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Monday, June 29, 2015

On Choking.

The words are caught in my throat.

I choke on them, daily.

Nine people are gunned down by a relative child in the name of hate, most of them women, and I choke.

I don't know how to talk about this. I don't know what to say.

I read post after post in my social media feeds from friends and people I admire and I nod along, yes, yes, but my voice feels so feeble, so weak. This is not an existence, a way of life, I can ever fully understand. I don't want to overstep my bounds.

I click like. I click share. I know this is not enough. I am more educated than most in the sociological study of the intersectionality of race, gender, class, micro-aggressions, macro-aggressions and yet, yet it is not enough.

I choke again, all the unsaid, unknown words strangling me silently.

*****

Kiedis acts out again, against Tova, taking a reenactment of a movie he was probably too young to see (but that's the price you pay when you don't have the luxury of choosing who watches your child while you're at work) too far. There has been more, lately, the mounting stress of everything going wrong in our little trio's lives taking it's toll on his little body, and I am defeated with every yelp and wail that comes from his sister's lips.

I catch him starting again, yelling at her, pretending to throw punches, getting too close, and I grab him by the arm mid-swing.

Stop it! You can't act like this! People don't know you're playing, Kiedis. Not everyone is going to know you're doing a movie. This scares people, dude! And when people are scared they do stupid things and you could get hurt, do you understand? You keep this up and someone will hurt you because they're scared of you!

For half a millisecond, as I stare into my son's tear-brimmed green eyes, I see the brown eyes and darker skin of Brennan and Isaiah, boys just a little bit older than Kiedis, and in a flash I think I get it. There was that heartbreak of telling my child you are different and people are going to assume the worst from you because of it. Realizing that the amount of time for him where the police are his friends will be shorter than that of his peers -- the peers that look like him. It dawning on me that my work to raise a good child goes beyond the typical, easy things but goes into the you always say yes sir or ma'am to an officer if you're approached be still don't make sudden movements please don't lash out I know it's hard but baby they just aren't going to understand unless I'm there to tell them you're not a threat you're just overstimulated.

To teach my child to be submissive to a system that others him, because of the way he was born.

The only thing he may have going for him, someday, that may buy him an extra minute, an extra phone call, handcuffs instead of bullet wounds, is that he is white.

The thought constricts my airway and all I can do is hug him, hard, tight, because I am now afraid I am not enough to protect him and I realize, like so many others, one day he may just not come home because someone was more caught in their fear of the unknown and I have to keep marching on, raising him anyway, hoping for the best but always, always braced for the worst.

The words coagulate with the sobs and my lungs are on fire, unable to expel either.

*****

I sit down with my children to try and broach Charleston. I tell them that a man hurt people because their skin color was different, that he used a gun to hurt them, which is why Mommy doesn't like when we pretend to shoot each other or the pets or imaginary bad guys because in real life, it hurts people.

Tova tells me it makes her so sad. I ask her why as I cuddle her. She says it's because all of her friends at school have brown skin like Tiana and black hair like Jasmine and she wishes she did, too.

I am thrown completely out of my element. What different childhoods we have had.

I tell her she is beautiful and that we are all made differently so that we can learn to appreciate all different kinds of beauty, but here it is, another flash, stories I hear of the inevitable time where little brown girls feel less than because of the color of their skin and the texture of their hair.

Except my child, someday, will still benefit from her paleness. She will still be able to walk into any store and find make up and hair products catered to her preferences and desires. She will see women who look like her in advertisements, in movies -- and not just as the token friend. She will learn she is beautiful because society will tell her so, and will validate it readily and easily.

Everyone loves a redhead, after all.

*****

At the kids' summer school I meet up with a local blogging friend, whose son is in Tova's group. Her middle child and only daughter walks hand in hand with Tova, and is explaining to my girl that she won't be staying, as she's going to a vacation bible school.

Tova, as she does, questions this unfamiliar terminology. My friend's daughter explains it's like school about the Bible, but at church, and that you do fun things like summer camp too.

Church? What's church?

I watch the older girl's face cloud in confusion. Her family is a good Christian one -- I mean that sincerely. I have been shown nothing but grace and kindness from this family, as have my children. Jenny is one of the rare people I encounter regularly who when she says she is praying for me it brings me to tears because she means it, and I take it as a blessing that she would concentrate such energy for my benefit. Of course her daughter doesn't yet understand people like me, who don't believe per se, in anything in particular. Of course she wouldn't know that there are people who have never been to church. That's just how she was raised.

I lean over to Tova slightly.

Church is where people go to feel safe, to feel loved. 

She does her overdramatic head-nod and wide-eyed aaahhhhhhhh and then giggles her fake laugh, the one she knows makes other people squeal with delight. My friend's daughter still looks slightly confused, but they carry on anyway, just two girls walking hand-in-hand down a hallway.

I clear my throat, hoping to be able to speak around the words that have taken up residence on my vocal chords.

*****

I don't know how to explain to them that people are dying in the places they go to feel safe, or that those buildings are being burned down because of the people who feel safe there. I don't know how to explain the hatred and oppression behind a flag that flies just two houses down from ours, in both the front and the back yards. There are simultaneously all the words and none of them, right in the hollow of my neck and the back of my throat and twisted around my tongue.

In just a couple of short weeks, I'll be heading back to New York for BlogHer '15, and staying with three women with whom I have no business hanging out/sitting with, because they are out here, along with countless others I am so fortunate to know, respect, and even call friends, saying the things and doing the work and making a difference while I sit and wring my hands, mentally documenting everything in the way that I do. I hope, when there, to learn more, to understand more, to listen better, and to find the words to bear better witness, to help facilitate the change we all so desperately need.

Because these words, here, that I have managed to excise, they will never be enough.