I have been trying for the past few days to collect my thoughts, talk to other people, and most importantly, listen. The recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have brought tears to my eyes. I’m left wondering what I can do to help, what I can say, how can I be of service and support to my friends in the Black community and the community as a whole? How can I make a difference?
A few months ago, my four year old daughter, Edith, and I were walking to school and somehow in the conversation she looked at me and said, “But girls can’t marry girls! They can only marry boys! Silly mama.” And I was stopped in my tracks. I was so shocked that she would say this because she has spent her entire life knowing someone in the gay community. My husband’s mom has been with her wife for over 25 years. She was Edith’s primary babysitter for the first two years of her life and Edith would visit their house weekly. I didn’t think to have the conversation that my husband’s mom had married a woman. I thought she would just absorb this information as commonplace. That she would see them living together in the same way Aaron and I live together and my mother and father and his father and stepmother live together. I thought her exposure to the gay community would just create a natural understanding and empathy.
It was only in that moment I realized that Aaron’s mom and her wife were still the exception and a minority in Edith’s mind. That almost every other “couple” she knew was heterosexual. That the movies, the books, the songs on the radio were all about heterosexual relationships. I’m not exactly sure what Edith thought they were but in that moment I knelt down and I said, “Anyone can marry whoever they love. So if a boy loves a boy and they want to get married, that is okay! And if a girl wants to marry a girl, that is okay! And we are happy for them because they are in love and what a wonderful thing it is to be in love”. Edith looked at me and said, “Oh! Okay! Then I want to marry my best friend Eva because I love her” and that was that. Now she understands that her Grandmas are in love and they are married and that is good. All I had to do was have a conversation.
Being “white” we have the privilege of never having to have a conversation about race if we didn’t want to. If we lived in the suburbs, in an all white community, I’m not sure the topic of race would ever even present itself. Fortunately, we live in Brooklyn and the opportunity to discuss and celebrate different cultures and races is present on every corner. I know they won’t always be the most comfortable conversations and that is good. Those are the conversations we need to make a difference, to ensure that I’m not just counting on her absorbing the idea of not being racist. Because while our lives are surrounded by diversity, if we don’t talk about what that means to our children, someone else will. The information and beliefs they have for the rest of their lives will be formed now and I want to make sure they are ideas filled with love, compassion, empathy, and understanding. I pray that they are going to be people who do not just simply not participate in injustices, but take a stand against them.
My friend Belle shared the most amazing post the other day that really summed up everything else I really wanted to say so much more eloquently than I would have put it. So I will leave you with that:
“Have you ever known that fear? That deep-rooted worry every time your children run out to play that you may never see them again… simply because they might pick up the wrong toy, in the wrong situation. And maybe it’s shaped like a gun. And they are black.
I have not.
Were you ever taught those rules? Of how to behave around authority. Of how to make yourself as docile and non-threatening as you can in every situation, how to stifle your voice and look at the ground, because you know that society is threatened by the natural color of your body, by your mere presence. So you’ve learned how to act and speak differently around different types of people in order to stay SAFE? Have you had to teach it to your kids yet?
I have not.
Do you have to carry that unspoken fear with you every single day? Maybe you don’t think about it all of the time but it’s always there, shadowing your every word, your every movement. The fear that no matter what you or your mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, do, whether you play by the rules or not, it can all be taken from you in a moment. Your LIFE can be taken, for no reason, at any time, and often in the name of the law. You are never safe. It makes you angry, it makes you cry, but your tears fall upon deaf ears. You’ve been shown by the systems in place that your life doesn’t really matter, not like everyone else’s does. Do you know that fear?
I do not.
And if you do, I want to listen. I want to learn more.
We’ve all been shown that justice does not apply equally to black America, where men, women, and children are systematically treated as guilty until proven innocent. And just because we do not know the experience firsthand of a person of color in America today does not mean we can’t help change this. If you are afraid to misspeak, you can listen. Learn. You can empathize. We are all human. We all need to stand up now and let the world know that #BlackLivesMatter Enough is enough.”
Photo by Nicki Sebastian