Unsurprisingly, Tiffany felt excited the day she found out her unborn child was a boy. She had brought home the sealed envelope, inside the result of a blood test detailing the sex, to her husband and four-year-old daughter. As a family, they opened it together.
However, a few days later a fear began nagging at her. “It was just the simple fact we were having a black boy who will eventually become a black man,” said Tiffany, 34, her slight Louisiana accent still audible after 11 years in New York. Despite those years in the city, she remains sweet and softly spoken with a bright smile that takes up a serious amount of face space.
That moment was in 2016 and Tiffany’s fear wasn’t exactly irrational. In a way, you could call it a practical response or a motherly instinct. In 2012, an unarmed 17-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante who was later acquitted of all charges. A slew of similar deaths followed making headlines. All of them male. All of them black. For Tiffany, those killings, some of them caught on camera and played thousands of times on cable news, didn’t plant the seed of fear for her son. They simply germinated what was already there.
It’s hard to pinpoint when that seed was planted. Was it a generational fear subconsciously passed down since slavery? Or was it constant acts of racial microaggression like a New York City cab driver favoring the light-skinned customer on the other corner over her darker skin? Perhaps it was the Confederate flag fluttering above houses in her hometown. (Some will argue that the Confederate flag is just a show of Southern pride, but there is no denying it is also symbol that white supremacists rally around).
“You would think that would be something of my mother’s generation but that was something of my generation, something that impacted me,” said Tiffany, while breastfeeding her son, Spencer-Jackson, born in March.
In a nonchalant way, she shrugs off the challenges throughout her life as common because unfortunately, they are. She was raised by a hardworking single mother with a strong faith in God who fought to get her kids into a good school, even if that school was a two-hour bus ride from home. Compared with other students there, her family didn’t have money. While those kids spent spring break on a vacation, Tiffany’s spent hers working in a bakery across from the school.
Then there were those little things that emit a curious “hmmm...”. For instance, being one of only a few African-Americans in the school’s dance team. In the summer between morning and afternoon practice, the other girls, all of them white, would hang out at someone’s house. Tiffany was never invited so she filled her time at the bakery. “I always wondered ‘What is it? Is it because I'm black? Why am I not getting an invite?” she wondered to herself at the time. Although each instance was different, it carried the same message: her life, her black life didn’t matter so much.
It’s easy to see how she thought of her son with fear and for him, statistically, the stakes are higher. Even at the age of ten, black boys are often perceived as older and seen without the lens of childhood innocence that is extended to white boys, research from the American Psychological Association found. A Washington Post investigation also found that unarmed black men were seven times more likely to die by police gunfire than unarmed white men. However, those disproportionate statistics are not clean cut and there is a layered debate as to why.
When Tiffany first felt fear for her unborn son, she pushed it away refusing to “give it any energy.” That didn’t stop the fear from shaping her life. Like most modern women, social media is a big part of Tiffany’s life, even more so because it is the crux of her job as a social media consultant. Throughout her first pregnancy, her unborn daughter was a regular subject on her Instagram account, but that wasn’t the case for her son. People she hadn’t seen in recent months had no idea she was pregnant. “I don't know if this has something to do with this being my second pregnancy and not my first,” said Tiffany. “I just wasn't telling people.”
She began chatting with friends and speaking to her husband, slowly realizing and admitting her underlying fear. That’s when Tiffany attended the She is Free women’s conference in September 2016, her belly beginning to swell four months into her pregnancy. Freedom from fear came in what seemed like a throwaway line as speaker Lisa Bevere closed up a message on one evening during the conference. "Mommas, you do not have to be afraid for your children,” was the sentence, which Tiffany still remembers verbatim. The message wasn’t about race or children or even fear. “Lisa wasn't speaking in that context, but it was at that exact moment when she said it,” said Tiffany. “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
That night Tiffany felt empowered to post a photo of her baby bump on social media, captioning it with a testimony of the fear broken moments before. Comments of encouragement quickly came in as well as other women sharing their own instances of fear over their children.
Now her son is three months old and even though he is on this side of the womb, the anxiety never returned. “It was complete freedom,” she said.