When I was in sixth grade, I met a woman who would change my life. She was powerful. Her words and actions were weighty and significant. I did not hesitate to both cower in awe of her and to throw myself into her magnificent, unparalleled hugs.
It was not only that she was large and soft, or that she would sing while she hugged me, her voice resonating in her chest, reverberating off of mine. Her hugs had been carefully crafted through suffering and sorrow turned to joy. She carried heaven in her embrace. It did not take long before I would miss her hugs. The longer it had been since I had last seen her, the more I looked forward to the next one. It was hug therapy.
There were a lot of things I didn’t know when I knew Mae. I didn’t know stereotypes about angry black women or large black women. I didn’t know that food could be racist. I didn’t know that the black body that I sought out for comfort and healing lived a life of problematization. I didn’t know that the reason she could sing the way she did—from a place deeper than lungs—or hug with arms more than matter was because both had been tempered by a world bent on making her less human.
Still, she had infectious laughter. Still, she indiscriminately became a mother to anyone who needed one. Still, she danced. Still, she sang.
Perhaps, I have painted her as too much of a myth. It is possible that time and distance have caricatured her in my memory. I did dream once that I was jumping on a trampoline with her and Abraham Lincoln.
Mae is not and never has been perfect (she has her own story to tell), but I am wholly convinced that on more than one occasion, she has embodied love. It is for this reason, as a recipient and witness of Mae’s unbounded ability to love and give, that I consider the events of Ferguson, Missouri (and other similar events) the way I do. The media provides no shortage of images of thugs and potential criminals. But I think of Mae. I imagine if Michael Brown’s mother were Mae, someone I know and love and trust. Then I know that indictment or no indictment, hearings at the UN, audiences with the president, and press conferences are insignificant next her loss, next to what has torn inside her.
I am grieving that justice for Michael Brown is only a hashtag, not something being acted out by the justice system.
I wish that mine could be the arms that hold the grief and fear and rage, encircling them in love and hope.
I wish that hugs could undo the damage that bullets and pepper spray and tear gas do.
I wish that I were not sitting safely behind a computer screen, but standing face to face with you. I’d look you in the eyes and echo the president’s words last night: your experiences are real, and your emotions are valid. You are not making this up.
I am indebted to Mae. She saw my pale skin, and she didn’t pretend I wasn’t white. Instead, she wrapped my white body in her black arms and held me. No amount of fear mongering can change that.