We NEED to tell OUR stories. And we NEED to hear OTHERS’ stories.
I know the teeniest-weeniest bit about “having The Talk” with my sons. I’m not talking about the birds’n’bees – I mean the one that African-American parents have with their children about being very, very careful if interacting with law enforcement officials.
Let me tell you a story…
I’m a white, European-American, privileged, degreed, US citizen woman – and my two sons are, well, “brown” – not brown because of having a nice tan from sunbathing or outdoor work, necessarily (though they both toast up pretty nicely), but brown racially…and all that that might mean. You see, their father was Ecuadorean, descended both from indigenous Andean people and whatever Europeans, assumedly Spanish, that came and conquered and, well, mixed in.
It was summer 2002, and they were preparing to fly to Ecuador to visit with extended family there. They were 20 and 22 years old. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the now all-too-familiar souped-up airport security procedures were still new – the long lines, the new-and-changing restrictions, no one without a boarding pass gets to go beyond security (I hate not being able to go to the gate with my departing sons)…
My sons are beautiful people, inside and out – it goes without saying, but hey, I love to say it! 😉 To give them some modicum of privacy I won’t post their pictures here…but if you were to see them in a group of peers or colleagues, you would see that they are indeed darker-complected than most northern-European-descended Americans, lighter-complected than many Latin-American-descended Americans…and similar to many medium-complected Mediterranean-or-Middle-Eastern-descended Americans.
Post-9/11 airport security was all ramped up, especially regarding international travel…and, brown young men. MIddle-Eastern-looking, you know…
I remember, sitting at the Denver airport with them, needing to say good-bye before they went through security – a familiar process now, but at the time it was still new and rather anxiety-producing, and it suddenly dawned on me: my sons were two young men, darker-than-many, traveling internationally…
And so…I had “A Talk” with them. You might be profiled. If an official approaches you, wants to question you, perhaps take you aside, whatever, anything, anything at all – you cooperate fully, politely acquiesce, be humble, super-courteous, no “smart” answers, no joking…and I was only thinking that the very bad thing that could maybe happen to them was that they could be detained somehow somewhere, and have a fright, and that their travel plans could be really disrupted.
I found I was suddenly fearful, thinking that one or both of my sons could possibly be profiled by his looks and be unfairly detained – and then who knows, who could imagine what we might have to go through? Yes, it was anxiety-producing, for sure.
Never, ever, ever, ever did the thought enter my mind that they could be in danger of losing their lives at the hands of a law enforcement official, while they were just…traveling.
I don’t think I can imagine that fear. Living with it. Daily.
I can imagine it a teeny-weeny bit… But…
No, I don’t think I can.
My dear black and brown brothers and sisters, we all need to hear your stories; please tell them, everywhere.
My dear white brothers and sisters, we all need to listen, listen, and listen some more.
Oh yes, we need to tell our stories, too. But our white-experience stories are more likely to already be “known,” at least insofar as they are more in line with what’s considered the norm, culturally.
This is barely even scratching the surface of the many, untold complex layers to all of this. We in the US live with the horrific legacy of slavery-racism, and it colors everything. Let’s please tell and listen to the stories among us…
Perhaps this brief story of mine can resonate with someone, or open some eyes or hearts to something not really considered before…
Thanks for reading –
A few links to a few articles about “The Talk”…there are many more…
“‘The Talk’ Has a Double Meaning for Black People”
“Time for Black Parents to Update ‘The Talk'”
“When White Parents Have ‘The Talk’ with Black Sons”
“De Blasio: Giuliani ‘Fundamentally Misunderstands the Reality’ of Race”
“Pastoral Letter to White Americans” – It is not my intention for this to be a sectarian blog. I am shaped, however, by my faith context which is progressive Christianity. Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, has just published this “Pastoral Letter to White Americans,” saying much the same as I have here about listening to others’ stories, from his perspective as a faith leader.
Hands-circle image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net