I wanted to judge her. I won’t lie about that. She spent 25K on a prom send-off. Who does that?
The story is here but the abbreviated version is this: A mother in North Philadelphia went all out for her son’s prom send-off. She held what amounted to an elaborate, over the top, block party where she transformed her neighborhood into Dubai complete with a camel, 3 tons of sand, costume changes, a Lamborghini and more.
So just like most people who expend the energy to sit in judgment of folks, I had a long list of “reasons” why I was right to do so; why this didn’t make sense. I had an even longer list of more useful things I thought she could have spent her money on.
- College. Because even if her child has a full-ride to any institution of his choice there are tons of other uncovered expenses that comes with being a student; expenses that often drive students to feel obligated to work.
- Down payment on her child’s first home which would have been an investment in his future ability to build wealth.
- An actual trip to Dubai for her son and some of his friends. A cultural and educational experience of a lifetime that many around him will likely never have.
- *insert your thing—because I know you have one—here*
And yes, all these things are both theoretically and legitimately more valuable than a camel and 3 tons of sand, but as I began to think about this more, I had a moment where I felt overwhelming sadness. Not for that mother or her child. But for myself. I had to check myself. Hard.
My judgment of her was privileged at best.
Here is the question I asked myself: WHO AM I to sit in the county with my reasonably decent, non-life threatening health condition and my tenure-track teaching position and tell another Black mother building a small business in North Philly, who has survived both cancer and a stroke, and is raising a young, Black son in 2017, what to do with her hard-earned money because somehow it doesn’t match my sensibilities or what I consider reasonable? That’s practically the epitome of privilege. Because no matter how I feel, what I deem is right or better, there are some other truths lying just below the surface of this story:
- This woman who has experienced both a stroke and cancer within the last decade, and is facing the possible resurgence of cancer, likely knows in a real gut wrenching way, that tomorrow is not promised to us. That, in reality, all we have is our present moment. For her, creating a present moment of extreme celebration, a memory that will be forever etched in the mind of the son she obviously loves dearly, and of whom she is proud, trumped any “reason” out there. And I get that.
- She is a Black mother of a Black child, a son. In 2017. My God, this party could be considered an act of faith in light of what we see happening around us! So much around this mother is trying to define her son’s value for her. Whether at the hands of cops, each other, or the enormous systemic disadvantages, on those same North Philly blocks, too many black boys (and girls) are physically and spiritually dying. Her extravagance could have very well been a way to solidify to her son that he matters. That he is worth her saving her last dime to simply see the joy on his face.
- I’m picturing this woman, every paycheck, putting aside money for her son’s prom and graduation. I see her working hard, maybe even late hours, and using her gifts to create a business that will fund not just her dreams, but her dreams for her son. I see her doing this while battling health issues and facing death. She could have taken a trip herself—my choice would have been the Virgin Islands—and that would have been totally OK. She could have purchased her own property—and folks would have congratulated her. But she chose to pinch and save for seemingly one reason: her boy’s joy. To celebrate him. To celebrate the neighborhood and family that helped nurture him. If he doesn’t know that he matters now, he never will.
I can’t be mad at any of that.
OK petty Bettys and Bobs. I hear you. Maybe she is just flossing. Maybe she’s trying to go viral and become internet famous. Maybe she rented a camel for the likes and shares and blogs like the one I’m writing now.
And I see you too, Smarty Artys and Anns. Yes, there are valid critiques of this celebration. About how excess has permeated our culture and the Black community specifically. About how Black girls and women are often over-sexualized and used as props for the elevation of men.
And maybe still, this was just a mother who loves her son so completely that she was willing to spend whatever for his smile. To hell with what the world thinks.
ALL of these can be true, you know.
It’s how we hold these complexities in our hearts and minds that’s important, I think. It’s about HOW we talk about these tensions—whether we can do so with grace and compassion—that makes the difference more than anything else.