I published this article almost two years ago. It’s sad that not much has changed for black Americans over that time. But I am beginning to see recognition in the eyes of white people; they are starting to understand that Black Lives Matter and why. I am now part of conversations that didn’t take place two years ago. White people now want to know what they can do to be part of the change. If you would like to join the conversation, but are unsure how, read this article.
I’m re-sharing this article today because the fight for safety for black Americans is a fight for all of our humanity, and sometimes, you must hear a personal story to understand why.
Black Lives Matter
My daughter Zoë will soon to be 8 years old. What’s remarkable about her is that, although her father is white, she has always strongly identified as African-American. I would say black, but she proudly says African-American.
I could tell you all the ways that she has reached out to people with brown skin all of her life trust me when I say, she loves black people.
A few weekends ago, my husband turned on PBS and began watching the series The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It’s a six-hour series that chronicles the 500-year experience of African-Americans. On that Saturday, they were running back-to-back episodes. We were transfixed and spent most of our day watching that program.
As we watched the program, Zoë kept asking me, “Why?”
Why was there slavery? Why did they pick the Africans? Why were they whipped? Why couldn’t families stay together? Why couldn’t African-Americans learn to read? Why couldn’t they own property? Why was “separate but equal” unequal?
It was so unfair to her 7-year-old mind. Well, it’s unfair in my 47-year-old mind, too. I’ve simply learned to live with the inconsistency. Still, I didn’t have the language to explain the tragedies and contradictions of being black in America.
Then, she haltingly asked, “Am I African-American?”
My heart broke. For the first time in her life she wasn’t sure she wanted to be African-American. She got it. Where’s the dignity in how African-Americans are treated in this country?
Do white parents have to answer these same questions and instill pride in their culture?
That’s why the decision not to indict the officer who the shot Mike Brown made me so sad. It wasn’t whether or not the shooting was justified; it was that Mike Brown deserved the dignity of a trial.
That’s why it was hard to answer those questions Zoë asked as we watched The African American Experience on PBS. It detailed this nation’s history, which was built upon the backs of slaves. It outlined the determination and bravery of black people to win their freedom. We saw again the long road to civil rights.
African-Americans forged their own culture and won their rights against “unimaginable odds.” Yet, to this day, we’re still fighting for dignity and respect.
My heart breaks because at the age of 7, my daughter has to contemplate this.
I asked her tonight as I was writing this if she thought she was African-American. She looked up at me sharply and snapped a fully assured, “Yes.”
I can breathe again. I was second-guessing my judgment for exposing her to all this at her age. But, I felt she needed to understand the circumstances around the death of Mike Brown and the lack of an indictment for the police officer that shot him. It’s my job to expose her. Better it be me than someone else.
Black parents around this country are forced to have these types of conversations with their kids; it’s the only way we can protect the safety and sanity of our babies. If I had written this post as if it was business as usual, I would have lost my opportunity to say that what African-Americans want are dignity, respect, and a sense of protection under the law.
I talk everyday about the challenges of women in corporate America. Yet, our entire nation remains deeply divided by race — even when it appears on the outside that we all get along.
I share all of this with you because I believe it won’t change until we change.
I share this because it’s my responsibility as an African-American to use this platform to say we can no longer tolerate business as usual.
What can you do this week to have an impact on business as usual? What are you ready to change? Let me know in the comments below.