I cried all the way to the library. Then I told my kids about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. “Remember last summer when I said not to leave a black friend if a cop showed up or if you were all doing something and it went sideways? Or if things started to unravel, or if any one of you did something wrong? To ask the cop if you can call us before you reach for your phone? And that we will come and support you all?”
They nodded solemnly. When I cry it gets their undivided attention.
“Well that’s not enough. I’m sorry that the world is not a perfect place. But each of us by being here has the responsibility to leave our place better than we found it. We need to figure out what we can do to heal this place.”
“I want us to try harder.”
How? they asked. “Be friendly. Look people in the eye, say hi. Let’s start there.”
My slightly atypical, rather antisocial teen bristled: But I don’t associate with ANY people, white, brown, or any race. And I know this is true – we’ve been trying to figure that out already.
“Just talk to Fred at the bus stop. It’s just you two. I’m not asking you to be his friend only because he’s brown, but I AM asking you to be friendly. Just start by saying ‘hi.’ Do you ever talk?” If there’s something going on at school to talk about. “Okay, good, start by just talking.” I know I am asking a lot of this kid, but I am asking anyway.
“And you, sister, have you noticed that the bus stop breaks into 2 groups by color when we’re there? You have? Talk to those brown kids, too.” But those are all boys and they’re rough and act crazy. “Yep, I know, they’re younger than you and when they get together, they can act silly. I’ll help you.”
I’ll help you.
Inside the library, an African American boy about 2 or 3 is being held to a very high standard by a black adult woman: “That isn’t yours. Put that back. Look at me. I don’t like that.” And I wonder about how much the pressure on her has increased over the last 48 hours, the last year — or 2. A white couple arrives with three biracial toddlers. I wonder who is at the most risk, how the visible markers of skin color override history, behavior, rules, rights… Race matters, and being “colorblind” does not help, as Mamademics has pointed out.
We are white like salamander bellies. It is up to US to breach this gap. Imperfectly, perhaps, but we need to start. Because we are outside the script that gets laid on people of color. They cannot heal this rift alone, it is too dangerous.
We must start somewhere.
I would dearly love to hear what you are doing in your family or neighborhood to breach this gap. Pop on over to Facebook and let me know; let’s talk. And if you don’t know how to get started, pm me over there. I’ll help you. Or I’ll talk to your group, or share a reading list, or just listen.