You wandered into my room with an indignant look on your face and a tale of a sister who offended you on your tongue, but stopped when you saw my tears. I fumbled around when I realized you were standing there, but I couldn’t turn it off in time.
“Hey, dat boy has brown skin like ME!”
Yes baby, he does. He did. You asked me why I was crying, and you made me smile when you assumed I was crying because I too must be upset that your sister had taken your favorite green lego. I picked you up and told you that I was crying because something sad happened to Trayvon Martin, and I was sad for his parents and for many other people. Such a simplistic answer for an ocean depth problem. You wandered away, and I began to think back…
When I was about four or five, I was talking on the phone to a family member, and I mentioned that I was having a friend sleep over to my house. This person said, “She’s not black, is she?” The tone was amused, but the warning was clear- she better not be. I remember thinking how strange that was, and wondered what didn’t I know about black people to make this question important? My little brain went into imagination overdrive- did black girls do something weird overnight? Were they like Gremlins? Was having a black friend against the law? This family member wasn’t a bad person, but beliefs and attitudes are ingrained early, and it was clear to me that having a black friend wasn’t going to be okay.
I wish I could tell you this story like I’ll tell you about VCR’s or Pluto being a planet, things that used to be but aren’t anymore. I wish I could shake my head and tell you that I’m so glad those conversations are past ideas, and that we have learned from our mistakes. I wish I could tell you that Trayvon was followed because of so many other reasons besides the color of his skin. I wish I could tell you that I hear more words of forgiveness and empathy than the words “justice” and “thug”. So now we talk about what to say to our young black sons about how they could be perceived. This is new territory for me love, but I do want you to know a few things.
You love the story of the Good Samaritan. Like many boys, you are drawn the the idea of rescuing someone, of good winning over evil. You like the idea of being the hero.
You don’t know yet the pain of being mistaken for the thief.
It’s just a theory, but I imagine when that Jewish man rolled over and opened his swollen bloody eyes, he might not have been relieved to see a Samaritan standing over him. I imagine he might have wondered if this Samaritan was coming to finish him off, or take anything else he had left. I imagine his hatred welling up mixed with fear, adrenaline surging as his body prepared to fight off yet another enemy. I wonder if his mind flashed back to gazing down the road at the priest walking towards him and the pain he felt as that man, a man who claimed to love God, quietly crossed the street, avoiding eye contact. As the Samaritan hoisted him up, I imagine he braced himself for what was coming…only to feel tender hands gently attending to his wounds. I imagine his eyes warily watching as he was dressed and taken to a place of rest, where he was physically cared for and healed. As the days stretched on, I wonder how he made sense of what happened. I wonder if his heart changed. I wonder if the next time he went to a dinner party and someone made a snide comment about “those Samaritans”, he was silent or spoke up about the man who saved him.
So as your mama, I know I need to talk to you about walking late at night and hoodies and yes sir and hands where they can be seen and eye contact. But I also need you to know this- it’s so much easier to be the priest with impressive words and clean hands, but Jesus’ words were offensive and His hands are scarred. It’s not enough to talk about love, you have to actually love. So baby, when it happens, when you are pulled over unfairly, when you are scolded for something your white friends are doing too, when the girl says no to the date because her parents don’t approve, when people tell you that you are too sensitive and racism doesn’t really happen nowadays, when you are called a n***er or an oreo, when you are mistaken for the thief, I want you to jump down in the ditch, alongside the dirt and pain, and love them. Take chances, bind wounds, love extravagantly and unexpectantly.
Because love changes everything.
I don’t know if it changed the Jewish man’s heart, but I promise you it changed the Samaritan’s. That love can soften suspicious eyes. That love disarms angry crowds. That love took a little girl, confused and afraid of having a black friend, and turned her into a mother of a beautiful black son. Thank you sweetheart for being part of what He’s used to change me.
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