I’ve been away from my blog for almost two weeks. I could claim that my absence from writing is a result of being on a family vacation. I could claim that even though I’ve been home for five days, I’m still struggling with a serious case of jet lag. I could also claim that I had to work all weekend, empty the luggage, wash mounds of laundry, and pack two kids off to sleep-away camp. And all of these claims would be true.
But I think my real resistance to writing is that in the wake of all of the shootings this past week (An aside: is anyone else terrified by the thought that we, as a country, will begin to regard these events as regular, ordinary, life as usual in these not-so-United States of America?) I found myself moving between two emotional states: either numb, in a state of shock, tears ever at the ready or enraged and dumbfounded that almost 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. we seem to have made such little progress. I just couldn’t think of anything worth writing about as I found myself frozen in despair about the state of our country.
But, the work I am honored to do with expectant parents over the weekend coupled with reading this post from the wonderful Suzi Banks Baum, helped me to shake off a little bit of this feeling and rediscover what my heart usually gravitates toward: hope.
I have a deep and abiding hope that love is bigger and stronger than hate. That compassion can be cultivated to combat indifference. That injustice can be rooted out at its core as long as enough people are shaken out of their complacency and moved to act. And it saddens me that it takes horrific events like those that have happened recently to move us (hopefully) from talk to action.
I taught a class this weekend that was a little bit of a nightmare from and educator’s standpoint. There were 30 couples expected at 9:00 am and at 8:45 I was still trying to rig the AV system in the auditorium so that we would have audio! But when it was time to introduce myself, I looked out into our assembled audience and saw something really beautiful: a wonderfully diverse group of families.
Families of all ethnicities were represented and there were many families whose babies would be like my own: of mixed descent. (Although, to look at my own children you can’t tell that they’re half-Puerto Rican. Based on their skin color alone – such a limited and simplistic way of labeling a person – no one would guess that they were Hispanic or Latino. They’re labeled as White.)
I’m well aware that if my children had darker skin they would be treated differently in this country. If they looked “more Hispanic” (whatever that means) and with their last name being Suárez, my children could expect to be treated more like their brown-skinned brothers and sisters of Hispanic descent.
If they had more melanocytes, the skin cells located in the basal layer of their epidermis that produce melanin, a brown pigmentation of the skin that’s responsible for skin coloration and acts as a protectant against the harmful effect of UV light — because that’s all that our skin color is based on, how many melanocytes we have — I might have to parent them differently.
I might have to talk to them about how to avoid being the target of violence. How to avoid eye contact, how to speak with a certain level of deference to teachers, police officers and others in authority, how to always be on their guard because their beautiful brown skin is seen as a threat.
I am well aware that my children, half-Hispanic though they are, are able to walk through this world with all of the privilege that their white skin affords them. And I am equal parts grateful and angry. I am grateful that I don’t have to fear for my children’s safety. But I’m also angered by the injustice of all of this. It makes absolutely no sense to me!
We talk to our kids all the time about what it means to have the skin color that we do. How this gives us a level of power and protection that is as unfair and unearned as the powerlessness and lack of protection is for the brown and black members of our communities. We try to raise our children to be aware of the level of injustice that exists in this world and encourage them to see this injustice and work against it — not just through talk but action.
My deep, abiding hope lies in the fact that I know I’m not the only Momma out there talking to her children about the state of our world and how we must all work harder and together toward a better future for our children and for our children’s children.
Sometimes it feels like we should already be there, that this is taking too long, that we’re never going to see the day when children will be not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. But as I stood in front of this group of families that seemed to represent so many different ethnicities — the beauty and strength that is our country — I saw in all of them the common desire to be the best parents they could be. And I realized anew how more alike than different we are in our humanity.
We all want our children to grow up in a world where they can expect to be treated fairly; a world where healthy nutrition and safe drinking water sources are the norm; a world where a public school education is a great education — no matter what city or county you live in; a world where injustice is a thing of the past, and where the dreams of children, no matter their skin color, can be realized.
It’s sometimes a scary thing to find yourself pregnant and bringing a baby into a world that can seem so dark and broken. But, when faced with the choice between hope and despair, I will always choose hope. Hope that each one of us charged with parenting the next generation is working to heal what is broken and to shine a light on the darkness.
That is my hope.