my friend nishta (whose book i arrived at my house yesterday) wrote this open letter to her son, shiv : bluejeangourmet.com / it gets me. i have a hard time thinking straight when the world goes this mad / here & globally / looking forward to talking about all this with my new crop of freshmen in a week / they help me make sense
We took you to your first rally tonight, a peaceful protest. We put on red shirts (yours new, acquired at Target just an hour before), held a homemade sign that read “With liberty & justice for all,” and stood in a public park with Houstonians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.
You didn’t know what was going on, of course—I had told you on the way there that we were going to see a lot of people, for something important—but you were content to watch from my shoulder as half-a-dozen individuals got up to speak and tell their stories. You peeked and flirted with nearby faces. You made friends with a little girl and chased her around a tree.
When we got back home, I held you in your room and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” before going to bed. You have always loved listening to music, but only in the last few weeks have you really begun to sing, renditions of tunes recognizable enough for us to join in. Tonight, you kept repeating the line “I’m going to let it shine,” over and over and over again, your enthusiasm bending the words to sound like I nama nennit SHINE!
You didn’t understand why I started crying, fat tears rolling down my cheeks while I kept singing along with you, my mind a mirror that sees not my own face, but that of Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, tears rolling down her own cheeks as she deals with a reality that I’m terrified may some day be my own. You didn’t know any of this. But when you saw my tears, you held your hand up to my face, palm cupping my cheek, and said Mama. Mama, heart.
Before you came into our life, when you were just an abstract notion, the sentence “We’re hoping to adopt,” I worried about becoming the mother of a black son. I worried because I wasn’t sure if I were the right person to do it. Could I do right by you? Would you someday wake up and thinkWhat the hell am I doing with these people?More than anything, I was determined to not be ignorant about the world in which we live, this world in which we would be raising a black son.
I am not an essentialist; I do not believe that your blackness defines you any more than my brownness defines me. But I knew that, in the sight of so many, your color would define you, would become the only thing that people saw. Black male equals threat, equals thug, equals less than, equals other. I knew that you would be forced to reckon with realities that no one should ever, ever have to explain to their child.
I didn’t know the half of it.
Still, when it came down to actually filling out the forms, the one where they ask adoptive parents to mark which babies they’re willing to adopt, with boxes for gender, race & ethnicity, possible drug exposure, I didn’t think twice. I was the one with the pen, and with your Gigi looking over my shoulder, I checked all of the boxes. Every last one. And then, against every odd & adoption industry statistic, your birth mother, Mama D, chose us to be your parents.
Tonight, I am heartened, if only for the briefest moment, as public outrage seems to have brought a shift to the situation in Ferguson. There are many people fighting the good fight—and so many people paying attention—that I can’t help but have hope. That our tweets and our journalists and our witnessing and our solidarity can actually affect change—this has always been the promise of America. It is a promise I still so desperately want to believe in.
My son, I can’t promise you that things will get better. There are so many layers of hate and injustice and willful ignorance and systemic inequality that I don’t even know how to realistically envision improvement at this point. Here’s what I can promise you, though; I will shout, shake with anger, write, pray, petition, protest, cajole, debate, inform, disseminate, rally, cry at my desk, and whatever else is within my power to do, for all the rest of my days.
And you, my son? Promise me you’ll keep singing. Nice and loud, so everyone can hear.