A Love Letter to Black Americans
Looking at my country this morning, I feel perhaps like the mother of an alcoholic son, hoping that this, perhaps this, please god this will be rock bottom, the darkest hour, the turning point or any other colloquial metaphorical oversimplification heralding change.
I do not know if it is, and I certainly do not know how to fix a country drunk on hate, addicted to guns, and living in a constant hangover of pointless deaths. But what I do know is this: in my own little corner of my own beloved country, I can offer love.
To my black friends. To every black person I know or will know or could know.
I love you.
I am sorry.
I am sorry that you and your parents and your children will have fears that are so far from anything that me and my parents and my children could ever understand. Toni Morrison introduced me to white privilege, although I didn’t know it by that name. With my blue eyes I read about “a little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes.” See the world with blue eyes. Blue eyes. See the world with my eyes. I didn’t fully understand my privilege because, sitting in my protected white suburb, my idols were black. I hesitate to even say this because it feels uncomfortable—like the other side of a racist coin. I would sneak to my basement to watch In Living Color. I played a Whitney concert VHS til the spools fell off. I would stay up way too late to watch Cedric the Entertainer, Sommore, DC Curry on ComicView, wondering why white people were so boring—not to mention couldn’t sing for shit. To this day I co-opt black culture in my expressions, mannerisms, music, dress, dance. I hope it’s OK but I don’t know. The privilege of my blue eyes. Enjoying the joys of the black experience with none of the pain. None of the ugliness none of the dangers of simply living while black.
I read because I don’t know.
I got older and I thought we were making progress and Americanah and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie slapped me. “Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.”
Ta-Nehesi Coates slapped me. When I was a kid, in the summer I went to “Safety Town”—a little camp run in part by the police. They taught us traffic rules, fire safety, and most of all that I was protected and the whole community was here to help keep me safe from bad guys—guys with candy, guys in vans. And Ta-Nehesi Coates told me that black kids of that same age were being taught how to avoid a police beating. And if a father brought out “the cable wires, the extension cords, the ritual switch” in a black home it was because of “the old mantra—either I can beat you or the police will.” He told me that “black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” I never knew—I will never know—the pain of such constant fear.
James Baldwin slapped me. “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls” you, he warned his nephew. I never read this in high school.
Despite all the pain and ugliness and fear, Baldwin turned to love. To his nephew, on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation: “You were a big baby, I was not—here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you.”
It looks bad today, too.
But to my black friends: I love you. I will love for you. I will love with you.
And I will love “in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth,” to keep quoting Baldwin.
To the vast majority of police officers who are wonderful and dutiful and brave: I love you. I appreciate you. I thank you.
To my country: I love you. And I love even more your potential if we stop insisting that so many people live in fear.
To end. Paton. "There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens the pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart."
I love you. I cry for you and fight for you and love for you. #blacklivesmatter