I am an older white woman. I live in Pierce County. Rynnita Williams delivers my Seattle Times at a shockingly early hour and with amazing dependability. Sedrick Altheimer is her son. He also delivers newspapers at an ungodly hour, thoughtfully cutting his headlights to save shining them into the bedrooms of his customers. Ed Troyer is my sheriff — the same sheriff who falsely accused Altheimer of threatening his life in a bizarre case now under investigation. Until recently, none of this was noteworthy, aside from my conversations with Williams on those rare occasions we were up and about at the same time.
Like Williams, I am the mother of a Black son. And I am so weary. I have been worrying about the unseen forces that might harm my son since the time when he was able to move around independently. Surely what happened to Williams’ son is a mother’s ultimate fear, no matter our race, no matter the gender of our child — we fear that they will be at the mercy of some evil force, and we will not be able to protect them. We fear they will die. When your child is Black, the fear is compounded. If there is danger, who will help? Calling for assistance might create a bigger problem.
In a few weeks, my son will visit for the first time since the pandemic. He is 51. He has a master’s degree and is a professor at a community college. He is kind and smart and generous and funny. None of those things will protect him from racial discrimination.
My part of the home, which I share with my sister and her spouse, is on the ground floor. Sometimes I enter from the back of the house so that I can go straight into my living space. Believe me when I say that I will instruct my son, when he is here, always to enter from the front of the house. What happens if he goes around through the back yard and someone calls in a questionable situation? Will it be heard as a possible burglary in progress? And then? I can’t be sure — and neither could you.
I am so weary of worrying. When I was the mother of a young son, I could offer warnings. I could make rules. I could have the talk about Driving While Black. I could argue with the school, or have conversations with parents when their children used a racial slur. Once my son left home, though, I had to keep my fingers crossed and my prayer lines open.
I am tired of people like Sheriff Troyer, who claim a Black relative as proof of their own lack of racism. Whether those relatives arrived in our families by choice or by chance doesn’t relieve us of doing the work to overcome our entrenched racial biases. I was embarrassed by the sheriff’s reference to relatives as proof of his unbiased intentions.
The situation here in Pierce County was both the good and the bad of our collective struggle with race. On the one hand, a person in authority drew assumptions about a Black young man; on another hand, officers of the law responded with cool heads and accurately assessed an error in judgment. On yet another hand, a young man controlled his fear and anger under difficult circumstances. We were lucky. Maybe we are also making progress.
This isn’t about my son or Williams’ son. This is about all of our sons and daughters, and the sort of community we choose to create. We want one that is safe and one that is just. Then all mothers will worry less and feel less weary.