Yesterday I recognized some conflicting thoughts I’ve been having. In recent months, especially since Trayvon Martin was murdered and since George Zimmerman’s trial began, I have been talking to people about my children – specifically, my sons. My fear for their safety increases as they get older and they’re not even teenagers yet. The way our society views and interacts with Brown and Black males is disturbing and I feel like it is only a matter of time before my family experiences some type of injustice based on nothing other than their skin color.
My kids are good kids – my sons and my daughter. I mean, they are REALLY good kids. Normal kids, sure – not perfect. Good. But – as I’ve heard from many educated, accomplished Black men and women – none of that matters to a racist individual. It doesn’t matter to a racist system. My well-behaved, intelligent, kind, funny, creative, curious boys will inevitably be seen by someone, somewhere, as aggressive troublemakers with no work ethic or ambition. They may be seen as suspicious, even dangerous. If Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s tardy arrest and then exoneration tells us anything, it is that the law will stand on the side of the person with the suspicions, not on the side of my boys.
So here’s the conflict – I’ve been sharing my fears with friends because I need the outlet and because I want them to take it personally, more personally, perhaps, than they have been after hearing similar stories from strangers. In the case that they never hear similar stories from strangers, I want them to hear it from someone, at least – me. For the longest time, though, I have felt as though I should not be motivated to work for justice because of the people I know and love. I have thought that my motivation should be there regardless of whether I have relationships with People of Color or not. The underlying worry here is that if I had never met those People of Color, that I would not have been motivated to do this work. Or that if somehow all the People of Color left my life, that I would no longer feel pulled to fighting injustice.
I was thinking about this yesterday and it hit me like a ton of bricks: if I can be in a relationship with so many People of Color and NOT have my concern for their welfare and happiness become a part of my motivation, then something is terribly wrong. It SHOULD impact me greatly, and strengthen my resolve when a friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member expresses pain or frustration over an experience of racism they’ve had. Stories of how racism has changed the course of a person or family’s life should burrow down into my heart and become a reminder of why I care and why I am hoping to help.
Yes, I am motivated on behalf of people I will never know – including people who aren’t even alive anymore and people who haven’t been born yet. And I sure hope that if all People of Color left my life, that my motivation would remain intact. Of course, were that to happen I’d probably need to spend countless years in recovery because that would mean losing my husband, children, extended family, close friendships, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. My life would be a ghost town with the most important people missing.
My next thought is: what about the people who care about equality and justice, but have few or even no meaningful relationships with any People of Color? I have thought about this often in terms of that circumstance making it difficult to understand the perspectives and realities of others, but I haven’t thought about this in terms of motivation. How much more difficult must it be to commit to justice work no one you know has ever had it denied of them?