Can I still play with my [darker] brother?
I don’t want to die.
Yesterday, while we were at a doctor’s office, my son caught the news of the Baton Rouge and Minneapolis shootings on a wall-mounted television. His eyes filled with tears and he said, “Thank God I’m light.” His comment demonstrated for me his disconnect from a vital part of his heritage. Although my boy is half black, his looks make his race hard to pin down. His hair is straight, his skin light enough to be tan, and he looks like his Native/White mother. I was a single mother for many years, and my son has special needs. Teaching him to accept his own uniquely American blend simply wasn’t on my radar because teaching him to talk to people/write/play with others/do his therapies made a larger impact on his daily life. We are now part of a beautifully-blended family and he is surrounded by darker-skinned siblings. Yet I have somehow missed an extremely important part of his education.
I don’t care what color people are, and I have been careful to expose my son to friends and experiences from a variety of races, religions, and cultures. I grew up straddling two worlds and never quite belonging to either, and I didn’t want that isolation for him. I have carefully raised him to be kind to everyone and to take a stand for right when necessary. He recognizes racism and homophobia, and he speaks against their unfairness. In my world of [non-black] privilege, I thought that was enough. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Because here was my boy, my amazing, kind, funny, smart, adorable boy, instinctively placing himself in a less-assaulted color category.
“Thank God I’m light.” Thank God the police won’t shoot me on sight because I don’t look as dangerous as other black people. Thank God I don’t look stereotypically black. Thank God I can pass.
This experience has highlighted even more for me that America’s cultural attack on black people cuts so much deeper than the physical murders making the news on a daily basis. Black people are also being attacked from within, faced with fissures between skin tones. This has been happening to some extent for hundreds of years, but now is the time to end it. We have to end it. The systemic, deadly racism America now faces is urging us to separate at a time when we most need to work together for change.
Now, after Dallas, we must fight even harder not to be separated. In the face of extremist officers or snipers, we are all at higher risk in our interactions with one another. I don’t want to live in a world in which my black son weighs the safety of playing outside with a darker friend. I don’t want to live in a world in which he is thankful he doesn’t look like half of himself. We have to end it.