, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
The boy was proud of it, I remember, and he kept holding it up for me to see. My childish jealousy got the better of me and I ran over and snatched it out of his hand. He was smaller than me and I easily got it from him and, to escape his protests, began to run off. He chased after me, wailing that I had something of his. As we ran down a little breezeway between the church and formation building, I became afraid my mother would hear him and, with the idiotic logic of a child, I turned suddenly and slapped the kid in the side of the head.
I hit him just so that his earlobe split and he began to bleed, causing him to cry harder.
My mother rounded the corner just then and saw what I had done. He had a hand print on his face and he was sitting on the sidewalk, his ear pouring blood.
Immediately, my mother bent down to pick the kid up and, as she rose, she slapped me so hard in the head that my ears rang.
“Go wait in the car,” she said. “And if you cry, I’ll beat you harder.”
My mother was inside for a very long time, leaving me to sit in the backseat with my sisters, who were full of silent dread on my behalf.
When my mother finally came out, I remember her looking at me with an anger such that the memory of it makes the hair of my neck stand up as I write this.
We rode home in silence.
When we got home, my mother pulled me out of the car and sent the girls inside.
It was a circular gravel driveway we had and my mother spanked, beat and clobbered me over its entire length. Don’t get the wrong idea. I was a big, strong kid who towered over most children my age (like my victim that day).
When my mother was done, she sat me down on the concrete steps as I sobbed and cried and tried to protect myself from her continued wrath. She squatted down in front of me–it was dusk by now and we lived kind of far out, so it was dark–and she said: “Don’t ever make someone feel the way you made that boy feel and the way you feel right now.” Or something like that. Then she hugged and kissed me.
My mother made sure with no room for error that I understood what right and wrong were. It was in her DNA and lineage and she made sure it was activated in mine by force of her will. It was what good and decent White women do best.
Now, consider this story: