‘Mommy, what is danger?’

by Lyn-Tise Jones

“Mommy, what is danger?” The question was posed by my 4-year-old Black son, who’s been lying awake since 3:55 a.m.

But, first … let me tell you the set-up of how we got there. 

As my husband and I tossed and turned in our beds, our environment seemed safe. As we live in the last district of San Francisco with a sizable Black population, everything looked the same, but everything is different. In 2020, nothing is the same. 

There’s an eerie feeling that has overtaken our Black community for the last few days – the sense of looming physical and psychological harm to our beings is no longer covert; they’ve rewound to the cold and bitter days that my grandparents spoke about during segregation in the rural deep South. 

I know it’s hard to believe because we live in a very liberal San Francisco – liberal for some, but not for all. It’s not that the physical or implied danger has ever stopped; it just seemed to be quieter within the last few years. 

However, no matter our geographic location, our skin color always seems to give an unasked invitation to poverty, blatant racism, police brutality and incessant violence. My last recollection of being openly called a “Nigger” was when I was 16 years old and a white man loudly shouted that word as to why he needed to quickly exit the bus when a group of my friends and I boarded near City Hall in San Francisco.

Danger and chaos has brashly returned. 

All of this is playing in the background as I consider my son’s question, “Mommy, what is danger?”

Before I can answer, one, two, three more special humans appear … Before I know it, my complete family of five is now crowded in my bed. Four at the top and one at the bottom. Lying awake but nobody is talking. Our eyes showing pictures of what we are all somatically experiencing in our bodies: “What is danger?” 

Sometimes, I have visions of attempting to rise out of bed, but my grief knocks me back down to my knees and I can’t breathe.

All of us feeling and individually finding ways of coping with the question, “What is danger?”

First my husband arose from the bed and repeatedly checked the front door and looked out of our blinds more times than I wanted to be awakened after many attempts to drift back to sleep. I ask, “What are you doing? Is everything OK?” To which he replied, “Yeah, we good. I’m just checking to make sure everything is cool.”

Second, my 11-year-old son comes in, “Mom, I can’t sleep. Can I watch ‘Smart Guy’ to make me laugh? I have a lot on my mind.” To which I replied, “Sure, baby. Of course, I understand. Do what you need to do to take care of you.”

Lyn-Tise Jones

Third, my 5-year-old daughter comes in. “Mommy, are you up (while rubbing my back)?” Me: “Yes, baby, I’m up. You OK?” Her: “Not really. I’m feeling scared. I love you, Mommy, and I don’t want to lose you (as tears ran down her face).” Me: “Awww, baby, come here, climb in bed with us. Mommy and Daddy’s got you. We love you so much! You’re safe with us (prayers up and fingers crossed mixed with a strong commitment to respond with whatever force is necessary to protect our children).”

As for me, well, most people who know me know what I was doing – praying for peace, safety and to make it through another night.

Lastly, my 4-year-old son comes in the room and lies in the middle of the bed. Of course, as per usual, his body is sprawled out on top of all of ours. However, something was different. The kind of different that lets me know he’s feeling afraid. 

“Mommy, Mommy, I need to sleep next to you. I just want to be near you.” I then balled up into a tighter ball to make a wide enough space for him to crawl into my ball with me. Me: “OK, honey, here you go.” At this point, we’re now all firmly awake but quiet. He says, “Mommy, I hear someone talking in the living room.” I replied, “No baby, Daddy just checked it. We’re all good! To be honest, baby, I think you may feel all of our individual thoughts screaming as we lie here collectively” It was dark so I couldn’t see his facial expression, but I could feel his puzzled face staring back at me.

“. . . but I wanted to be a police officer.”

Finally, his final question, asked in the wee hours of the night, “Mommy, what is danger?” I tried to think of the least anxiety producing answers that we frequently talk about but all the while thinking: “Living while Black.” 

“Well, son, danger comes in many different forms. Danger can be you riding your bike too fast down the hill or running with scissors after your art project?” At this point, he’d had enough of my PC answers, so he interrupted me and said, “The police! Mommy, don’t you know that the police are dangerous? They have, you know, I can’t say it, but (shakes his finger to imitate a gun), and you know, those hurt people, Mommy!”

For a moment, I was taken off guard but altogether not completely shocked because the pain, the fear and the feeling of immense danger constantly lives in our air, either silently or furiously exposed white supremacist rage. Regretfully, the latter is presently the method of existing racism’s choice. 

We don’t get to choose; we never get to choose. We are never given the choice to decide on the level of hate we will receive on a moment to moment basis. It simply depends on which inherently anti-Black structure, procedure or person we come across as we navigate the world in our Black skin.

Anyway, I replied, “I know, honey, you’re right. Guns do hurt people, and I’m sorry that you have to live with the reality that they hurt people who look like you, Daddy, your brother, your sister and me.” Him: “Mommy, but I wanted to be a police officer.” Me: “And you still can, baby. You’ll be the one to make a difference. That’s why we’re marching; that’s why we’re protesting, baby, so we can get the bad ones out and all the good ones like you in.” Him: “OK, Mommy. I’ll do what I can. I’m going to pray to the Lord for those people to stop being so evil. Even though I’m hurt, I am still going to pray for those people.” Me: “Me too, baby, me too. I’m going to pray and I’m going to fight.”

Try to have a good night. We’ll repeat this whole cycle come morning time.

Lyn-Tise Jones, third generation Bayview Hunters Point resident, proud granddaughter, daughter, sister and wife of activists – she is a proud mother, Human Rights Commissioner and lover of human kindness and can be reached at lyntise@gmail.com.