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Author: brownmom

A Letter to Jordan Edwards

A Letter to Jordan Edwards

It was the cashier at the grocery store who made me weep. Even though I had already shed tears for you in the morning, my evening encounter with this young man- this young black man, who could not have been more than 15- made me think of you. He was quiet but polite; the seriousness with which he performed his task revealed a slight edge of nervousness, so concerned was he with doing his job well. Undoubtedly this is his first job, something to prepare him for adulthood, the real world. But how does a black boy in America really prepare himself for that? I had the urge to take his hand from the box of pasta he was scanning, hold it in my own and tell him, “You are absolutely perfect and deserving of every good thing in this world.” Of course, I could not do that. That’s not what we do to black men and boys. We pretend. So I stood there, silently, letting him perform this service for me, pretending things were the same for him as they were for the white man who had been in line before me.

I thought about him leaving his job, after dark, in this city we live in that is so progressive, so full of good liberals, that just the night before a man had been publicly taunted for his brown skin in our beloved Fenway Park. I wondered how this young cashier gets home from work. Does his mom wait, counting down the seconds until his arrival, knowing for every minute he is late the unthinkable may have happened? I suppose all parents do this, but I won’t pretend in this area. It is not the same for me and my white child as it is for this boy and his mama. It is not the same as it was for you and your mother.

The thing that haunts me most is that you simply wanted to get home, to retreat to the place where you felt safest. It’s the cruelest of ironies that you were attempting to flee gunfire only to be gunned down by someone who should have protected you. It’s not a surprise, of course. White officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man. The act is so routine, the words so familiar they could be imprinted on our currency as a more honest reflection of what we hold dear.

When I forget my humanity, I wish for evil upon the person who took you from this world. I want him to feel excruciating pain, to be weighted down by the collective rage and sadness from those of us who keep having to be reminded that our lives are not valued. I forget that so many of these men put on those blue uniforms only because they feel they have something to prove; that they are so trapped in a web of toxic masculinity and white supremacy, there is no possible way to avoid disaster. Regardless, I am unable to offer any amount of sympathy when the solution seems clear and simple: just stop shooting black people.

I read about your life, how you were a football player, well-liked at school, and treasured by your family. No one could call you anything but a “good” kid. This matters not, of course, in terms of right and wrong, but I take some solace from the fact that unlike the ones who came before you, you are not likely to be blamed for your own death. It’s a pathetic measure of progress, but it is all we have right now.

I want to tell you I am sorry. I am sorry your life was stolen from you, that you have had to become another name on the list of all the ways we have failed our black brothers. I am sorry for the times I have been complicit, the times I have not spoken up when I should have. It matters and I vow to do better. I will do so in your name.

Rest in power.

 

Please consider helping the Edwards family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning the loss of a country i didn’t know I loved

Mourning the loss of a country i didn’t know I loved

I have never considered myself very patriotic. There have been times when I have been profoundly moved by the privilege of being an American citizen, but more often than not, I have been unable to overlook our country’s propensity for violence and racism, systems that we have (so far) been unable to banish to history. Even so, I know being American makes me luckier than some; I am granted rights and privileges that people in many parts of the world do not have. Our nation is not perfect, but we have the potential and resources to be so. Being a woman of color, an American woman of color, means I have had to vacillate between cautious optimism and utter despair as I live through each swing of the pendulum, the near constant back and forth between right and wrong, trying, but often failing, to get each and every one of us on the path to equality.

When the attacks on 9/11 happened, I, like every other American, was deeply horrified and completely unable to function because of the overwhelming sadness. It was impossible to witness such an event and not take it personally, no matter that I was 1500 miles away. It was one of the saddest periods I have ever witnessed, but also one of the most hopeful. Tragedy often has a way of shifting focus, giving us perspective, and boldly reminding us of both our humanity and mortality. The effect this time was that we came to genuinely believe we were in something together, that we would ultimately be OK because we were Americans. United. Something else shifted, though. Patriotism got redefined. Being a “real” American meant displaying a flag on your front porch, worshipping a Christian God, being a robust consumer, and supporting a war without hesitation. Before too long, patriotism was synonymous with conservatism. Truthfully, I didn’t care that much. I have never felt the need to make a demonstration of my love of country, which seems the appropriate stance since that love has never been steadfast.

I don’t presume this rebranding of patriotism was an entirely new phenomenon. I’m sure each generation must go through something like this when deep cultural changes are occurring. I was born just after the Vietnam War, a decade after the Civil Rights Movement. Those times, too, I understand, brought their own divisiveness, their own measure of what it meant to be a good patriot. What was brand new, however, is that my generation voted into office our country’s first black president.

I should go ahead and say here, as I have said many times before, growing up biracial in a predominately white world was hard.  It can still be hard. Perhaps it is not possible to convey this experience to the white, Christian, able-bodied, cisgender, hetero population, but to be an American in a marginalized group is to forever carry these questions: Am I safe here? Will I be treated respectfully? Can I be myself in this space? If you don’t live with this reality, then this assertion may come across as hyperbolic. You may be rolling your eyes, noting “It’s a free country,” but that is the difference between the promise and potential of America versus the actuality of it.

Last night I watched Obama’s farewell speech, crying through parts of it. His presidency, more than anything else in my lifetime, gave me hope that the America we want to believe in could actually come to fruition. That’s not to say I have always been in agreement with his ideas and policies; he’s far too moderate for my liking. In his eight years, though, he has been dignified and graceful; the living embodiment of the American dream. I have never once doubted his devotion to this country, or that he didn’t sincerely believe he was acting in the best interests of our nation. He was all of these things and a black man. That we elected him, twice, made me proud. In no way did I believe it meant the end of racism, or that we would quickly be healed of our histories, but his presidency was a legitimate sign that we were headed in the right direction; a powerful way to show that, yes, America belongs to each of us.

And now we have Trump. It’s a lot to try to grasp, to realize we were doing the hard, slow work of measuring up to our ideals but just handed it all over to someone who threatens to completely unravel it. I am, of course, terrified. I have spent hours in conversations with friends trying to make sense of this, speculating on what it means, both short and long term. What I find most curious, though, is how we, as a country, are the same people who voted for two men who could not be more at odds with one another. I can’t shake the feeling that Trump supporters have been conned, but I know this has often been said of Obama supporters, too.

When Obama began his rise to fame, when it became clear he was going to have a following, those against him acted as if we had been sold a bill of goods; we had somehow been tricked into believing the hype because of his impressive oratory skills, nothing more. We had- to use a phrase I loathe- drank the Kool-Aid. There is no way to ascertain the truth of such a subjective claim, but let’s say for a moment that it’s true. Let’s suppose I merely got caught up in the hype, that the truth is Obama is insubstantial as a leader and I only supported him out of blind loyalty. If that is the fact, though, then I have decided I am perfectly OK with that. I feel zero shame in potentially making the mistake of putting my trust in a decent man, a man full of integrity who managed to live out the entirety of his two presidential terms without any personal scandals. Say what you will about his policies, tally up his imperfections if you must. Attempts to discredit his character, though, will always fall short, and I suspect this, more than anything, is what his opponents find so infuriating.

I have given up trying to understand how Trump was able to garner the level of support he did. I believe there is a lot more to it than racism, phobias, economics, and misogyny, although, to be sure, those things are definitely part of it. I will never understand how millions of people found it within themselves to defend the indefensible, sometimes, appallingly, invoking Jesus’s name to do so. I have watched his behavior for months, heard his own words, and witnessed the bullying attacks. I have seen the lies and delusions, the middle of the night Twitter meltdowns. The behavior is absolutely outrageous, so much so, if he were one of my loved ones, I would stage an intervention and try to get him mental-health help. Or I would decide to cut ties because his level of toxicity is so high. Now, though, he has been given the biggest platform in the world; his lunacy has been legitimized and God only knows what the costs will be.

The cliché “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” has never felt so true for me as it has in the past two months. Not until faced with a real threat to our country’s democracy, did I realize its importance. I stand by my words that America has yet to live up to its promises, though; I am not sad for something I once had and lost, rather I grieve for what I thought we were becoming. I hope whatever we are in for is temporary and reparable. May we find our way back.

If you love me but voted for Trump here’s something you should know

If you love me but voted for Trump here’s something you should know

If you love me but voted for Trump, here’s something you should know:

When I was a little girl, this is what I knew about myself: my brown skin was a life sentence; an inescapable confinement that guaranteed I would always be an outsider, inferior to the white people with whom I shared my world. My brown skin was shameful, something to be hidden. My parents’ union, I was told, was disgusting and ungodly, which meant I was that way, too. So I became the things I believed I should be: scared, ashamed, desperate, a liar. I wanted to be blonde. Light skinned like my classmates. Anything but what I was. I did not know how to be myself. I did not know how to ask for the things I needed, which didn’t really matter much because I didn’t believe I was deserving of them anyway.

Maybe you were my friend in childhood. Maybe you sat next to me in the cafeteria and became my seesaw partner on the playground. Maybe you had me over for sleepovers and we played Barbies and giggled together late into the night. Maybe you even made me feel safe and loved. But I must confess to you now, when I was a child, l could only feel safe and loved when you didn’t see the whole of me, when you allowed me to forget I was brown.

It took me a long time to realize those childhood truths were actually fallacies. It took me even longer to create new truths for myself. Longer, still, to be proud to claim all the parts of me, to feel like it was not only OK for me to be seen, it was necessary.

 

If you love me but voted for Trump, here’s something you should know:

My fears have come to pass. The unthinkable has become reality. The paranoia has set in, already I feel unsafe. It took less than two days. In less than two days I came to realize I am once again uncertain as to where or how I fit into the world. The endless stream of hate has started: reports of swastikas spray-painted in neighborhoods, people of color being told to go back where they came from, women being grabbed by their pussies (that’s the preferred word now), brown children being taunted in their classrooms, and all of these things done in the name of the person you convinced yourself was fit for the role of president.

I can hear some of you saying those stories are exaggerated, and perhaps some are, and perhaps they aren’t, that really doesn’t matter. What matters is the rumbling undercurrent of putridity has finally surfaced. I have been holding on for over a year, listening to your leader tell me how unworthy I am, how my very existence has destroyed something great within this country, that I need to be put back in my place both figuratively and literally. I naively convinced myself I shouldn’t worry too much, that together we would all come to our senses and not give power to hate.

You may read this and think I am being melodramatic. In your mind, you figured out how to make his words OK before you stepped into the voting booth. But for me, the words will never be OK. My racial identity puts me within the group of the oppressed, but it is my humanity that makes me an ally and reminds me I am not separate from anyone. I am the Jew who has discovered anti-Semitic graffiti in the community where I once felt safe. I am the woman wearing the Hijab that someone is threatening to hang me with. I am the six-year-old Mexican-American boy who is terrified that my family will be sent away. I am the elderly black woman who is despondent and hopeless in her knowledge that the KKK is about to march boldly through her streets again. I am the transgender woman who is scared to use the bathroom, and the gay man who is listening to strangers call me “faggot.”

I am a little girl, fearfully weeping, “Do they see me? Do they see I am brown?”

These stories are my stories. And they are your stories, too, but in your quest for self-preservation you have forgotten this.

 

If you love me but voted for Trump, here’s something you should know:

I want to believe you when you tell me you are not racist. I want to believe that your affection for me is genuine and pure. Right now, though, I feel suspicious and uncertain, coming to terms with the fact that maybe you did not accept my brownness, but merely overlooked it.

I understand that for you, this was about outcomes; that you yourself have been afraid and uncertain, not knowing what to make of the changes happening in our country. I understand when you cast your vote you believed you were doing what was best. You may have even told yourself you weren’t happy about supporting him but felt you had no other choice. Of course, votes cannot be undone and so now you must bear some of the responsibility for what is happening and what will happen in the future.

If I am to believe you are not the things you fear being called (racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc.) then your complacency must stop. I need to hear you speak out against the hateful rhetoric. Make a phone call to your representatives and ask them how they are going to stop the harassment of marginalized groups. Write the man you elected and tell him to denounce the vile acts that are being committed in his name. Show me I can trust you. Show me you have my back. Show me who you are.

When you stay silent I can hear you loudest.

She’s with her

She’s with her

My daughter loves Hillary Clinton. I would like to be able to profess the same, but I cannot. Without question, Clinton has my vote because I believe she is beyond qualified and capable, and frankly, envisioning her presidency does not fill me with the same sense of terror as envisioning a Trump presidency. Although I am not opposed to voting third party, I find the current round of third party candidates underwhelming, at best. That said, I do feel there are substantive areas of concern when it comes to Clinton (and I am not talking about the ridiculous claims about her health), and these things are enough to keep me from declaring enthusiastically, “I’M WITH HER!” For me, it’s more of a resigned “I’m with her, I guess.”

My kid, though? Mention Hillary Clinton to her and she becomes the real-life version of the smiley face emoji that has hearts for eyes. She reserves this reaction for precisely two other people: 1) a certain male celebrity whom I cannot name because it would embarrass her, and 2) Elizabeth Warren. When it was announced that Clinton and Warren would be appearing together in New Hampshire earlier this week, I knew I had to take her to see them. Even though the line was ridiculously long, and the crowd so large we were lucky just to be able to see the tops of their heads, I was really grateful to be there, to be sharing that moment with my daughter.

Not to trivialize the importance of the event, but being at the rally felt akin to when I took my daughter to see the new Ghostbusters movie a few months ago. I left the movie theater that day feeling nothing short of giddy that finally, finally! there was a movie that allowed women to be adventurous, smart, and ambitious, and it did not focus on their bodies or the idea that any of these characters were in need of a boyfriend/husband. No one can claim this film is some cinematic masterpiece, but I believe the arrival of a movie like this was necessary and long overdue, not unlike having a woman as POTUS.

Almost eight years ago now, I watched President Obama give his victory speech on TV. I was completely overcome with emotion and could not stop myself from weeping. Aside from crying over the historical weight of the moment, I know part of me was also crying for myself, for a childhood where I never, not once, saw myself represented in the world. I couldn’t help but think of all the kids in this country who looked like me and were now learning this about themselves: you belong here too. And this is what I was thinking of when I was at the rally, listening to the person who is likely to become our first female president. If Clinton is elected, my daughter will only remember her and Obama as the presidents during her childhood, two people whose race and gender would have automatically prevented my nine-year-old self from even being able to imagine them in those roles.

My daughter is still too young to completely understand what it’s like to move about the world as a woman (thankfully), and I harbor no illusions that a female president will somehow make misogyny disappear. To the contrary, I think we are likely to learn exactly how misogynistic our culture really is, just like Obama’s presidency reminded us how rampant racism is. Watching my daughter’s face, though, when she saw Clinton arrive and wave to the crowd, seeing her smiling and clapping when Warren was calling out Trump’s vicious behavior, well, it was pretty hard for me not to feel hopeful. We were part of a crowd of thousands, all there to support a woman who is trying to achieve what has so far remained unachievable. Although I still have my reservations about Clinton, the significance of what we were a part of was not on lost on me. To my daughter, a Clinton presidency is not just about the results of an election, it’s a symbol of what a girl can accomplish, a powerful reminder that she, and all girls, have so much to offer; it’s a clear message: you belong here too. How could I ever vote against that?

What Kind of Racist are You?

What Kind of Racist are You?

Last week it was Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. I don’t have to tell you what because you already know. If you’re trying to keep track of the number of black individuals who have fallen victim to their skin color in recent years, that brings the total to…hmm…I’m pretty bad with numbers so let’s just say it’s around too fucking many. This time, the news left me feeling even more defeated and hopeless, and perhaps that’s what led me to read the comments on everything that was posted about the death of these two men. It’s not that I haven’t been sucked in by internet comments before, but this time it was a deliberate move on my part. I’m not sure why, exactly. I guess part of me thought maybe, just maybe, I would read something that would provide insight and clarity, something that would help me begin to understand how we keep finding ourselves in this situation over and over again. The only thing that was made clear to me, though, is there is no shortage of ways to be racist.

I have written before about some of my own racist behavior. And I have written about people who are so deep in denial they can barely acknowledge racism exists. It occurred to me, though, as I was trudging through the rants disguised as commentary, “denial” is too vague a word because it doesn’t do enough to explain the myriad of racist personalities. Plenty of people have written on the various types of racism, and I am grateful for their work. I decided to compile a less scholarly list, though, something more of a layman’s introduction to racism, based on my own observations.

  1. The Captain Obvious Racist– A lot of people are really scared of this kind of racist, and often for good reason. But I actually kind of respect their honesty. This is the kind of racist that doesn’t pussyfoot around. They straight-up let you know that if you’re not white, they don’t like you. Period. Hobbies include: building walls, buying white sheets on clearance.
  2. The Amnesic Racist- This is the kind of racist who loves, LOVES America. They get high on freedom and (parts of) the constitution. There is no possible way you care about your country more than these people, trust me. The thing is, they tend to forget that the American principles they cherish so dearly also apply to black people. This means they lose their shit when they see…oh, I don’t know, a black person refusing to stand when the national anthem is played. Hobbies include: complaining about how politically correct our society has become, listening to Lee Greenwood.
  3. The Mr./Ms. Fix It Racist- Don’t be fooled by this title, it’s not as good as it sounds. This is the type of racist who already has the solution to ending racism. It’s simple really. Black people just need to get over slavery, obey the police, get a job, and stop playing the race card. Hobbies include: posting Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on their Facebook page.
  4. The La-la-la I Can’t Hear You Racist- These racists, in my opinion, are the trickiest to deal with. It doesn’t matter what you say, or what experiences you share with them, they are quick to tell you why it’s actually not about race. They will tell you it’s the media’s or race-baiting-Obama’s fault you feel the way you do.  They love to invoke the names of the few black celebrities who deny racism, while somehow totally ignoring every other black person. Hobbies include: watching Fox news, researching the benefits of slavery
  5. The I Want to be a Victim Too Racist- These are the people who think it’s just not right they don’t get to be the victims of racism. They seem to understand things are unfair but are very confused about how that unfairness plays out. (Don’t even try to explain systemic racism to them.) They love to share news stories of whites being victimized by blacks just so they can point out the fact that whites aren’t protesting. Hobbies include: going before the SCOTUS in affirmative action cases, tweeting #alllivesmatter.
  6. The I Need a Nap Racist- This is the type of racist that’s just tired. Not tired of racism, mind you. Nope. They are just tired- tired of talking about race, tired of “everything” being about race, tired of being called out for being racist. They will often ask, “How is that racist?” but that question is rhetorical. They don’t really want to know the answer because the answer will exhaust them. Hobbies include: dressing up as Pocahontas or Pancho Villa for Halloween, having hit shows on HBO or Comedy Central
  7. The Dust Yourself Off Racist- This is they type of racist that gets it. They know they will mess up, say offensive things, be insensitive, etc. What makes these racists different, though, is they somehow resist becoming one of the aforementioned racists. Instead, they get up and start over again, courageously standing up to friends and family members, and consistently checking their privilege. Hobbies include: weeping every time they hear the words “unarmed black man killed,” taking down the system.