Of the myriad factors contributing to my mom’s death, the one I have the least concrete proof for is the one to which I attribute the most blame.
I cannot prove that she died at 60 because she was a working-class black woman in a country built on and violent towards people who looked and lived like her. I cannot prove that the illnesses she battled and eventually succumbed to were predictable byproducts of the weight and the toll of that leviathan on her back. I cannot prove that a lifetime of pain spent being a thing she was presumed to be allowed her to die years—decades, even—sooner than she should’ve.
But I feel it. I believe America killed her. I am as sure of it as the number of fingers on my hands. I am as certain of it as I would be if asked to describe my mom’s face. She has been dead for almost five years now, though. There is no more time for these feelings, these certainties, to have an impact on her life.
Instead, I think of how America conspired to kill my mom—and has conspired to kill women who looked and lived like her—when I think about the black woman I’m married to. And the little black girl who calls me dad. And the black women I am a brother to, the black girls I am an uncle to, the black women I am a nephew to, the black girls I am cousins with, the black women I’m friends with, and the millions of black women and girls I don’t know—and will never know — who draw breath under the same pressure that asphyxiated my mom.
And I think about how the disposability of black women and girls is so ingrained, so essential, so quintessentially American, that even the language of praise for them is the language of death. Black women will save us. Black women are saviors. Black women are nurturers. Black women are guardians. Black women are deliverers. Black women are superheroes.
When human beings are expected to be and forced into being these things, they kill humans. They kill moms. They kill aunts. They kill sisters. They kill cousins. They kill friends.
They killed my mom, who had to die to prove to America that she was human. And I’m not asking for my mom back. I know that’s not possible. I’m just asking that we stop asking for that proof.