Recently I was asked to recall the moment that I first encountered racism. How about this answer? The moment I was born. It has to be so, because I know that before I learned to keep my bike upright, I knew to stay away from white people. Because by the time that I began to lose my baby teeth, I knew who I shouldn’t stare at and where I could not walk. Because by the time I could remember having a substantive thought in my head, I already knew that the color of my skin could get me badly hurt or killed. So it must have been hereditary. In the blood. Because I never remember being without the affliction of race in my life.
However, it was different for my daughter and my son. My wife, Jeanne, who is white, and I purposely kept race out of the conversation because their lives didn’t depend on their being aware at such an early age. They spent their early years looking at a black father and white mother, running from one to the other without ever considering the difference. Without understanding the negatives that accompanied our marriage and their existence. It wasn’t until our daughter was in first grade that the specter of race entered her life. Jeanne and I met her on the school playground one day and a white classmate looked at her and at us and then said to her, “Oh, so that’s why you’re that color.” When our daughter seemed confused by what her friend meant, Jeanne gave her the first lesson in understanding her race. “You see,” she said. “If you take a cup of coffee like Daddy and cream like me and mix them together, you get you.”
We did not have our heads in the sand. We understood that sooner or later the monster would come from under the bed. We began to do what we could. We enrolled them in a school created specifically to teach black and white kids together. A school that was dedicated to the discussion of race and its impact on our society. Between school and home, we began the conversation in earnest. We taught them the worth of every human life. We used our love as an example of how the bridge to understanding could be crossed. We attempted to fill their lives with people who loved them for them, but we did not shelter them from the real world and the unfortunate curse of being brown.
And I am glad that we opened their eyes, because our son was prepared when after Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, he was accosted by an older white male and asked why he was in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood, that is. The one that my son had called home for all of his life. My son explained that he was in search of Skittles and iced tea. His would-be intimidator grunted and left him alone. And so what had been up until then micro-aggressions of racism had become bigotry – fully developed.
We attempted to fill their lives with people who loved them for them, but we did not shelter them from the real world and the unfortunate curse of being brown.
Our children marched and shouted in the streets of our cities and on campus after Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. They published their hurt and confusion about the inequities of race in America. And although they battled, they didn’t do so in vain. Or so it seemed. It looked like better times were on the horizon. A black man was still president. The nation seemed to be moving, though not without pain, toward freedom to marry whomever you chose, toward women being free to make their own choices regarding their bodies, and for families like ours to be represented throughout our media, becoming something less… different.
But then we elected Donald Trump.
For 18 months, he filled our lives with a kind of public bigotry that I hadn’t experienced since I was born into it. He became ground zero, the host for a sudden epidemic of bullying and racial vitriol that people seemed to take as funny until it was too late. Now, he is the president of the United States of America. And now that he is president, he and his surrogates are telling us that we have to come together with him. That we have to, I guess, forgive and forget. That we have to provide unity.
But my daughter is newly engaged and I think about her and any children that may come along. As people are attacked in the streets of our country for their religious beliefs, for being gay, for having a vagina and for being black, I now believe that it is quite possible that my grandchildren, like me, will be born infected by the plague of racial hatred. I don’t want this to happen. And so President-elect Trump, I cannot help you unify the country if it means the new normal is to be like the campaign environment that you created in your own image.
As people are attacked in the streets of our country for their religious beliefs, for being gay, for having a vagina and for being black, I now believe that it is quite possible that my grandchildren, like me, will be born infected by the plague of racial hatred.
I will not join you in your racism.
I will not join you in your homophobia.
I will not join you in your misogyny.
I will not join you in your ethnic intolerance.
I will not join you in your anti-Semitism.
I will not join you in your mass deportation of people.
I cannot all of a sudden give approval to ideals that go against everything that I am and that I have taught my children. I will not change my soul for your unity. I cannot pretend that those who voted for you did so without the “-isms” in mind. I will not meet you in the hate-mongering world of Trumpland.
I will, however, join with any who believe in the strength of our nation’s diversity. I will join with those who believe in acts of kindness rather than mountains of hostility, degradation and self-glorification. I will meet with like minds at the phrase, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.