I didn’t cry when Mufasa died in the Lion King until after I lost my grandma. I didn’t cry at weddings until after I got married. I didn’t cry about world events until after I had a daughter. Now I can’t stop crying.
Every drone strike and every natural disaster and every shooting death is a child. Whatever else defines one’s existence, a person’s first identity was as someone’s child. It is never okay to kill someone’s child.
With each horror story the lump in my throat grows larger and its dissipation is more prolonged. The lump may drain out through tears of mourning. It may erupt in a moment of anger. The best way to rid myself of the lump is to gather my two-year-old into my arms and inhale her scent.
There is a special spot at the top of her head where I can bury my nose into her curls and draw her essence into my lungs and soul. It’s the greatest calm I have ever felt and my cure when the world is chaotic. As I mourn for the children who can no longer be embraced, holding my baby is my heart’s only assurance that she is safe and we are lucky.
Truth: I am relieved my biracial daughter looks more white than black.
Her eyes, nose, and brow are a mirror image of her father, but her curls are brown and loose and her skin is merely sun-kissed. If her behavior is a mirror image of her mother, who is occasionally pulled over for speeding, when my daughter reaches for her wallet she will be given the benefit of the doubt. She will get to live. The chances of my husband and me weeping into a grave are far less now than if my genes hadn’t diluted his.
Her African grandmother is stop-and-stare beautiful. She hasn’t aged since I first met her nine years ago. But just a few months ago my mother-in-law became lost while following a back road detour as she was commuting home from work for the weekend. She called her family for help with directions because stopping alone to ask would be too nerve-racking. When Confederate flags and “Welcome to America, Now Speak English!” bumper stickers canvass the landscape, why would she be comfortable asking for directions in her rich Swahili accent?
I am relieved my biracial daughter looks more white than black.
If someone throws a roll of toilet paper at my daughter in the bathroom of a NASCAR-themed wing restaurant, it will be because the roll in her stall is empty, not because she is dining while black in western Pennsylvania.
If she is walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood she will be stopped by police who ask if she is lost, not by police who pat her down, looking for the paraphernalia she must have.
She’ll have the freedom to laugh loudly in a restaurant and not be asked to leave. If she gets caught skipping school she’ll have “made a mistake,” not fulfilled an expectation. She’ll represent only herself when speaking up in class. She won’t be followed by the Loss Prevention Staff every time she goes to Sunglass Hut.
If she is a suspect she will be judged by a jury of her peers, not by one person’s tense trigger finger.
The conversation regarding privilege is a summer thunderstorm in our life; rolling in at any time to cause a ruckus before nourishing growth. It stormed recently; the rain barrels are overflowing.
We took our daughter to the community pool the day after Alton Sterling was killed. On the way home, NPR replayed his family’s statement throughout our car and from the back seat my two-year-old heard his precious boy begin to sob. “What is that?” We didn’t answer right away. “He’s crying. He’s sad,” she filled in her own blank.
Salty tears silently added to the moisture of my damp cover-up while my husband responded from the driver’s seat, “He’s sad because he lost his daddy.”
“Yeah…,” she agreed. Moments later she shouted, “There’s my daddy! There’s my mommy!”
“You won’t lose us.”
Two truths and a white lie.
Thanks to genetics, point number three is more accurately stated as, “We won’t lose you.”
I am relieved that my biracial daughter looks more white than black.
Most of the time I don’t have to acknowledge my relief. Most of the time I am fully immersed in who we are and not how we are perceived. Then it comes time for our family to leave the park and I jump up to play the bad cop, because a little white girl kicking and screaming in the arms of a black man can be misinterpreted. Why chance it when I can assure her that we will come back to the playground without garnering extra stares? I can encourage her to say bye bye to the slide as she wails because no one has ever asked me, “Is she yours?” I can assuage the curious old ladies at the grocery store by simply stating, “She gets her curls from her father,” without bringing about any further interrogation.
There is never a question about where her curly-headed father stands when it comes to naming these injustices in the world. He is bold and he is vocal. Meanwhile, my method has been to stand alongside him and hope to be seen as not guilty by association.
It’s a little foolish to expect people to read between the lines and imagine that my heart is also filled with empathy, support, and anger. My reticence towards speaking out rests in not wanting to be misunderstood, in not wanting to offend, in not wanting to detract from the integrity of a truth with ignorance. In trying to avoid misunderstanding, though, I have ushered it in.
After Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, my bold husband organized a vigil and then got into some social media discussions with my extended family. Some of them felt that his disregard for All Lives Matter meant that he was disregarding me. That because I am not black, I do not matter to him. Look at all that clarity my avoidance of the topic provided. Instead of protecting from misunderstanding, Silence opened the door and invited Inaccuracy to stay for a cup of tea and, please, bring along your friend Offense.
Our three-person family attended that vigil three days after Sterling’s death, two days after our daughter recognized the pain of loss in another child’s tears. We stood in protest against violence – all violence. We stood in mourning. We stood in a public forum to proclaim Black Lives Matter.
Our wiggly girl was climbing onto my shoulders and back down again, in and out of her stroller, and was generally a bit of a distraction from the speakers, but she clapped as the crowd clapped and cheered as the crowd cheered. She was a part of it.
When the crowd starting chanting “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” I heard her little voice behind me. I looked back to see her raising her arms, joy in her eyes, yelling in time with the crowd at the top of her lungs, “BUTT BUTT BUTT! BUTT BUTT BUTT!”
The tears of mourning that had been welling in my eyes spilled over as tears of laughter. Like me, she doesn’t have quite the right words yet, but that didn’t stop her from saying something. Perhaps four letter words are all that can be said about violence and fear and death for a time. Perhaps saying the wrong thing is what moves the conversation forward. Perhaps in a refusal to be silent the cries will develop into “BUT! BUT! BUT!”
“BUT this is immoral! BUT there is another way! BUT we are all someone’s child!”
Just because I don’t have the solution doesn’t mean I can’t point out that there is a problem. Just because my biracial daughter looks more white than black doesn’t mean I can continue to rest in my relief and hopeful projections about her life’s experiences. Just because someone might be offended doesn’t mean it is wrong to speak out.
My daughter’s birth sparked my tears for the world and now her coming of age has ignited my outrage. No mother should fear for her daughter because she looks more black than white. It is negligent to hang back behind the curtain of my privilege and it is time to start saying something.