Every day I think about race. Actually, racism. For the past 12 years, since my son was born, it’s top of mind on a daily basis. I was born to a white mother and black father long before the prevalence of bi-and multi-racial celebrities and public figures. I remember taking road trips with my parents and younger sisters to family gatherings in Arkansas. I remember being pulled over by police and my father harassed for being with a white woman. I remember my mother being called a nigger lover. I remember being taunted as a young person or being preyed upon by older men who considered me exotic. It was awful, and even my parents’ love couldn’t shield me from the ugliness of the world.
Now, every day I think about what I, as a mother of a black boy, can do to shield him from the ugliness of the world. Often when speaking about racism and oppression to groups, I include an image of my son. I tell members of the audience to look at him, try to look at him with my eyes, a mother’s eyes. Imagine your own child or a child you love. Think about all the times that child has been and will be: misunderstood, pre-judged, wrongfully accused, in the wrong place at the wrong time, just having a bad day. Now as you continue to think of your child, also think about all their amazing and beautiful aspects. Think about how they roll their eyes when you tell a silly joke, or how they ask “why?” so many times it makes you simultaneously frustrated and filled with appreciation for the innocence of youth. Think about all the hopes you have in your heart for them--to be liked, to be loved, to be kind, to be generous...to live to be an adult, to have children who they are able to see live to be adults, to not be harmed needlessly, to not be murdered. I bet George Floyd’s mother felt the same way about her son that you and I feel about ours.
I’ve been making the same request for years--white people, please end racism. It’s clearly not working. Or I’m not talking to people who actually believe that they, that you, have the power to end racism. Or I’m not talking to people who understand that it doesn’t take being a card-carrying member of the KKK to behave in ways that are incredibly racist. Maybe the Amy Cooper’s of the world don’t see the correlation between my request and their actions.
I’m so tired of pleading, crying. I can’t take another message from non-Black friends telling me how sad they are that I have to live in a world where I’m constantly afraid for my son’s well-being.
Your quiet expression of sadness for my condition in the world is not going to make it better.
So let me try a different approach: think about yourself. Think about the love and generosity that you feel, that you give without question, to people who look like you, who you consider “one of us”. Now expand the space around that mental image to include other attributes, like smiles, hugs, piano lessons where they sometimes hit the wrong key. That space, the one that we’re in together right now, is where my son lives. His name is Shiloh. He’s black. He’s 12. He’s everything to me. Please keep my son in that space. And the next time you see a black man, remember that space that you’ve already put my son in, put them there, too. Because every black man was once a wonderful black boy, like my son. Most of all, remember that your son is in that space, too.
When your thoughts, emotions, prejudices, knee-jerk reactions start to well up, picture your own son at the center, surrounded by concentric circles of others who are also “one of us”.