Gabe picked up a copy of illustrated Langston Hughes because, presumabley, he likes to make me cry in front of my children.
That boy looks like my Daddy!
Why do you say that?
Because his skin looks like my Daddy’s – my Daddy is the darker brother!
She is so sweet when she says it – she is excited over her connection, she loves connecting things. She doesn’t know it comes with so much behind it. She doesn’t know why I can barely choke out the words – “tomorrow I’ll be at the table” – as I think of her father graduating from a respected University mere miles from the former headquarters of the Aryan Nation.
Or that when I read Maya Angelou’s words – “I am the dream and the hope of the slave” – my golden children break my heart in gratitude for progress. I am thankful for Courageous Hopers wise enough to see a better day and bold enough to act like it was coming.
I want to be a Hoper. I want my life to be an expectation for more. I want to live like things are getting better even when it really seems like maybe they are not. I want to develop the skill of thankfulness and expectation, of seeing hidden embers and blowing until they catch it all on fire. I want to help burn up the waste – make into light and floaty ashes the things that weigh and wear us down.
And a lot weighs us down. A lot is wearing holes in ideologies while we hear reports of police brutality, see the numbers of incarceration, consider roots tied to tangible realities today. I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do about race relations in this country or on my newsfeed or among people I know mean no harm. I don’t know how to deal with all the information – the statistics, the anecdotes, the news stories. I don’t know why people think that calling out privilege is an indictment or why anyone would flat out deny that another person’s experiences as real and problematic. I don’t know where my place is in this mess – the mother of biracial chidren, wife of an African American man with very little ties to that part of his heritage… I’m not sure what to do with this. Except I know that I will have to have conversations with my children that I don’t want to have; I’ll have to tell my son that he should not travel to certain parts of the country by himself, tell my daughter about a time when people – people, she thinks people are wonderful – thought they owned other people and that her beautiful skin is what they thought gave them the right. That there are still unfair prejudices over skin color. I’ll get to tell them how things have gotten so much better, but I’ll also have to tell them that there is still pain and tension leftover – that something so dark and damaging to the soul as believing you own another human being cannot be eradicated in a few generations.
We are creators and namers. We make new things and we label old things and we are responsible for the world we live in. We can create the most incredible, useful, marvelous, beautiful things and we can create horror. We can create things that terrorize and haunt. We carried out the Holocaust, we allowed the terrors in Rwanda, we trade and sell little girls during the Super Bowl, we wear clothes and jewelry and and eat food and use devices procured through coercion, lies, and outright slavery. We cannot look to God and say, “How could you treat people as cattle?” or “What were you thinking when you established Jim Crow Laws?” Those are ours. We have named small children Collateral and human beings Property.
And if those are ours, so is some of the good stuff. We take bits of wood with strings attached and make sounds that communicate under-over-through language. There are active, in-use trial drugs to cure incurable cancers. People get together and fund clean water projects, saving the lives of strangers and making far away mothers sleep better at night. Malala looked around and saw her sisters called Incompetent so she raised a Worthy banner over them. Every day children named Abandoned, Forgotten, Without are given erasers and their new families mark them Loved.
My children exist because brave people carved out a world where my husband and I could live in the same town, go to the same schools, have dates wherever we could afford, get married with the support of a standing-room-only, and do all of it without a thought to the color of our skin. That may not be true everywhere, but it was true for us. We owe everything that means the most to us to the Creators and Namers. We owe it to the Hopers.
My sweet daughter doesn’t know that the observation she made with a smile has been made over and over with scorn. She will never know the violence her ancestors suffered nor the violence other ancestors inflicted. She is unaware how the simple obvious of dark skin has been named Shameful and Inferior. She just calls it Pretty as she looks at her Daddy’s skin and wonders aloud if hers will ever turn that color. She alreay thinks about the future and what might change in the world, even if she can only see her own tiny corner of it.
If she wants to, she will get to imagine even better things than the people before her had the capacity to. So I want to be sure to tell her that we are the Hopers and that the world we inherit is the one we create.