I woke up this morning and looked at the familiar brown face in the mirror. It’s older than it was yesterday, but younger than it will be tomorrow. This face has seen a few changes over the decades — it’s been thinner, fatter, a little lighter in the winter months, a bit darker after some time in the sun. But it’s always been chocolate brown, and even when I haven’t always loved it, there are people in my life who always have, and always will.
This face doesn’t have a mug shot attached to it with a front and side view and numbers behind showing my height. I’m not in anyone’s criminal data base. I haven’t committed any crimes.
Quick — Imagine this dilemma: There is a hailstorm outside with thunder, lightning and hail dangerous enough to kill a horse. You’re inside with your children. Suddenly lightning strikes your house and it catches fire. Inexplicably the hail and rain doesn’t put the fire out and the conflagration is raging. Do you stay in the house where there is certain death, or do you take a chance in the hailstorm that may or may not kill you and your children?
But I’ve been pulled over several times for Driving While Black. Yes, that’s a real thing and it’s a commonality so many people of color share. There’s usually a strange excuse, like “you were driving the wrong way down a one-way,” (I wasn’t), or “you were weaving all over the road and did you have something to drink, because what is that I smell” (couldn’t tell you, I don’t drink alcohol, or get high, and I never have. I’m always stone-cold sober), or, “one of your license plates lights is out” (yet you followed me for more than a mile down the highway after your headlights shone into my car and you saw I was black).
Quick — Imagine this dilemma: Your country has been taken over by criminals and you’re head of a hard-working honest family. You’ve not only been shaken down and threatened and beaten to within an inch of your life, now your children’s lives are in danger. They want your teenage son to join a criminal enterprise, or they will kill him and your family. Your only choice is to seek asylum in another country. Do you stay where there is certain death, or do you take a chance with a place that may or may not separate you from your children?
If you’re white, when were you given the talk? You know the one where you’re warned about police officers who approach you with their hand already on their unholstered gun, or with that gun drawn? When were you taught to pull over slowly, turn the car’s interior lights on, make sure your hands can be seen at all times and move slowly, ever so slowly to get your license and registration out? When were you told that your skin color made other people, those in position of authority, so frightened that they could shoot you, or choke the life out of you with impunity because they “feared for their life” even though you were a child playing with a toy gun, or walking home with a can of iced tea and bag of Skittles, or standing on your neighborhood corner minding your own business, or pulling out your license and registration with your family next to you in the car? Did you ever get that talk?
When my daughter was in high school, some of her male friends would come to the house and visit. Now boy energy, especially teenage boy energy, is different from teenage girl energy. The boys are bigger and louder, and if you only based your perceptions on what you read or see in the newspapers and on social media, they might seem scary.
They were sweethearts, every last one of them. They came with backpacks filled not with weapons, but with board games that they could play at my kitchen table. They needed someone to “do their hair.” That was me. When they went out with my daughter, these adopted brothers of hers made sure she got home safely. I pray for these young men every night of my life. Some are in college, at least one is deployed overseas. But I worry as much for those young men who walk the streets in America as I do the soldier in the Middle East.
THE CURRENT OCCUPANT OF THE WHITE HOUSE IS A RACIST. He is appealing to and stoking the white fear that what they know is unequal and unearned will be taken from them. This country was built by stealing land and slaughtering its inhabitants, stealing people and forcing them to unpaid labor, while destroying their language, their family structure and their hopes and dreams. This country stole from Japanese AMERICANS and put their families in concentration camps, but didn’t consider German Americans capable of treason. This country made laws to keep people from different ethnic groups from owning land, getting a good education, bettering themselves, or even intermarrying.
And this country also turned away immigrants fleeing the Holocaust, sending them back across the seas to die.
And now? Now we have the vice president of the United States, in all his fake piety and outrage over players kneeling at a football game to protest injustice, going to the border to turn his back on the desperate cries and pleas from people trying to get out of that burning house, where they will surely die.
We have brown babies suffering amid filth and squalor in cages — and people who can dismissively turn away because only “citizens have rights.”
If you can turn your back on people who look different from you, speak a different language, call their God by a different name, and justify it because your ancestors came over here “the right way,” check yourself.
And don’t you dare tell me if I don’t like it, go back to where I came from. My family has undoubtedly been here longer than most of yours, and we built this country with our blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve more than earned my right to be here, to love my country, to criticize it, and to fight to make it better for everyone — including and especially those who don’t look like me, worship like me or speak the same language.
Your hatred, apathy, fear and anxiety may appear to win the day today. But as sure as I’m going to wake up (God willing) and look at my familiar brown face tomorrow, there will be a reckoning in this country. What goes around comes around, chickens come home to roost, or maybe we’ll get our just desserts.
But you all know what they say about karma. And it’s not that she’s a sweet old lady.