I’ve decided that even if it is not as polished as I would like, hell, even if you never read it, this is worth writing.
I grew up in Northern Virginia in a city nick named, “Hoodbridge”, or Dale City to be exact. I think of this town where I grew up as diverse or at least in the circles in which I was associated it was. My best friend was Filipino, another white, another black. When we shot hoops at the neighborhood court, there was a beautiful mix of black, white, yellow and red that formed teams, together. As such, it was not uncommon for many of us to find ourselves wanting to be “more than just friends” with people of other races. I found myself in this position. My walks and talks I shared with my best male friend, Darryl, to his YMCA basketball games became “intimate”. We had always shared things with one another, but this was above the influence of all our other friends.
And so, at the age of 16, I found myself involved in an interracial relationship. While my parents concerned themselves with the loss of my innocence or ensuring my safety in the carnal sense, where I actually found myself brutally, losing my innocence had to do with my naivity to just how deep the lines between white and black still ran.
I am not saying that this was the first time I had ever realized that race was an “issue”. As a child, I had heard racial slurs thrown around. When I was not more than 10 years old, I saw the Klu Klux Klan in white robes, hoods and burning torches with my own eyes. I only had a vague impression of exactly what they stood for and did from what we learned in school during Black History Month, but to see them in the flesh … it is still one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I remember that two of my cousins were in the car, one cried while the other hid on the floorboard. This was the 1980s.
Since my father was in the service we were also stationed once at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas in the early 1990s. This was during the Rodney King trial and I was the minority in my middle school. Within my first six months, I was bullied, forced into fights in the schoolyard, called ugly by my gym teacher and not surprisingly, I also began to develop multiple ailments that would keep me home or at the very least, in the safety of the nurse’s office. You can’t hide forever though and so I did the only thing I could do, I latched on to people who were already running in gangs at the age of 12. To say I was thankful to move back to Northern Virginia would be a huge understatement.
Back to high school, mid 1990s, when Darryl started meeting me during class changes and we would intertwine our different colored hands. I wasn’t kidding myself. I knew this wasn’t popular with EVERYONE. Like the gentleman at a back woods gas station on our way back from Kings Dominion where a white man with tobacco in his cheek, told Darryl in a very southern accent, “Boy, you and your girl there must be in the wrong place.” Darryl conceded, we left and wrote it off as ignorance. But inside I cried. In fact, when I got home, I cried myself to sleep. In the end though, Darryl treated me like a queen, so what did I care what ignorant people thought? But what surprised me most was another direction from which the majority of the commentary came.
The first movie we went to see together was ‘Dont be a Menance to South Central while drinking your Juice in the Hood’. As we stood in line waiting for tickets, I was actually pushed and then SPIT on by a woman who then proceded to tell Darryl all about how he should ‘stick with his own kind’. “What did I do deserve that? Where was this coming from? Just my skin color?” I actually asked her these things. Her answer … “Yes, YOU should know better”. Another time when we were leaving the mall, Darryl lit a cigarette and as soon as I approached him and put my arms around him and we were immediately approached by a police officer and threatened with loitering. I don’t know about you, but I dont really believe in coincidence. This is the exact moment in my life where my distrust of the police started. I fooled myself into believing that these opinions were secluded to an older generation and it surely was not. Even when Darryl graduated a year ahead of me and left to serve in the Air Force, I was being threatened at school because of our relationship. Even amongst my own cousin and her friends at school, I became the butt of jokes. Although it was the furthest thing I wanted, I was again found running with gangs, drinking and smoking pot. I became the girl that wasn’t takin no shit from anyone! I would go home and try to play the normal teenager. Not telling Mom and Dad about being brought in by the officer at school to be questioned about whether I had seen another student with a gun. I had, but I was no snitch. Thinking about that now, thinking about my own kids and what could happen if you were even WRONGLY associated with someone with a gun at school … shakes me to my core.
This was also a point in time when OJ Simpson was in the news. For reasons that sill leave me bewildered, the staff of my high school decided to announce the verdict over the loud speaker. I remember it clearly. I was in choir class. All the black kids cheered. All the white kids shook their heads in disbelief. Then, as if my Filipino friend and I were the deciding factor on the matter, the inquiring glances started our way. She was neither white nor black and myself being in a black/white interracial relationship we somehow became the authority on the matter. We were two teenaged girls. What did we know about a case on the other side of the country? What did any of us know? We weren’t there that night and we weren’t in the courtroom. All anybody had was our best guess based on our own ideas and experiences and then our opinions developed.
As many high school relationships do, Darryl and I’s ended. We went our separate ways but remained in touch. He met his wife during his first station in Guam, He is still in the Air Force as a firefighter and did too many deployments to the middle east. He currently lives in Kansas, his favorite hobby is fishing, he has become a wonderful husband and an amazing father to two beautiful bi-racial children. This does my heart well. I couldn’t be happier for him. But he had set a high standard.
I married a man of my own race. This was more acceptable but he was horrible to me. We went from living in a trailer park, to living in the ghetto. After my oldest son being in 3 fights in his first year and having prostitutes in our yard, my priority became getting out of the ghetto for my babies. Through a government program for low-income families we were able to buy our first home in the suburbs. Eventually, my terrible husband was arrested for domestic violence and I had no choice but to lessen the charge to menacing so that he could keep his job and monetarily provide for his children. I got divorced. I went back to college. I had the struggles of being a single mother to three children. I became a legal minion. Then finally, over a decade later, I found a man who treated me as well as Darryl once had. I married him. Things were looking up.
And then it happened, President Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States. Watching Barack and Michelle dance to ‘At Last’ gave me goose bumps. My favorite moment was sitting in the car with my son the next morning while we waited for the bus. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful day. It felt good. We were listening to an excited local radio DJ replay some of Barack Obama’s inaguration speech, mixed with Beyonce’s rendition of ‘At Last’ when my son said, “Mom, I voted for Obama at the school election. He ended up winning, too! Why is everyone so excited about Obama?” I explained that he was the first African American president of the United States, ever. He looked over at me and said “Why, what’s the difference?” and all I could say is “I don’t know, baby.” As I watched him, walk up the steps of the bus I realized that he didn’t know the difference between white and black. And I thought that finally! we had arrived at a point in history where race no longer mattered.
Im sure you may have guessed that all of this is leading to the present and of the tragic loss of 17 year old, Trayvon Martin. Your letter to Trayvon was sincere and poignant. I thank you for writing it. It needed to be written. When I think about my own 17 year old son, my heart breaks as a mother. When the verdict came down Saturday night. I was shocked. Based on the evidence, being able to put my own son in Trayvon’s shoes, being able to put myself in Trayvon’s shoes because of my own life experiences … I cannot understand what has happened and if all things considered Zimmerman’s actions are legal, the legal system failed.
This is the part of my letter where I tell you “THE THING”. The thing is, I’m white. Always have been, always will be. Nothing I can do about it. I was born this way. I’ve been judged for it. I’ve been hated for it. I’ve been spit on for it. These are my experiences and I have fears because of them. Everyone has their experiences.
Now, I’m just a white woman who lives in the midwest. Ohio. I have a husband three kids – one who is on the spectrum – like yours, a mortgage and I still rap in the car (only now it’s my kids picking on me.) But, how do you see me? As a middle class white woman who doesn’t know anything about racism? Due to my experiences, I feel too intimidated to come to one of your shows. Racism and hate is not solely directed at one race.
You can flip my entire story and it’s yours or anybodys of any race story. Just like you, my life is nothing like it was 20 years ago and I, like you and MANY others, grieve for the fact that nobody will ever know who Trayvon would grow up to be.
I think the most important thing about your letter was when you said:
“For now all I or anyone else touched by this tragedy can do is to live for you. To make sure that your name does not fade into the night.”
I would like you to expand on this point and how you envision this will happen. I think that’s important. I saw your interview on TMZ today and I know from your Twitter feed that you and many others think you laid it out. You’re proud. However, your comment about the perception that your race as a whole is being perceived as loving your children less, was more dividing than anything. My best friend lost her 18 year old son, to a bullet, because he was in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. Because of his prior mistakes, the value of his life was also lessened by a court. I held her while she grieved. I can tell you that tragedy and grief know no racial divide and hold no prejudice. The community of parents who have lost a child, they stand together regardless of race and Im pretty sure if you asked Trayvon’s mother, she would tell you she does not want her son’s life defined by this. She wants to remember the sound of his voice and the way he smelled …
The opinions you expressed, or anybody else’s opinion – even mine for that matter, are not going to help anything. I’m not bashing on you at all. I’ve always admired many things that you have said and done. I caught ’The Endangered List’ and told anyone that would listen about it. Even had some banter back and forth with you on Twitter. I, like you, am just 1 person who wants things to change. Thus, why I am writing this letter. But I feel that in order to do that, ALL of us, black, white, brown, yellow, red, etc.all need less opinion and more action. A little less conversation, a little more action, if you will.
By its very definition, living is an action. I would rather have a discussion about solutions and make those solutions into realities. How do we all get over these life experiences, prejudices, find a heart for each other and make that change. That’s not just what we need to talk about, That’s what we need to DO. Living in action is how we do not let Trayvon fade into the dark of racism, anger and hatred.