I fear the consequences that could arise from my father simply being himself. He is 6'4", 240 pounds, and dark skinned. He is known for being loud, outgoing and silly. Whether I want to admit it or not, I get a lot of who I am from him. He raised me to be both cocky and kind, and to never be intimidated by anyone or anything, and that is how he lives his life. My dad and I both believe that rules are generally meant to be broken, especially in the interest of fun, and we can talk our way out of just about anything.
And it's this cocksure attitude we share that makes me afraid. That attitude, coupled with the color of his skin, is a dangerous combination in America.
How can I protect him? How can I ensure that who he is doesn't lead to him losing his life? How often do I need to call him and remind him to lay off the gas pedal while driving and if he does get pulled over to keep his mouth shut regardless of what may be said to him or about him?
Though it feels deeply unfair for me to expect him to be prepared to tolerate racial bias and unjust treatment, I've come to believe that it's the best way to help protect his life. I know that I should not have to live in fear of losing my father because he is a strong, black man occasionally guilty of speeding, but that's where we are.
I've found myself thinking, too, of how he would be portrayed should a fate similar to that of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling
, or far too many other black men befall him. What picture would be painted of him, what stories would emerge, how might he be demonized? I would talk about how he had coached my basketball team, chaperoned every field trip, and helped me win science fairs.
Those on the other side might say that he was broken after losing my mom and may have been mentally unstable as a result. They would also tell you that he liked to drink, so, in advance of any toxicology report and despite evidence to the contrary, you could be led to believe that he was a drunken, heartbroken madman.
I should not have to think about how I would defend one of the greatest people I know from bias even after death. And yet I find myself doing exactly that as I live in fear and others live in privilege. Those who find themselves the beneficiaries of the societal privileges bestowed upon white people were able to enjoy this past weekend without thinking that a rise in racial tensions could lead to something bad happening to someone they loved. That is the definition of privilege.
I know that those who are white do not have to live with these same fears. I know because my husband is. I think of him often when we aren't together, but I never fear for his safety. Because he is white, I don't have to worry about him becoming a target for someone else's hate. He doesn't have to think of creative ways to protect himself if he gets pulled over by the police. He can speak freely and be fully who he is because he exists in a protected class. I am ashamed to admit this, but I am grateful that he is white because it's one less person in my life who I need to worry about.
Because of the lessons instilled in me by my mother and my father, I believe that we live in the greatest nation on Earth, and I intend to use my fear as motivation, not just for myself but hopefully for others as well. We all have a role to play in creating a more peaceful, more just and more inclusive America.
Our grandparents' generation worked hard to secure equal protection under the law for all of us, and it is on our generation to see that it is actually enforced. We need to stop blatantly withholding rights from of our nations' citizens. I ask those of all races, but especially white Americans, to become an ally in building a more just nation.
Racism is not in anyone's DNA; it is learned behavior that we can — and we must -- unlearn. People need to stop teaching it and perpetuating it. Until a few hundred years ago, we believed the Earth was the center of the universe. One hundred years ago, we didn't think women should be allowed to vote. And 50 years ago, my marriage would have been illegal in most states. Change is possible, but the pace of that change depends on each and every one of us.
We all need to begin seeing people not for who we think they are but for who they actually are. The men of America are sons, brothers, husbands, role models and friends. Think of how things would improve if we began to act with a sense of empathy and understanding, if we all began to speak up when we saw injustice against any person or group of people, and acknowledged the role we all play in the suffering of others when we sit idly by and do nothing.
We have to do more than just hope for a better future; we need to start working together to create it.