Years ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” set in the time of 9/11 from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy who lost his father. It was such a powerful book and one that I was glad to read, despite the tears. I have always remembered little Oskar and the way he described his intensely sad emotions as “heavy boots.” That phrase rings in my heart on many different occasions.
This week has been one of heavy boots – from the Middle East to the Ebola outbreak to the death of another African American teen and the tension that followed. I am faced with the reality of how fragile life is and how one can get comfortable expecting a “tomorrow” when there really is no guarantee of one.
There’s no tomorrow for Michael Brown. I will not pretend to know all the facts and realities of what happened in that scenario. But I will say that it cuts to my core – in sadness for parents who suddenly lost their precious son and in heightened worry in my heart….for my boys are brown. Heavy boots upon my soul.
This is one of those posts that I’m not really sure how to write. My brain still swirls around this subject. I’ve read posts from an African American women pleading with her white friends to do more. I’ve read posts from a white mother acknowledging the white privilege her children have. I sit and ponder – where am I fitting in? – a white woman raising biracial boys.
The year I adopted Super Tall Guy was the year Barack Obama became president. I’ve often thought that rather than celebrating our “First African American President,” we should be celebrating our “First Biracial President.” We should celebrate the fact that families can unite. There can be peace and harmony.
Yet often there isn’t. A discord simmers below the surface until the spark and then it blasts wide open with an ugly face. We’re shocked. Outraged. It’s too ugly and we want the lid back on. Cover it, and yet it’s not over. It’s not over until we deal with the truth in turmoil beneath.
I don’t know how to do this fully, but I’m seeking. I’m seeking ways to help my sons understand that the color of their skin will actually influence the way people look at them and respond to them. We’re just in the early stages of the boys recognizing a difference. This summer at the pool, 5-yr-old Mr. Ornery looked around and said, “Mom, there’s not too many brown skin people here.” True. And sometimes we put our arms side by side and Super Tall Guy says, “Look how white Mommy’s skin is. Why do you get freckles?”
Two years ago, Super Tall Guy learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in kindergarten. We bounced down the staircase of the school talking about the day and all he had learned. I asked him in the course of many questions, “So, Super Tall, are you black or white?” “White,” he responded as he jumped the last two steps to the landing.
You see, though his skin is browner than mine, he is growing up in a “white world.” That’s my world and that of my family. Yet I am conscious of the fact that he is biracial – all three are despite how light or dark their skin is – and that matters. I look for diversity for the boys – in their school, in their neighborhood, in our church. Yet I know that I need to do more for deep in my heart, I worry about what they will face in this world. Heavy boots.
I need to learn more. I need to talk to others more. And I need to talk to my sons. I havet yet to say, “Son, because of your skin, people are going to judge you and make assumptions about you and treat you differently…..and they won’t do the same to Mr. Trouble because he’s white.” Hard.
Maybe I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to say it. Maybe I’m hoping that someday it won’t make a difference to anyone. Maybe I’m hoping my boys can keep growing up in the Mommy-cocoon of protection. It sure would be nice, but I also know this world is not going to change enough in the next year or five years or even ten years to spare me the difficult talk. And it’s not going to change enough to spare my boys some very painful experiences. I ache already for them.
Yet part of that world change has to begin with me. And you. And everyone. Together.
A change in the way we look at each other, whatever our differences. A change in the way we respond based on our judgments.
So when you see me out with my kids, don’t assume the “Black Baby Daddy” is at home. Talk to me and learn about this single woman who has adopted a set of brothers.
And don’t look at my sister’s African American kid and assume the poor little guy lost his Mommy when in fact he is standing right beside the woman who loves him more than the moon. Ask and learn about The Flipper’s challenging beginning and how far he’s come and his hopes for the future. He is amazing. My sister is amazing.
Please….don’t assume. Don’t judge. Begin the conversation. Open up. Be real. Invite others into your home and into your life. Share the fears, the heartaches, the pain. See beyond the surface and honor the person within. Lift each other up. Love. For we all need to be about the business of changing the world. There’s no sitting around hoping.
I don’t have all the answers, but it matters to me.
Lift the heavy boots.