In her 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison explores the profound vulnerability of a young Black girl living in poverty in a world that values Whiteness and wealth. Toward the book’s end, as her psychic, emotional and physical destruction is nearly complete, we are invited to see her tragedy through the eyes of the child narrator. “I felt a need for someone to want the Black baby to live—just to counteract the universal love of White baby dolls, Shirley Temples and Maureen Peals,” Claudia tells us.
“I felt a need for someone to want the Black baby to live” has been echoing in my head for weeks as we witnessed both the shocking loss of life and the callous indifference of a legal system that allows Black death to go unpunished—seemingly even unquestioned. As though taking the life of an unarmed Black child or man is not only not a crime, it is barely even a tragedy.
In this moment, I too feel the need for someone to want the Black babies to live. To want Black mothers to celebrate, not grieve. To want Black women to be brides, not widows. To want Black men to thrive, not die. To want Black youth to play, not cower. Many share this need for someone to want the Black babies to live. They march. They lie down as though dead.
They stare down police outfitted like soldiers. They refuse to accept second-class citizenship. They demand justice. They hand-letter the signs that express the anger, rage, disappointment and, most poignant, the deep yearning that someone will want the Black baby to live. And the signs read “Black Lives Matter.”
This contribution, along with others exploring the new civil rights movement, appears in ESSENCE's special #BlackLivesMatter issue. This historic collector's edition is available on stands January 9.
FOR MORE FROM OUR BLACK LIVES MATTER ISSUE:
The Editor's Letter: The Path Forward
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Angela Davis
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Patrisse Cullors
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Isabel Wilkerson
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Chirlane McCray