I wish I was there today to hold you, to hold you the way I hold my babies when they are sobbing so hard they can barely breathe, the way I hold my babies when they are stone-faced and lashing out, not as angry at the world as they appear to be, but angry at themselves for having done something for which they are ashamed.
I want to hold you America the way I hold my babies and smooth their hair and kiss their downy heads to say “I love you. No matter what, I always love you.”’
Because America, I do love you. I am angry, I am grieving, but I’ll never give up on you.
I read somewhere once that the most important thing a white person can do to fight racism is to call it out, all the time, in every instance—no matter how uncomfortable it might feel or how uncomfortable it might make someone around us feel. Because as uncomfortable as us white people might feeling calling out racism in our community, that discomfort is nothing compared to what a black mother feels having to explain to her young sons how to stay safe if approached by the police. That discomfort is nothing compared to what that a young man feels when white people cross the street when they see him walking towards them at night. That discomfort is nothing compared to knowing that everything from landing a job to getting approved for a mortgage is harder for no other reason than the “blackness” of one’s name, the darkness of one’s skin tone.
It is better to be uncomfortable, to be the “angry white person” than it is to say nothing. It is better to have well-meaning friends say “but don’t you care about police officers? Don’t you care about my husband who is a policeman and a good person and who has never shot anyone in his life?” than it is to say nothing.
I do care about policemen. My grandfather was a cop in New York City. He’s the one who taught my father to never judge a man by the color of his skin. I am in awe of anyone who gives their life to public service, and I am in awe of their families, loaning their loved ones to our communities every day and every night always with the understanding of the risk that they might never get to come home.
I don’t believe policemen are bad people, I believe most of them do the best they can. But I do believe that policemen — like all of us — are raised in a culture, trained in a system and set forth to police in communities that are inherently biased against people of color in ways that we can’t even see without the privilege of great distance and careful study and even then. None of us white people can say we wouldn’t have done what these police officers did. We don’t know. None of us know exactly how deeply or where racism lies within us without careful and difficult introspection — or until we are in a situation in which adrenaline ignites the most base of our assumptions about the world.
True equality and freedom for everyone in America is not a feel-good endeavor. It requires hard work, it might even be painful. It will require the dismantling and rebuilding of systems upon which most white people have come to rely so instinctively, for so many decades, that we may not even realize they exist.
It will require all of us white people to take an unflinching view at our own behavior, who we instinctively sit down next to on the subway, who we seek out as friends, how we react, what we feel, when we hear someone speaking with an American accent that sounds different from our own. Do we lean in towards our fellow Americans of color or do we shy away?
Those of us who are white have to imagine what its like to spend an entire life time in which every white person around you instinctively leans away, however subtly, wherever you go. What does that do to a person? It’s not an exclusive or proprietary experience for the black community of course — the disabled might understand, so does anyone who wears a turban or a hijab in American these days. But it’s that heavy weight of exclusion and discrimination that our brothers and sisters of color have borne since before the birth of our country.
To my brothers and sisters of color, I am sorry. I am sorry for the suffering of the recent days, for all of the days. I ache to think of what my fellow mothers of color have to anguish over in a world seemingly set up against their own beautiful, innocent children. I am sorry for every way I have wronged you. I have spent my life, up to this point, doing nothing to end the destructive forces of racism in our country. I am ashamed and I am guilty. And I cannot live with myself like that anymore. Not if I want a better world for my babies and for the beautiful babies of my friends whom come in all sorts of shades of brown and tan and peach.
I am in mourning for all of the young black people who’ve lost their lives to extreme violence, for all of the mothers for whom the odds are stacked against their kids. I am saddened for the good police officers of our country for whom their must seem to be no easy way forward. I cry for all of us that we have, up to this point, chosen violence and division over empathy and acceptance.
But I believe, I have to believe, that our grief is not in vain, that the tears that fall, the anguished cries, the rage, none of it is vain. The messages of solidarity and sorrow and rage spreading like wildfire across my computer screen are not in vain. The eloquent essays and opinion pieces I read every day, penned by people of color, are not in vain. the marches are not in vain, the discussions being had around dinner tables and at bars are not in vain.
Because I feel it in my bones that it is these marches, these essays, this unquenchable and hardened desire for a better way forward, these are the reasons why I am still proud to be an American.
Someone from England recently told me that the thing he found most unique about America is the enduring belief amongst Americans that, for every single challenge, there exists a solution. For everything — from dials on a washing machine to school curriculums, to the rights of transgender individuals, to fighting racism — there exists a better way to serve people.
This person told me that while the rest of the world has mostly given up and given in to the idea that some things will never change, that some things are beyond improvement, America keeps charging foolhardily onwards in its belief that impossibility is only temporary and that every tomorrow holds an opportunity to find a better way forward.
I have to believe my friend to be right. I have to believe that my America knows that what we are doing can’t be, won’t be, will never be enough. That we will always have to work harder, dig deeper and care more. That we will never take this day and the fact that “well at least we are having this conversation finally” as good enough.
We are burning right now at the center of a hot fire of our own making and it is breaking us down, melting us, forging us, I have to believe, into something stronger.
We will not let our failures become excuses for giving up. We will keep grieving, keep honoring our dead, keep holding the temptation towards numbness and apathy at bay.
We will rise up, we will keep burning the midnight oil, we will keep marching, we will keep fighting.
And in the end, because we are Americans, because we are a nation born out of impossibility, strengthened by failure, buoyed by the lights burning in the hearts of millions of people who’ve given everything to this country, because of all of this, we will, everyday, get a little closer to making things right.
Today, I am mourning and grieving and crying but, America, I love you, I wish I could hold you all in my arms. I have not given up on you yet. I will never give up on you.