A letter to My Children
Dear my future children,
There is a fear that rests between my lungs. I can feel it with every heartbeat and every breath I take. A fear of the unknown, a fear of the known, a fear so deeply rooted into my identity that I will selfishly pass it unto you. I will be the first to admit that I am scared.
The confidence I throw together at every waking moment is a façade to protect my pride from every white person I greet. A mix of anxiousness and anger. A poorly mixed drink of emotion that I swallow down daily and convince myself is a feeling I must endure in order to learn what it means to feel happy, to feel safe. There is a torched burden I wish to not pass down, therefore I have succumbed to writing my thoughts in an attempt to cathartically let go of my deep seeded suffering.
I am not writing to complain about my shortcomings. On the contrary, I write to warn you. Don’t let them do to you what they have done to me.
My life, a mind game, stuck in a limbo of choosing whether or not I stand with my fellow brothers and sisters or I persevere through stereotypes and assimilate to white culture. I am scared to bring you into this world as African American children, trying to defend you against a country that is supposed to protect you, when I barely know how to defend myself. There is a strength, that I have not yet reached and the hopelessness I feel, makes me wonder if I ever will.
I once met a young boy around the age of 12. He was a lot like me, young, ambitious, but he was white. Now, that never stopped me from ever liking someone, but in this instance he was white with shockingly radical views. For having been born and raised in the northern suburbs of Montclair New Jersey, there was no amount of home training that could prepare me for the audacity of this young man. We went to a South Carolinian middle school together and everything about that education system was a guffaw to my face. But what most shocked me was the exchange I had with him in a classroom full of people.
Given it was art class and we were studying different types of art, my teacher asked us to paint something that reflected how we truly view ourselves.
I, never having latched on to the art gene of the family, stenciled out a basic flower and the young boy next to me drew himself on the back of a black man, a “cowboy on the back of a stallion,” he told me.
Shocked, because until that point, I had seen the world as one big, kind bubble of hope. But that popped, when I asked the boy what that was supposed to mean. He told me his Grandfather used to tell him of a story about the wild west and as he went on to relate it to his own self, occasionally throwing in the popular “N” word, what horrified me, was at the age of 12, never having truly known what it means to live, he had been able to make a connection between how the Native Americans were treated to the African Americans he encountered daily and apply it to a reality he could very much make true.
Asserting to him that this sort of thought is the exact reason why racism exists today, trying my best to educate him on the perils of his narrow mindedness, he looked at me as if to say, "What's wrong with that?”. That, is the true beginning of my conscious fear. And to believe that he, having said his words aloud for all to hear, would be punished for such harshness is a disappointing pill to swallow. My all-American -art teacher, whom I thought I could respect, burned in the fiery flames of her words.
“What an interesting thought Chandler,” she chortled. I, being the only black person in the room brave enough to speak up, expressed the offense I took to such a ridiculous ideology. Gently, with her twang accent she says, “Well, at least he was being honest.” and that, shut me up instantly.
If my eighth grade art teacher couldn’t defend me against obviously pointed racism, who would?
Lest we forget the vice grip of shame and hypocrisy that wraps around my throat. White men tend to be the apple of my eye at times and there is no justification, not even Stockholm syndrome for its very existence. However, don’t get it twisted. Them being your friend, significant other or even your acquaintance is not enough to convince us they aren’t like their fellow countrymen. Don’t allow them to get away with the occasional toe dip into the pool of our culture and label themselves ‘liberals’, it’s not fair, to you, nor I, nor our ancestors who were ridden like the man in the painted picture by that boy from my art class.
My fear has only grown, an anxiety so large that it ought to die in vain. The onslaught of, what I can only describe as, systematic genocide of young black boys and girls, makes me angry to selfishly think that I could bring you into this world. The mental hysteria of knowing that playing in the park, could God forbid, get you shot because some white person felt threatened by my 13 year old son is a nightmarish reality. The anguish of knowing my young daughter a hue similar to mine, could feel that due to her color the odds of being beautiful are not in her favor.
I warn you, there is a surreptitious propaganda that they will feed you from the moment you are born, to keep you down. It is, too late for me, for old habits die hard and the lack of my representation is so ubiquitous in my reality, that I can’t stop the bullying whispers in the back of my head. But you, have the opportunity to lead a life different from my own and as much as I don’t want to give this country another body to throw in jail, another soul to steal and another person to appropriate, I can’t leave my people empty handed.
I have to face my biggest fear and raise good human beings to do what my generation is failing to do. The baton of change, not progress, must be raced to the finish line and so help me God if it isn’t my children who do it.