When I was getting ready to fly out to bring my son from Ethiopia home almost eight years ago my friend Sue told me a story about her daughter Hayley and another son of mine. Up to that moment Hayley and Sam had been the we-are-little-siblings-hanging-out-at-the-ball-field-while-the-big-brothers-played-ball kind of friends. Hayley was a tough as nails pint-sized tomboy and together the two of them found so much dirt and dust past center field you could only describe their combined skin tone as earthen and their lip color as red licorice.
Hayley was THAT friend to Sam.
When Sam broke his arm and Hayley was right there when it happened and she saw a potential tear fall that could eventually streak his dirt covered face she looked him in the eye and said, “Buck up Sam!” He did. In total honesty so did I. She had me so convinced his arm wasn’t broken that it wasn’t until the next morning when he came downstairs with his arm dangling that I experienced my first Mommy Fail Moment.
Anyhow, back to Sue’s conversation with Hayley. Sue was driving with Hayley, who was belted into her carseat behind Sue. Sue made the comment to Hayley that I would be gone for a few weeks to bring home a son we were adopting from Ethiopia. They had a conversation about international adoption.
Sue finished the conversation by saying, “Sam is adopted, Hayley. He’s from Korea.”
According to Sue, Hayley sat as upright as she could in her 5 point harness carseat and with her eyes wide open exclaimed, “NO WAY! SAM’S ADOPTED?!!”
Hayley had spent five years hanging out with Sam and our family. She knew us. She saw us.
She never once labeled us according to our skin tone.
To wish for the world to capture and hold on to the innocence of a six-year-old.
I have been reading about the act of terror, the reign of bullets shot into the prayer group in South Carolina and I am sickened. And for two days I have sat quietly mourning this horrific act. Yet, in the silence I am not accomplishing a thing, especially for my son from Ethiopia.
We can sit out here on the West Coast and say, “Oh, that’s the South. We don’t have racism like that up here.” Well, I am here to tell you we do have racism like that up here. It’s just we don’t know how to talk about it. Up here.
For my son. Today. I am going to talk about it.
My son is exceptional. Many of you know that. He has changed lives on a global scale. He has changed lives within our own community. Yet in his mind all the accolades are forgotten the second he sees his name crossed out and the word ni**er scrawled in its place. All the good he has done for this world is snuffed out in his heart when he gets a venomous typical of your people comment from a grown man. All the kindness he has offered to others is erased when an elderly woman at church calls him blackie and tells him to get her some coffee. All the messages of hope and encouragement he gives to others are dissolved when a classmate who is already on a self chiseled pedestal because he can throw a football tells him that God did not make him equal and that the white people are superior. He has been targeted and accused of things he would never ever think of doing. And all this my neighbors, THIS is within a couple mile radius of where you live.
This is racism in your own backyard.
I can count on two hands the number of times my son has come home from school quiet and withdrawn because of these moments. That’s two hands too many in my book. Last year we started dividing the comments into two categories, one for stupid and one for hate. The stupid comments, like, “What would you look like if you weren’t black?” my son deals with. The hateful comments? Those are the ones my husband and I take care of. The school knows us. They know my son. They are his champion. We are his champion. But I have to say, I sure haven’t had to fight the fight I have had to fight for my black son with my other 4 children who are not black.
I am completely aware that each of the hateful incidents directed toward my son are a reflection on an individual’s beliefs and not my collective community. I love my community. My community loves my son. But as a village, if we turn our back and ignore the hate, are we any better than the man who holds the gun to the head of a prayer group?
It’s time to start talking about it. Up here.