I almost got it wrong today.
I almost committed a sin. I almost committed the sin of leaning out, of continuing to be deaf, of raising walls where there are none and seeing clear bifurcations when there’s no such thing.
My son is 8 months old today. I’ll be posting pictures of him later – a practice I have in place to help chronicle his time on earth, and to help him one day visualize how much he has grown and how different life looked when he was very small.
For more than a week now I have known that this rollover date coincides with the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, and I have been uneasy about it. It felt tone deaf to consider posting pictures of my living little boy when so many mothers are mourning their sons’ and daughters’ lives – the mothers of Mike Brown, Kajime Powell, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Rekia Brown, Vonderrit Meyers, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sam DuBose. I say their names with a pause between, because I still struggle to keep them at the forefront of my mind.
My black neighbors do not need the pauses.
It felt tone deaf to think about celebrating my smiling little boy while I know many other parents are revisiting conversations with their sons that I will never have with mine. I have listened to mothers agonize over this decision – will telling their sons about how to stay alive…during traffic stops, while walking the street, while playing in the park…dampen some of their innocence? Will it diminish some of their beautiful lively nature? Will it jade them? Will it tarnish their bright spirit?
Mine is only 8 months old and my heart resonates with those questions. My child has a bright, indomitable quality already. He will be seen and heard. He WILL communicate. I cannot imagine the heartache that would come from telling him something that will lessen him or encourage him to shrink himself for the sake of the world he lives in.
To shrink himself for the sake of white comfort.
To shrink himself for the sake of staying alive.
Along with all of this, I have held the tension too. Would it be exploitive to share all of this alongside photos of my developing child? To “politicize” a picture of a baby, an innocuous facebook slice-of-life? It made me wonder about casting an inky shadow over a sunny, innocent moment.
Then two things happened.
First, I remembered that those latter voices I was hearing were not my own. They were voices of uncomfortable white people who I was afraid of disappointing, offending, or accidentally distancing myself from. I don’t want to disappoint, or offend, or accidentally distance myself from anybody. But if that’s the consequence of remembering a deeply important moment in the life of my city and country – it’s a consequence I can’t shield anyone from. This will be remembered, whether my words are the reminder or not.
Second, I remembered that the only reason I had a choice is because I am sometimes lazy enough to think that this is not my story – to think that inky shadow isn’t ever present.
This is an inescapable story. This is a shadow on all of us. This is not something absent from our sunny moments, not a substance we can shield ourselves from.
This is in me, about me, with me, through me. No matter what. And it’s in, about, with, and through you too.
It’s my story because I listened and wept alongside neighbors of all colors at a church in Ferguson the night after Mike Brown died. And because while I sang and wept, I scrolled through twitter to learn where street closures were and where the teargas had been deployed. Then, a few days later, I took a midnight ride to the Ferguson PD to fetch some journalists who had been detained and, when dropping them off, picked up a shell of a teargas canister.
It’s my story because the next day I stood in Ferguson, at the QuikTrip, with friends and colleagues and neighbors near and far. It’s my story because I spoke to a mother who lost her son to gun violence as I dug in my bag for something to light her candle that kept going out. It’s my story because I watched a million acts of bravery and kindness and grief and anger and solidarity happen.
It’s my story because my people – the American favored class of white, middle-class citizens – asked police to shield us from what we are afraid of. And we asked and asked, and when they complied, we saw what we had done – handing one set of scared humans body armor and armored vehicles and sighted weapons and tear gas while the other set of scared humans stood with raw emotions and yes, bricks and bottles. Some on both sides came with hope, and some on both sides came with hate. But they were there because we put them there. So it’s my story.
It’s my story, and Ezra’s, because I carried him through a fall season filled with new questions. While I googled “pregnancy sleeping positions” I answered calls asking for me to be the designated jail call for friends in the protest movement. While Ezra kicked furiously at my ribs, I watched my city – and the nation – erupt in pain and flames.
It’s my story because I’ve stood by and smiled wryly when the racist remarks came up in polite company. It’s my story because I still hear my biased thoughts come to the surface with a regularity I’m ashamed to admit.
It’s my story. It’s my story. IT’S MY STORY.
It always has been. Forgive me for all the times I’ve allowed myself to buy into the myth that it is not.
The only myth is the idea that somehow, we are not all connected and effected by the events of the past year. The only myth is that this story is somehow only about Mike Brown, or Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Cincinnati, or black people, or police, or segregation, or city revenues, or poverty, or inequality, or racism, or prejudice, or education, or criminal law, or parenting, or protesting, or civil rights, or voting, or…or…or.
This story is every story. It is a mistake to see it as separate.
I will be bold. I will say it is a SIN to see it as separate. And as a sin, it requires an act of repentance – the intentional work to resist the temptation to distance myself, and the intentional work to truly see this story in all the ways it manifests.
It is a sin to see the outcomes of my son’s life as separate from the outcomes of the lives of my black and brown neighbors.
It is a sin to allow myself to think I’m guilty only of turning a “blind eye” to justice issues, when in fact my people – again, that favored American class of white livable-wage earners – are asking a few people to “Protect and Serve” while engendering fear and bias. It is a sin when we ok armored vehicles while allowing penny pinching and budget cuts to remove deescalation curriculum from officers’ training. And, since we didn’t get here overnight, let’s be clear – it’s a sin we’ve been up to for awhile, washing our hands of the strife while fueling it with our silence and pretended distance.
Today is August 9th. My son is 8 months old. Happy 8 months, my sweet kiddo.
Today is August 9th, the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death and the first of many recent reality checks. The anniversary of yet another movement that has made us hear something that shouldn’tneed to be said, but must be shouted all the same: Black Lives Matter. This is an anniversary marking a sorrowful year of scarred time – scars we will all bear, knowingly or not.
If you read this, thank you. I am listening to you. This story is your story, too.