I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding to take place the next afternoon. I left my phone in my purse, so I missed the news of the massacre that took place in Dallas. I woke up the next morning to the news that five police officers were killed by a man who opened fire at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, specifically targeting white officers. It was surreal, staring at my Facebook feed, which continued to retell a tale of the violence and savagery that has become all too common, all too tied up into a knot of racism, privilege, poverty, guns, and anger. Facebook lit up, and I just couldn’t stop reading.
One post caught my eye. Someone had reposted a letter written by a black man, a dermatologist with two sons.
What I read made me weep: Yes, because this man, some stranger, spoke sparely and matter-of-factly about his ancestors. They were brought here in chains, he said. They were lynched and abused and fought for this—their—country which denied their rights. He switched then, from past tense to present—they are targeted, are harassed, and are told that they bring all this on themselves because they don’t act like the rest of society. And then he said that he is tired of defending his humanity.
And if that didn’t break my heart enough, he continued in that same spare and quiet voice: He is tired of having to look into the eyes of his children—little boys who play Pokémon and soccer and live exuberantly, joyfully—feeling that he has to quash all that joy because they are black, and black men are feared in this country.
He ended with this: ”My boys will be hunted. Will yours?”
Of course I wept. How could anyone not?
But there’s this other thing, this thing I’ve been keeping locked away, because, maybe, to speak it would give it power, make it real. But suddenly, I was stripped bare, and I knew The Truth: My son is black.
I’m not stupid. I know he’s black. Of course he’s black! But every time someone would mention it, I would nod and smile and add, “Of course, he’s white, too.” I lied to myself, as if this were a magic shield that would protect him from the realities of being a black man in America.
Some man, grief-stricken and tired-to-the-bone, asked if my child will be hunted, and for the first time, all those lies that I had allowed myself to believe, that I so diligently protected and nurtured, shriveled into dust. I realized that my black son can never be protected by my whiteness, that the mere thought that he could be is evidence of my own privilege.
Will my son be hunted?
I remember the trill of frustration I felt, when my former husband carried what I thought was a chip on his shoulder. Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s been bad, and there are still some racist people who don’t get it, I wanted to say, but it’s different now, don’t you see? He told me I was naïve. I was afraid he’d pass the chip onto our son.
My world worked on the laws of cause and effect; it was your actions that determined consequences, and while that pristine law had, at times, been clouded by economics, religion, or color, those clouds were lifting, just about gone. The fact that the entire block—inhabited by white families—stood on their lawns and porches and stoops, watching silently as he and his mom and step-father and sister moved in, the first black family in the neighborhood, should have no bearing on the world he moved into now, 30 or 40 years later. I was sure of it.
How could I not see that my ex-husband’s world was governed less by cause and effect, and more by color? His skin, in this white world, was the cause, and the effects were harsh and hateful. He was lucky—the consequences of his blackness were merely a few traffic violations for driving while black, or being overlooked “accidentally” at restaurants and in a handful of job interviews. No prison, a fate for one in three black men—just a sentence of invisibility and marginalization.
And how could I not see that these same problems were now settling so heavily onto our son’s shoulders? My son—my black and Jewish son. What he never told me, until we lived far away from his old grade school, was that he was regularly bullied all through elementary school. Because his golden skin was a little too brown, and his Judaism was a little too Christ-killy for all the lily-white kids who filled those pristine halls.
How could I not see—refuse to see—that my well-meaning heart and my so unconsciously invisible-to-me white privilege could not ever shield my beautiful, loving, kind, smart black son from the consequence of the color of his skin?
Will my son be hunted? He already has been.
My mother tells me, “All we can do is hope that it gets better and the world changes.” But I say hope is not enough, not unless we hope with our deed. We must do something, we have to act, and act now, in order to make the changes that we seem to be dying for.
I just wish I knew what those actions were. I have to know—and soon—before my son, or yours, or anyone else’s, is hunted again.