Don’t Pick Those Tomatoes, Girl! Surveillance of Black Bodies

Image Credit: Rafael Correa

March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. As a result, my job evacuated the campus, sending all students and most of its staff home to work remotely for the remainder of the semester. Simultaneously, the nation grappled with another pandemic: racism and police brutality. In the midst of all of this, my husband and I had recently purchased a home. As we began the hustle and bustle of moving into our new place, a blond-haired White woman approached us. “Hello, my name is Tamara. Welcome to the neighborhood! If there is anything that my husband or I can do for you, just let us know. We can even help you to move in if you need extra hands.”  From there, Tamara and her husband David would become fast friends.

We discovered that we both had koi ponds. I inherited mine from the previous owner; David built his from scratch. In full ignorance of how to maintain a koi pond, David taught me how to care for my new dependents. Tamara and I learned that we both love gardening. Since I had just moved in, I had not yet begun my own garden. No problem, Tamara came to the rescue of a produce-starved vegetarian. She gave my family a tour of her impressive garden full of squash zucchini (which my five-year-old insisted were cucumbers), bell peppers, roma tomatoes and more. She gifted me a sack of fresh veggies and explained, “David and I could never eat all of this food; I grow most of it as a hobby.”

Although we had so much in common, we were about to learn that our lives did not neatly converge. As we toured Tamara’s garden, David’s koi pond, and discovered my son’s infatuation with their three live chickens, Tamara made an offer. “You know, David and I will be on vacation the end of July. At that time, my tomatoes will be in full bloom. I would hate for them to go to waste. Krishauna, please come over and pick whatever you would like.”

“I sure will, I love romas!” I stated, enthusiastically.

Since we moved into our home just as the nation began to shut down, we had only greeted our neighbors and spoken with them in passing; however, we had not formally visited with any. It felt great to become acquainted with such nice people. I called my mother to explain how excited I was to have met some of my neighbors. I relayed the offer that Tamara made for me to come to her home and pick all the roma tomatoes that I wanted. There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“Where is her garden located, and how will you access it?” It is on the side and back of her home. I would have to enter her gate on the left side, or I can enter via the right side that has open access.” Mom replied, “No, don’t do it!” “What do you mean, mom?” “Girl, don’t you pick those tomatoes! Didn’t you read your own article?” Mom continued, “You are the only Black people on that block, those neighbors do not know you. If you enter her yard picking through her garden, those White people will assume that you are stealing, and they will not know that she gave you permission. Stay out of that yard!”

I had recently written an article for several local newspapers in which I shared a similar concern about the possible misperceptions of my five-year-old Black son in our new community. Why had I not considered the misperceptions that neighbors might also have of me? Why had I not weighed the danger of entering the property of a White woman who was out of the state on vacation? Why had I not considered the possible surveillance of my own Black body?

Shortly after the conversation with my mother, I went on my morning jog. I came across another neighbor that I had befriended in passing, a Black woman named Monica who was retired from the military. Monica and I began discussing ideas for how we could organize a socially distanced play date with my son and her grandson. She, too, is an avid gardener, albeit a self-disclosed novice. Therefore, I shared how impressive Tamara’s garden is and relayed that she had even given me the green light to come and pick tomatoes when she went away on vacation. There was still something inside of me that needed validation that my mother was not overreacting. I find that Black people are told to get over the past, and to stop talking about race so much, that we often second-guess our intuitions. I relayed my mother’s reservations to Monica, who was close in age to my own mother. “Girl, don’t you pick those tomatoes!” Monica repeated. She went on to lay out a game plan for me. “Here is what you do. Go to Tamara, and ask her to inform her neighbors that she has given you permission to come to her home when she is away. When she confirms that she has done that, then you can go and pick those tomatoes.”

The same fears that I had for my young son, my mother also had for her 43-year-old baby. This realization gave me clarity that my concerns for my young child and his welfare will likely never end. As parents of Black children, we accept that we must educate our children on how to preserve their lives. We learn that we must be proactive and thoughtful in our strategies, such as the plan that Monica gave to me. However, we are never fully free from the impact of living, breathing and consuming a culture where the seeds of racism have been planted, cultivated and deeply rooted; just like the seeds of those roma tomatoes.

Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither

http://www.cupofdiversity.com

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Guide for Explaining Police Brutality to Young Children

This guide will offer a plan for how to explain police brutality to young children. Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither offers a step by step approach for how to explain the realities of current events in such a way that is age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate. These tips are great for children of all backgrounds and designed for children ages 4-10 years old. Offer includes: Step by step approaches; setting up the conversation, conversation starters, conversation closings, audio recording of Krishauna engaging this discussion with her own son and proven research.

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