Tennille Allen Can't Breathe

2003
I am on a table. Cold ultrasound gel on my distended, pregnant abdomen. “You’re having a boy”, the technician tells my husband and me. “You’re having to raise a Black boy in America” is what I tell myself. My head throbs. My heart races. I can’t breathe.

2009
I am on a table. Cold ultrasound gel on my distended, pregnant abdomen. “You’re getting a baby brother”, the technician tells my son. “You’re having to raise two Black boys in America” is what I tell myself. My head throbs. My heart races. I can’t breathe.

2012
I walk my nine-year-old son to the bus stop, holding my two-year-old son’s hand. Hearing their laughter and questions in the wind, I smile. Looking at their heads, covered by hoodies worn to guard against the fall wind, I see Trayvon Martin and wonder who will see them in their 17-year-old bodies and see threats and not boys. I wonder who and what can guard them against this threat that comes with being Black in America. My head throbs. My heart races. I can't breathe.

2014
My baby is five now. His doctor’s height and weight charts can’t contain his presence. My little boy in a big boy’s body. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. Big boy. Big man. Big bodies. Their presence made bigger by their blackness. I see my little boy in a big boy body. How soon before his blackness makes his presence bigger? I wake up that night and watch my sons sleep. I see Tamir Rice in their rounded brown cheeks. In the morning, I drop my 11-year-old son and 13-year-old nephew off at school. I see Jordan Davis in their lean brown bodies, sliding into manhood. My head throbs. My heart races. I can't breathe.

They breathe. They will breathe.
 

Tennille Allen is an urban sociologist teaching at Lewis University, outside of Chicago, where she also serves as Chair of the Sociology Department and Director of African American Studies.

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