My Son Said “I Can’t Breathe”

Hey friend,

Do you remember me? It’s been a while, I know. I sat behind you in civics in junior high.

Do you remember me? You were my base on the cheer squad, and once you caught my head just before it hit the ground after a long day of stunting.

You don’t remember? Our boys played together on the soccer team in 4th grade.

We drank wine out of solo cups in college together.

You totally remember. My vernacular is so similar to your own that it’s a running joke that I’m not actually Black, but I am.

And so are my boys.

Friend, I don’t get deep enough with you and it’s not your fault. I just see the quick twist in your face that quickly screams “I’m uncomfortable” when I broach the subject of race.

Discomfort I can deal with most days, but some days it’s more than discomfort. Some days it’s disbelief, and that hurts more, so I don’t tell you.

I don’t tell you the fear I feel on a daily basis as my boys continue to grow. I don’t tell you that all on their own they’ve developed a healthy fear of the police, and even the school resource officer.

I don’t tell you that my oldest son has said “the SRO treats the Black kids meaner. It gives me anxiety.”

I don’t tell you that even though we are careful not to watch these awful videos of unarmed people getting shot, your children are showing them at school, and my children have noticed the theme.

I would never tell you that as they shoot up to be as tall as I am, soon to tower over me, that my mama heart breaks for reasons you’ll never fully grasp.

I’d never tell you that at the ripe age of 14, my son “fits the description,” and his brother is not far behind.

I would never tell you that, because you can’t imagine that being truth. You know my boys. You know their hearts. You know they’re the sweetest, most respectful and helpful children you’ve met. The thought of anyone seeing them as a threat just does not cross your mind.

I love you for loving my boys, I do. But I need you to love them enough to demand change so parents that look like me aren’t afraid our children aren’t going to make it home.

I need you to love them enough to not just see them as your sons, but to see all boys that look like them as your potential sons.

I need you to love them like you love your own sons, because this world doesn’t. Love them because my mama heart cannot handle another man being shot that looks like my brothers, cousins, uncles, and sons.

Love them because my son has said the words “I can’t breathe” when talking about how seeing a police car makes him feel.

Love them because my big brother likes to jog.

Love them because my younger brother has the best contagious laugh you’ve ever heard.

Love them because my baby brother has the sweetest soul, but it takes him a while to say things. He gets excited and his stutter gets in the way.

Love them because the movie American Son is so many Black mothers’ realities.

Love them so it does not become my reality.

Love them and demand America do the same.

You know me. I’m your friend.


*Originally published on Stop Yelling Please by Jacalyn Wetzel

27 thoughts on “My Son Said “I Can’t Breathe”

  1. This is heart wrenching to read. I wish I could shield you and your boys from all racism. And eradicate it, also. God be with you.

  2. I am a 70-year old white privileged man who grew up in a “leave-it-to-beaver” suburban neighborhood in Bergen County, New Jersey. Thank you for your beautifully written and heart-felt article that touched me deeply. It is sad and sick and disgusting and so wrong that racism is still as prevalent as it is—and we only need to watch little children to know that it is learned and not innate, which makes it all the more painful and tragic. I can only say that I have heard you and I will do what little I can to love you and your wonderful boys and try to model that for everyone around me and to demand that every business, organization, government and person do the same. Surrounding you all with love.

  3. Jacalyn, thank you for this clear and strong post. I’m a storyteller by trade, was a teacher before that in a suburb but now my freelance work takes me to a much more diverse group of students – the suburbs had SOME diversity of course but Langston Hughes and I (posthumously) tried to open their eyes to black experience via his poems and the biography of his life. I had a long play album of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis reciting his poems with great flair…. My heart is broken on May 28 watching the news and seeing how we must find a way to treat each other with respect. THANK you for this clear invitation for us all to as one reply said “eradicate” what has too long been something we could resolve if we keep noticing what it takes to respect and honor ALL our children of every color and those who have come to our land from afar. Blessings.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I’m a white psychologist outraged about the continued injustices. By chance, I presented on Complicated Traumatic Grief and Loss to interns on Tuesday, discussed police brutality as an example, then just wrote a long post on my FB page outlining ways white people must make changes at every level to prevent future injustices and to help make this country safe for every POC. I cannot imagine living in fear daily as my boys go out into the world. They are biracial, but could pass as white. I will continue to actively work to improve things.

  5. I already love you and your sons, and I will continue to be a voice of advocacy. As a white mother of two biracial daughters, and wife of a Black man, I find myself in a very strange and awkward position, on the very periphery of the black experience. But even though my daily fear is likely just a fraction of yours, still I will walk as close to your path as I can, and I will stand by your sons, and help you protect them.

  6. Jacalyn,
    You are already a sister of my heart and your sons, my nephews. I promise to treat you like the family we are inside, to be the person you can turn to, to protect your sons as if they were my own. If I were to look you in the eyes or in the boys eyes as we spoke, I would not see that my eyes are blue and theirs are brown. I would see the feelings in your hearts because I would be looking at your humanity, your feelings, your pain and doing all I could to make things right. I am descended from a woman who lived in East Africa around 150, 000 years ago. I wonder if you are, too? Please know, there are many of us who feel this. You have only to ask and I will stand by your sides. We are family and I will do everything in my power to support my family!

  7. Thank you for this. Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us. Your boys are so lucky to have you as their mother.

  8. This is a beautiful article and please know there are so many white people out there who already love yours sons as they love their own children.

  9. So, I don’t know what to say.. but I do want to know what I can do as a white male in east Texas. This breaks my heart but I know that doesn’t count for much. I am open for suggestions and comments.

      1. Jacalyn, thank you this helps. I keep trying to think of more active ways to be of value as well. If you or your readers have any ideas I would appreciate if. Most sincerely, Brian

      2. I’m working on getting one of my white friends to write a guest post on my blog about ways you as a white person can help. Be on the look out for that. Thank you for wanting to do the hard work

  10. Jacalyn, I live in Los Angeles and every time I see young men of color, I speak a word of blessing and protection over them- not just for the day but for their entire life. My heart fears for their safety, and I look at their surroundings to make sure they are ok. But I know that’s not enough. What else can I do? It’s almost like these babies need a white chaperone to walk them to and from school to make sure they get home safe. I would be willing to join a moms club that take turns and volunteers. Your article brought tears to my eyes, and my heart is heavy. As for your mama’s heart asking…“I need you to love them like you love your own sons, because this world doesn’t. Love them because my mama heart cannot handle another man being shot that looks like my brothers, cousins, uncles, and sons.“ I will do my best.

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