Last month, as the COVID crisis separated us from our people and places, I wrote to find the bright side. But now, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, a heavy haze of pain and sadness circulates through the air. Writing to find the bright side? My words ran dry. Then I consulted my daughter, Liza, and asked, What do I write when I have no words for so much? 23 and whip smart, she said—dive in, dig deep, and find words. Why? She reasoned others might also feel jumbled emotions about justice for George Floyd, the unrest in Minneapolis, and the national issues sparking pain and protest. So, with admitted trepidation, here goes.
On Being a Daughter and a Mother
We’ve all seen the video. The knee. 8 minutes 46 seconds. And we’ve heard the words of a dying man. Pleading for air. For life. Mama. I well up when my mind hits replay. Because it’s horrendous. When Mr. Floyd painfully calls out for Mama—that word melts me. I try to imagine experiencing the brutality that ends my life on 38th and Chicago, as I cry out for my mom. No one protects you more fiercely than your mom. But I can’t imagine it. Because I’m white.
Every maternal cell in my body shrieks if I envision my daughter calling for me as her life is disregarded. As her humanity is denied. But I can’t imagine it because my daughter is white. We travel easily through the world while people of color face continual roadblocks. Have I fully absorbed this truth before? I live with luxuries I didn’t consider as luxuries. Small ones: I don’t think twice about the color tone when I buy Band Aids. And big ones: I’ve never lived with the fear that if police pull Liza over, she’ll suffer unjust treatment because of her skin color.
On Being an Aunt
When I take in the bright smile and carefree giggles of my 6-year-old biracial niece, Julia, I hit fast forward and worry. She’s been in town since March, when New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus. That’s when my brother Steve, my Colombian sister-in-law-Merly, and Julia left Manhattan for Minneapolis. It strikes me that Liza and Julia have so much in common. Both only children, smart, spunky girls. Adored. They share genes, but not skin color. And that irrelevant difference might be significant as Julia travels through the world. That breaks me. Injustice is a stark and ugly contrast to her innocence, and I wish our family could be her shield.
Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?
I want to support Julia’s parents’ discussions, and say the right words, but my experience as a white mom with a white daughter bears no relevance. So I turned to Sesame Street. Explaining tough topics is not new for the 51-year-old show. When Elmo’s dad explains racism, Elmo doesn’t understand. Why would he? He lives on a harmonious and racially diverse street, where everyone deserves love and respect. Where black lives matter.
Since its inception, Sesame Street has candidly addressed tough topics, despite naysayers who insisted children couldn’t handle it. So I wonder, if kids can talk about racism, why do many white adults hesitate? Probably the same reason I waver as I write this. Discomfort. Not knowing what is okay and not okay to say. Just as parents and people in kids’ lives seek language from Sesame Street to ease discussions about race, white adults can seek a variety of informative sources to gain sensitivity and awareness for themselves. (List to follow.)
Seeking Knowledge from Black Sources
The suffocated breath and last words of George Floyd have sparked outrage, the rightful fight for justice, and a call for change. Hearing that call, I’ve become more aware of my limited awareness. So I seek varied black voices to teach me what I don’t know. And what I need to unlearn. If you’re on a learning journey too, here’s a quick list for starters.
Video: Please watch this short YouTube video, Cracking the Codes – A Trip to the Grocery Store. Just over three minutes, it’s worth hearing this black woman’s story of how an active white ally transformed a situation at the grocery store.
Movie: Just Mercy
This legal drama with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx moved Dirk and me. It is free on Amazon for a limited time.
This documentary detailing the 13th Amendment and racial inequality (on Netflix) opened our eyes in powerful and challenging ways.
Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An AntiRacist
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me
Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
CONAN, Van Jones on George Floyd, Police Brutality, and What Comes Next
Chimamanda Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie presents the critical misunderstandings when we presume a single story for distinct groups of people.
Emails for Justice provides an array of easy email templates to put your voice towards change. Liza and her boyfriend Ben created this email tree to raise awareness, drive donations, and share information in support of justice and equality.
PBS: PBS for Parents: How to Talk Honestly to Children About Racism
In Conclusion: A Hopeful Bridge
As I digest the words from black perspectives, maybe I can untangle my own. That’s my responsibility. I also believe that between my passionate, change-the-world, 23-year-old daughter, and my innocent 6-year-old niece, a hopeful bridge is under construction. The human rights advocacy from Liza’s generation will build a better future for Julia’s. If so, we’ll look back and say, in 2020, Minneapolis ignited a humanity movement towards justice. We took part. And the world changed. Which circles me back to the bright side. Because when people unite with open hearts, urgent words for change, and focused attention—slowly but surely, the story arc bends towards a better world.
Bye for now, dear friends, family, and subscribers! As always, thanks for reading my Live Happy, Dammit! Newsletter. Feel free to forward to a friend and Subscribe. Until next time, let’s hope there are no new major events. 2020 is very busy and she could use a break.
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