In week 35 of pregnancy, I notice new ripples of contraction and expansion within me, our baby’s strong responses to the world outside my womb. Mostly, the sensations feel like variations on joy. We don’t know much about recoiling from harm yet.
As we breathe in unison and pump blood in harmony, I speak in thoughts to the baby. I want to send a message that this outside place has plenty of room for being whole. I want to clear and arrange our home space in preparation for our baby’s arrival, and I feel my nesting impulse spill over into the streets of the city we live in, longing to make this a place worthy of black and brown babies just in time.
As I write this March 1, yesterday in southeast Raleigh, Akiel Denkins, a 24-year-old black man, was reportedly shot in the back seven times by white police officers as he ran away. I heard from friends that the police refused to let Denkins’mother, Rolanda Byrd, identify his body until several hours after the shooting.
Denkins was human and dimensional. He had two sons, ages 3 and 2, and was well loved by his community. He was working on his GED through the Neighbor to Neighbor program and hoped to become a carpenter. Yet early headlines about his murder reduced him to the description “drug suspect” or confusingly made it sound like police had been victimized. To state the obvious, a failure to appear in court is not grounds for murder by the police. Hundreds of people organized quickly and gathered with candles and photographs to grieve and protest the killing. The powerful outspoken presence of the demonstrators gives me hope, but I mourn his life and the many more lives that cannot be unstolen.
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I feel daunted about birthing our baby onto this land whose legacy is shaped by the brutal displacement of indigenous peoples, enslavement of peoples of African descent, and colonizations of peoples from all over Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. Echoes of these entwined exploitations reverberate today, and they are made louder in an era where economic disparity in the U.S. is at an all-time high, louder still in this election year.
What true thing could I whisper through my belly that would coax our little one to emerge unafraid? And once we are moving through our days walking hand in hand, how will I encourage our child to spread their wings and be part of transforming the place where they land for the better?
While traveling the globe, once-Durham-based author Mab Segrest wrote a book called “Born to Belonging.” If I may oversimplify, the book explores connections between racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and systems of economic exploitation, and proposes ways to combat these harms in idea and action. Mab explained the idea of born to belonging like this:
“My meditations on these journeys involving memory at a moment of danger are quirky and tentative efforts at a hard-won and fluctuating faith: that neither I, nor you, are born to segregation, separation, domination, subordination, alienation, isolation, ownership, competition, or narrow self-interest. The phrase that most resonates for me in this enterprise is the translation of a South African term, ubuntu. … Ubuntu translates as ‘born to belonging.’ It’s a simple notion: we are all born to belonging, and we know ourselves as humans in just and mutual relationship to one another.”
Watching her partner Barbara giving birth to their daughter Annie, Mab wrote: “None of us start out as individuals, but as fusions of sperm and egg, embedded and growing in the mother’s body for nine months. For months after birth, our consciousness is still merged with its environment, and a sense of a particular and separate self emerges only gradually. … What theories and practices of government and of social change flow from a premise not of original individualism for all, and ownership for some, but of original interconnection?” I want this question answered for the sake of all children. Let’s restore this feeling of being born to belonging, and let’s reorganize our cities to make the feeling come true.
In the midst of my secret conviction that our child will be unique and wondrous, I want them to know that their magic can only be unearthed through a sense of worth that isn’t rooted in ego or superiority. I want them to know that their thriving will come about through a deep mutual respect for their fellow humans and awareness of their interdependence. And I want the whole world to know that their life, like your life, is priceless.
Earlier this month, when Durham residents organized against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on local students and their families; when Durham teachers mailed homework assignments to 18-year-old Riverside High School senior Wildin David Guillen Acosta while he sat in an ICE detention center; when the Durham Human Relations Commission and the City Council asked federal immigration officials to stop coming for our community’s children and youth; I could feel Durham summoning a clarity we could describe as “born to belonging.” Let’s keep drawing that circle wider — when I imagine wrapping our baby in the cloth of ubuntu, their arrival in this fraught place feels so much more possible.
Write to Manju Rajendran in c/o email@example.com.