Monday, July 9, 2018

White Privilege | Black Son

I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding to take place the next afternoon. I left my phone in my purse, so I missed the news of the massacre that took place in Dallas. I woke up the next morning to the news that five police officers were killed by a man who opened fire at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, specifically targeting white officers. It was surreal, staring at my Facebook feed, which continued to retell a tale of the violence and savagery that has become all too common, all too tied up into a knot of racism, privilege, poverty, guns, and anger. Facebook lit up, and I just couldn’t stop reading.
One post caught my eye. Someone had reposted a letter written by a black man, a dermatologist with two sons.
Some man, grief-stricken and tired-to-the-bone, asked if my child will be hunted, and for the first time, all those lies that I had allowed myself to believe, that I so diligently protected and nurtured, shriveled into dust. I realized that my black son can never be protected by my whiteness, that the mere thought that he could be is evidence of my own privilege.
Will my son be hunted?
I remember the trill of frustration I felt, when my former husband carried what I thought was a chip on his shoulder. Yes, yes, yesI know it’s been bad, and there are still some racist people who don’t get it, I wanted to say, but it’s different now, don’t you see? He told me I was naïve. I was afraid he’d pass the chip onto our son.
My world worked on the laws of cause and effect; it was your actions that determined consequences, and while that pristine law had, at times, been clouded by economics, religion, or color, those clouds were lifting, just about gone. The fact that the entire block—inhabited by white families—stood on their lawns and porches and stoops, watching silently as he and his mom and step-father and sister moved into their home, the first black family in the neighborhood, should have no bearing on the world he moved into now, 30 or 40 years later. I was sure of it.
How could I not see that my ex-husband’s world was governed less by cause and effect, and more by color? His skin, in this white world, was the cause, and the effects were harsh and hateful. He was lucky—the consequences of his blackness were merely a few traffic violations for driving while black, or being overlooked “accidentally” at restaurants and in a handful of job interviews. No prison, a fate for one in three black men—just a sentence of invisibility and marginalization.
And how could I not see that these same problems were now settling so heavily onto our son’s shoulders? My son—my black and Jewish son. What he never told me, until we lived far away from his old grade school, was that he was regularly bullied all through elementary school. Because his golden skin was a little too brown, and his Judaism was a little too Christ-killy for all the lily-white kids who filled those pristine halls.
How could I not see—refuse to see—that my well-meaning heart and my so unconsciously invisible-to-me white privilege could not ever shield my beautiful, loving, kind, smart black son from the consequence of the color of his skin?
Will my son be hunted? He already has been.
My mother tells me, “All we can do is hope that it gets better and the world changes.” But I say hope is not enough, not unless we hope with our deed. We must dosomething, we have to act, and act now, in order to make the changes that we seem to be dying for.
I just wish I knew what those actions were. I have to know—and soon—before my son, or yours, or anyone else’s, is hunted again.