We loved the writing and many of the ideas in it provided fodder for lots of fun and healthy debate.
Lester thought the whole thing was a tempest in a town deli, and that Coates -- who is usually very fine-tuned in his reactions to things -- was overreacting to this particular incident. I agreed. You might recall from an earlier post that I have been feeling compelled lately to offer up more forgiveness than fury when it comes to small slights or race-related injuries, because I know that people have a lot of baggage around race and class that is tremendously difficult to overcome -- even for really well-meaning people.
But then something happened on Saturday and now I feel like I have been catapulted back to square one: Anger, sadness and worry for my kids.
To sum up the story: Dean got into the cold medicine first thing Saturday morning (this is also a potty-training story, but I'll save that for another time). I called Poison Control and the rep said based on our estimation of how much he drank, we needed to take Dean to our nearest emergency room. I asked if we could take him to our preferred hospital -- which is in a better neighborhood -- but she insisted the danger was high enough that we had to go to the closer hospital in the city.
At the registration area, techs and nurses swarmed around us trying to get us checked in as quickly as possible. A very friendly technician, who appeared Asian to me, chatted Dean up while he took his temp and blood pressure. Dean was a little bit drunk I think and was even more talkative than normal. The tech - impressed by all his toddler talking - said to me: "Hey, you might have a future rapper on your hands!"
Immediately, and without thought, my entire body heated. I was sooooo angry. A rapper? You are freaking. kidding. me.
So you see this...
I quickly said to him, with as much measure as I could muster, "No. I was thinking maybe a future lawyer," but in my head I was thinking, "You would never, ever, ever have said that to a talkative non-black child -- even if that child was actually rapping."
I had to tend to Dean, who was frightened and not feeling all that great, so I pushed that stupid tech to the back of my mind. But as the long morning wore on, what he said just kept coming back to me again and again and again.
I have to admit that it stung. It did.
I suppose I am naive, but I keep believing that if only I can educate myself enough, and keep my kids smart, polite, neat and well-spoken enough, if I can live in the right neighborhoods and send them to the right schools, that people will look at them and see them for what they are: bright, beautiful and promise-filled.
Not criminals. Or stupid. Or scary. But valuable. Worthy. Just like them.
I keep thinking people will see their potential, and not relegate them to being basketball stars or rappers. RAPPERS. Ugh. That one just burns me up.
I wrote about this weight I carry to shield them from the world's prejudices and stereotyping here and here.
But I honestly thought I had until they were bigger, with their hoodies on as they walked through the neighborhood (Hello, Trayvon Martin)-- before I would really have to contend with this kind of kick to the gut.
I put all this down here because one day I will have to talk to my children about this country's history and what that means about how they are likely to be perceived by others. And I hope some of my friends will do the same.
Because like Ta-Nehisi said in that column I referenced earlier, "The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion."
*P.S. Dean is absolutely fine and only had to stay at the hospital for monitoring. He even got a little tow truck from the ER doctor and now Cary wishes he had chugged cold medicine too.
|See? He was fine even before we left the hospital.|
We have moved all the medicines to a higher shelf. :-)