This man right here, my Dad, 91, grew up in segregated Anderson, SC, where Black men were still being hanged. He fought in WWII on an aircraft carrier, USS Franklin where he was of the 700 who survived; 2,300 died. After the Navy, he went back to Anderson, finished high school (he was drafted at 17), applied to white Clemson University, was rejected because they “didn’t accept Negras.” He had played baseball and football and Clemson had been his dream. He didn’t want to live another dream in a place where dreams weren’t only deferred, they were barred. Like millions, he became part of the Great Migration and landed in Newark, New Jersey, where he met and married my mother. He got a well-paying, if monotonous, job at General Motors where he stayed for 25 years. He didn’t tell my brothers and me about the lynchings during his childhood spent in aparthied (Jim Crow) or of mopping up body parts on the aircraft carrier after the ship had been attacked. When we became adults and he began to talk about the horrors that he’d seen, I asked him why he didn’t tell us when we were young. This man, this man right here said: “I didn’t want to teach you to hate.” Now, in his very elderly years, he doesn’t remember most things or people; news events escape him. He no longer knows what the word “news” means. Most days, his reality makes me very sad, but not today, not this week, this month, this 2016 when 560 Black & brown citizens have been senselessly, carelessly killed by police.
Like so many of you right now, my heart hurts. Two more Black people were killed at the hands of policeman–not even a day had passed between the two. Not even a full day and there was yet another video tape. Two more that I refuse to watch. I will not watch anymore videos of people being murdered. I stopped in November of last year (2015) when Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. This year, 2016, 560 unarmed Black and brown people have been killed by police officers. Five Hundred, sixty. We are only in July; 560 souls. And we watch CNN or Fox and read about it and sigh and say, oh no not another one, and hold our chests and some of us make placards and march. Some amazing people even create movements like Black Lives Matter, which is often criticized for the use of Black in the name, critics saying using the word Black excludes other people, that all lives matter. Of course All Lives Matter–the difference is All lives aren’t at risk when stopped by the police because of a broken headlight. Twelve-year-old White boys aren’t shot down in playgrounds by police. All lives aren’t taken or even threatened when encountering the police. Dylan Roof walked in to Emmauel AME church in Charleston, during Bible Study, opened fire and killed 9 people. When the police came, they put him in handcuffs. He wasn’t shot, he wasn’t beaten. He was put into a police car and on the way to the precinct, they took him to get something to eat. All Lives Should Matter.
My Dad didn’t teach me to hate, but I am angry, sometimes sad which is rage turned inside. I often worry about one of my brothers, who is filled with rage, verging on hate and like many men isn’t equipt with a vocabulary of emotions. People do sometimes default to hate. I know it’s hard not to; I know that my Dad was King-like unique. Patient as a Tibetan Monk, with the wisdom to understand that if he let himself experience what he’d witnessed growing up, the rage would eat him up–most Black people of his and previous generations understood this.
I spoke with my friend Gabrielle yesterday. Just called her up because we hadn’t spoken in a while. She is as sensitve as she is whip-smart. She is white. She brought up the shootings and said: I feel so sick, so sad, like I want to apologize to every African-American I see. Of course she knows that apologies wouldn’t change a thing, but is expressing a level of wanting to do, to say, something.
I have several close friends who are White, with whom I’m honest and open about my feelings (a requirement for me to consider one a close friend). I don’t need to say, but I will, they are good people. Extraordinarily so. I’m lucky, but I know I’m not unique in this experience. Here’s my proposal for what to do–for all White people who are horrified by what’s happening in our country and feel powerless about what to do–simply talk about it. Talk about it with other White people, not just to your Black or Brown friends; and if you’re feeling equipt, talk to the ones who aren’t as open-minded as you. I know that some people do. A few months ago, I saw an huge, elegant banner draped over a primarily white Congregational church in my hometown that read: Black Lives Matter. Good people can no longer stand by quietly. We have to be able to see the humanity in all people and pass it along. It sounds insane to have to point out that all humans are human beings, but we’re living in insane times.