Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Hunting of My Son/The Haunting of my Soul

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.
What I read made me weep: Yes, because this man, some stranger, spoke sparely and matter-of-factly about his ancestors. They were brought here in chains, he said. They were lynched and abused and fought for this—their—country which denied their rights. He switched then, from past tense to present—they are targeted, are harassed, and are told that they bring all this on themselves because they don’t act like the rest of society. And then he said that he is tired of defending his humanity.
And if that didn’t break my heart enough, he continued in that same spare and quiet voice: He is tired of having to look into the eyes of his children—little boys who play Pokémon and soccer and live exuberantly, joyfully—feeling that he has to quash all that joy because they are black, and black men are feared in this country.
He ended with this: ”My boys will be hunted. Will yours?”
Of course I wept. How could anyone not?
But there’s this other thing, this thing I’ve been keeping locked away, because, maybe, to speak it would give it power, make it real. But suddenly, I was stripped bare, and I knew The Truth: My son is black.
I’m not stupid. I know he’s black. Of course he’s black! But every time someone would mention it, I would nod and smile and add, “Of course, he’s white, too.” I lied to myself, as if this were a magic shield that would protect him from the realities of being a black man in America.
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 in, 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.

Let us work to build a world where he - where anyone - will never be hunted ever again. We must work to build this world - our humanity demands it.

Originally posted by in July, 2016

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

An Eternity of Summer

I could swear that it was still light not too long after dinner. And a week or two before that, the sun still blazed right around that same time. The sky was not fringed in purple and rose-gold; rather, the coming night only slowly leached the sky of color, turning the pale blue into pearl grey and white. Now it's a study in blue and black, with just the barest hint of scarlet at the very edge of the west.

It's amazing to me how much I measure the turning of the year by the stream of light. The year, of course, begins to die at the height of summer. Leave it to me to find a nugget of doom even amid the hazy, lazy, hot and humid ease of summer.

As a kid, summer was endless. It stretched before us like a river, wide and deep, glinting in sunlight, pockets of green shade and never-silent, a burbling chatter that fills up all the empty space. We wheeled and floated through time, all sticky with sweat and watermelon juice and neighborhood grit. It was glorious and forever. Friendships grew thick and fast as weeds, a promise of permanence to outlast the heat of summer, to withstand the coming of crisp air and shortened days.

Summer was long days of heat that built slowly and inexorably, until it felt as if your lungs would spontaneously combust. Summer was fireworks and fireflies, a cacophony of light and sound. It was crickets and grasshoppers and tar that stuck to your shoes, gooey strands of black that formed a tenuous bridge between the road and the soles of your shoes. It was the gathering heaviness of ozone just before a thunderstorm, when the air is alive with static and wind and the heavens open with a whoosh and a rush of rain, when the temperature drops in an instant, from stifling to a delicious cool.

And we were invincible then, in those eternal days of summer: invincible, untouchable. Immortal. We were lords of summer, lords of earth and air, of backyards and hidden creeks and fields of weeds and cracked concrete. Time was measured in light and sound in those days: Out of the house when the sky was still pale and liquid blue, and the dew bent the grass and caught the sun in rainbow crystals, returning only when we heard the clarion call of some mom or sibling calling us in for dinner. 

And as soon as we had inhaled that meal--- of meat and potatoes, certainly, and salad was iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers and home-made Thousand Island dressing--- red-fringed pink stuff made from ketchup and Miracle Whip--- never mayo, thank you very much--- after dinner was Kick the Can or Hounds and Hares or Elimination Frisbee, some game that brought the entire cadre of neighborhood kids together in a burst of competition and speed, and we would run and hide and throw and sweat and yell until it was too dark to see, until the crickets and mosquitoes and frogs and kids created a symphony of noise, and someone-- some mom, some dad, someone left behind the glory of summer, would call us in that one final time. And we came: reluctant, dragging, tired and spent, begging for just a few more minutes, a little bit longer, a little more time, pleasepleaseplease, just five minutes more, pleeeeease! We never did get a reprieve. We never got that extra five minutes. But we never stopped asking either. Every night was the first night, the first time, and possibilities were endless and hope tangible.

Even so, even in that summery land of forever, days end, night comes. Like a thief, darkness steals the light in unnoticeable snatches, and a curtain of silvery moonlight fills the sky where once the sun king reigned. We drive home in darkness. In the morning, dew laden fields become mist-shrouded, God’s breath lightly blanketing the dry gold reeds that turn slowly to deep russet and then dull brown. And suddenly, where once we leapt from sleep-tangled sheets to escape into the summer sun, we hunker down under blankets to steal five more minutes of sleep, of warmth, before school, before work, before growing up. 

When did summer become finite? When did night linger in my window just long enough for me to wake in darkness? When did driving with headlights ablaze take precedence over running madly and with stealth, under cover of darkness, to free my captive teammates from their prison in some neighborhood garage? What day, what time, what moment? I remember that hope of five minutes more, that mental stretch to claim eternity, that I-almost-have-it, I-can-almost-touch-it thing. I remember it lasting forever, but I cannot pinpoint when it was gone, and I wait impatiently for December 22, for when the light begins to linger a little longer, arrive a little sooner every day. 

In the meantime, I pull the blankets over my head while my windows frame a purple sky, claiming my five minutes more before turning on a light.