(Forgive my lateness…I’ve been mulling over this for a while, unsure of how to talk about it. The other night I couldn’t sleep and the words began to form. I finally added more days later.)
I don’t follow the news very closely–I simply don’t make the time. But some things are hard to ignore like #ferguson and every other senseless killing that makes me grateful that my husband and I are having a daughter.
Yes, that’s my true sentiment. Were we having a son, I’d be grateful and excited but also scared. As it is, I already think about what it’ll be like to raise a mixed-race child in a world that’s still so hostile. I refuse to be okay with mere tolerance (a word I don’t care much for). I desire that others will choose to connect with my little girl because she’s a lovely person and not because she is gorgeous (as so many assume she’ll be and focus on far too much). I don’t want folks to be “color blind” but to see her for who she is and love her, all of her.
Yet I know that she’ll get flack. Some will make her hair their concern. Some will zone in on just how black or white her facial features are and what that means to them. For some she won’t be light or dark enough. If she’s closer to my complexion and isn’t a big smiler, some will label her “angry”. People, yes, some of you will be amazed at how articulate she is (and yes, she will be but why must that be amazing?). As an adult, some men will only talk to her because she’s not dark (which is probable) and they’ll view her skin as a social status booster. Other men won’t talk to her because they want to be “true to their roots.” Her heart will break.
However, though many people will profile her, she probably won’t get pulled over for DWB. If she’s an innocent party at the scene of a crime, she probably won’t automatically be assumed guilty or somehow connected. If she shows up randomly at someone’s door, they probably won’t consider her a threat. If she has a paper route and has to deliver papers early in the morning, she probably won’t have the cops called on her for suspicious activity.
And chances are REALLY good that she won’t get shot by a policeman for any reason. I’m both relieved and frustrated/saddened by that reality, the sort of privilege she already has.
It’s a mess. We don’t treat each other equally nor do we treat each other fairly. We allow others to create the narratives in our heads, the “truth” about those who aren’t us which boils down to “they aren’t good” or “they aren’t worthy”–as if we are. We have so many opinions, pride ourselves in our ability to clearly define another, size another up in little time. Because we know. Because we have some amazing gift of perception. Plus we have experience. Everyone else like this one was like XYZ so this one will be, too.
We all do it, unless we’ve reached a beautiful level of emotional maturity and godliness. And if we really have, we’re unable to actually admit it because we’re so humble and surrendered that our loveliness isn’t that clear to us. Yeah, most of us aren’t there.
And yet we look at what’s happening to far too many young black men and don’t get it, don’t understand how this could be anything else but the fault of the dead. They must have done something to bring it upon themselves. Something. As if “it takes two to tango” is a fitting way to sum things up. And I don’t buy the idea that deadly force is the only or best response to a knife, certainly not by two policemen. What is their training really like? I’d like to know. And is there room for alternatives within police culture? In those split second decisions, can they opt for something else or are they taught that there’s nothing else?
No, police have options. They exercise them sometimes. So why not with my brother, my male cousins? Why do they have to take classes in “How to Not Die” and “How to Look Approachable”?
Black parents teach these classes at the dinner table, in the car on the way to church, and seemingly random other places. They teach based on their experiences. They teach in the moment, when there’s a clear example to point to. And you’d better pay attention even when it seems to come out of nowhere. They don’t need to make things up. Sure, life may be better than they had it but they know human nature, they see current trends and they’re scared. They want their children to live long and well and they have many reasons to believe that that may not happen, especially for their sons. Even before Trayvon Martin’s death, my brother had been told multiple times not to wear the hood on his hoddie.
I don’t want to be a scared parent, especially when our daughter isn’t out of the womb, but I don’t know how not to be. I’m trying to focus on the positives. My husband is white so I should chill out, right? Whatever. I don’t live under a rock. President Obama is considered black. Perhaps if he were lighter he’d be referred to as the country’s first mixed-race president. But probably not. We prefer to live in black and white.
Literally. We still keep to “our own” unless another narrative has been modeled for us. And no, that one person who doesn’t look like you that you love like family doesn’t make you free of bias. Chances are great that even though they don’t look like you, they act like you which is why you’re able to connect. But the moment someone is too different, your stuff comes out, the negative perceptions, the generalizations. You take pride in being able to accurately categorize them…and they just don’t measure up.
I’m not pretending to know why these young men are dead, why the police decided to kill them. But because there are other stories with different endings, I can’t help but think race perception is at play and I can’t help but be grateful that we’re having a girl.