Racism is preposterous – the very idea of it. That someone can muster up vials of hate over something so arbitrary as pigmentation. Like hating someone for having freckles. And not hate, like “I hate brussel sprouts.” More like this kind of hate: “I will degrade and dehumanize you because you are worthless so fear for your safety.” It is so abhorrent, even ridiculous that some, who have never had it directed at them, assume it just cannot exist any longer. Or that there has to be some other explanation for the lunacy of such a crime. It is simply unbelievable.
Long before I became apart of a multiracial family, I could easily sympathize with the hurt of what such hate does to the people in its path. But I really had no idea what it felt like. I couldn’t – I had nothing to compare it to in my personal experience. I have felt the humiliation that comes from condescending sexism from my male counterparts at times, but condescension is not the same as hate. Or violence. It is NOT the same so I can’t pretend that it prepared me for the ire of racism.
I have parented children from 3 different races up to this point. My son is from West Africa and I had a biracial foster daughter who was primarily Hispanic in our home for 6 months. My biological daughter and foster baby are both white. I have quite a racial experiment/microcosm here: I have been given a perspective on how the world sees each of my children, and how my children see the world they live in. We live as one family, but each child’s experience has been very different BECAUSE OF THEIR DIFFERENCES OF RACE. My white daughters have never experienced what my children of color have.
My white daughters have never had other children refuse to hold their hand, hug or high-five them because they look “dirty.” I have looked on as my friends’ children happily gave my white daughter a big hug to say goodbye but shiftily look away and refuse eye contact with my black son, refusing to touch him. No one has ever asked my eldest biological child why we would bring home another white foster baby, in fact they won’t stop talking about how cute she is. But they have asked her with all the scorn and disgust they could muster “Ugh…Why would you bring home a MEXICAN???” All of these experiences hurt and cut you while you watch your children treated in these ways. But even these experiences don’t add up to hate in its evilest, most hurtful forms.
We have had several incidences with the general public that have rocked our world. A few of the incidences, I did not personally witness so I cannot speak to the charged nuances of the situation. But of one particular day, I can. We were minding our own business attending an out door church service. A very disturbed and angry man approached the church yelling obscenities at all of us. Then he noticed there were people of color in our midst and started calling all of us “Martin Luther King worshippers.” Fine, whatever – just a crazy idiot to be disregarded. As he was being forcefully steered in a different direction away from the congregation, he spotted my son. Why he picked him out of the crowd, I will never understand. Especially since he was not the only person of color present. He looked my little boy right in the face and spewed the most hateful, vile, violent words I ever heard someone yell at a child. “YOU -little fucking nigger! Yeah, I’m talking to you, little nigger…” And by this time half the congregants were on their feet chasing the bastard off.
If you could have seen my sweet little boy’s face…You would never be the same either. He didn’t know what “nigger” meant, but he felt every stab of hate thrown at him with the look, the tone, the sheer evil. And now he has to carry the weight of “nigger” on his shoulders. I don’t cry over anything. But, there? I did. Blind, impotent, helpless rage fills you up. I felt it because he is my child. The hurt he encounters hurts me too. We are not a white family with a black child. We are a multiracial family – we are all in this together. When hate is thrown at any one of us, it hurts all of us. He cried in his daddy’s arms, a long lanky boy hanging on to his father’s neck in the terror at what had happened. Like a Rottweiler sitting in your lap during the thunderstorm. It is scary and it hurts in ways I can’t describe. I can identify with the rage of rioters and protesters. But justice will not prevail in these moments or in courtrooms.
I was reeling for weeks after this. And he wouldn’t let me out of his sight for about a week. He hung very close, unsure if someone would try to steal his dignity again. How do I protect him? How am I going to help him safely reach adulthood? I won’t always be around to shield him from hateful words, fists, or weapons. The man may not have struck him physically, but I felt the violence in that man, he would have thought nothing of sinking my child’s teeth into the curb. And one man in another incident threatened as much. And there are plenty of others out there who would do nothing less. Because he is black. And with the media backdrop in the middle of our personal experiences, we hear of unarmed black men being shot, heightening the truth of what we’ve already seen. If numerous men could already threaten my sweet little boy, what would they do if he was older or if we weren’t present to protect him? I know he will not be completely safe. My fears are real – I am watching this play out and it is happening. Not every day, but it is still apart of our experience. And it is every bit as bad as I imagined, probably worse.
I don’t want racism and hate to destroy his beautiful spirit. So, I love him fiercely. Hate strikes with a poisonous venom, but sustained love is the only way to combat it. I was a nervous wreck for a few months. I spoke to almost no one about it. It is a difficult topic to discuss. It is physically painful to speak about. The wounds go that deep. The helplessness and futility that accompanies the rage will choke you.
I have lived my whole life without that kind of hate and injustice in my repertoire…but I do now. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, then it is extremely easy to write off such incidences as contrived or over-racialized, suggesting that race really has nothing to do with it. But I can tell you that race has everything to do with these acts of senseless violence. You can feel the degradation oozing from the hate-filled person and it doesn’t make sense. It is a different level of mean. The white people in my family have never had anything like these injustices, indecencies, or atrocities inflicted upon them over something so arbitrary. But my children of color have. And they didn’t DO anything different from their white siblings to provoke the situations. Same family, different skin colors. People’s perceptions of my children are very different from one child to the next. And it isn’t fair and it brings about a heartache I can’t describe. I see the world with both lenses and am appalled that one group can have it so much better than another. It steals a certain freedom that says you can go anywhere and just enjoy your day. I took it for granted that everyone had this freedom. Not any longer – I never know if or when our day will be so violently interrupted. But it is only a matter of time before it happens again. All because of the layer of tissue that holds all our organs in and our bones together. Racism is preposterous and absurd, which is why you feel so futile and fearful in the face of it. It is so insane, it is unbelievable. But it is real and it is true. But I won’t back down from loving through it. He will rise up stronger, I can feel it in his spirit. He is strong and he still loves. He still laughs. If he can keep going, he will overcome.
Racism feels different than other kinds of meanness. When you are in the moment, you just know. Even if the n-word is never used.