Friday, March 30, 2012

"But I Have Black Friends"

Greenwood was ground zero for the civil rights movement.  In school many of us were taught that sweet little Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus was what sparked the civil rights movement.  Most people are taught nothing about the brutal torture and murder of a 14 year-old black boy who MAY or may not have whistled at a white woman.  He was killed a few miles outside of Greenwood, four months before the Rosa Parks incident. 

Greenwood had demonstrations.  Greenwood had visitors like Martin Luther King, Jr.  Greenwood had blacks who were beaten; Greenwood had sit-ins, dog attacks on marchers, and on and on.  All the while the majority of the white middle class in Greenwood went on with their lives as if nothing unusual were taking place around them.  But they had a black friend named Booker Wright.

My grandfather worked at Lusco’s Restaurant for 25 years.  I know true, genuine affection must’ve passed between him and his white customers.  But at what cost?  Did they feel as though the issues of the day did not relate to them because they had a black friend?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Please Don't Kill My Sons

There is a fear that permeates black culture that usually goes unexposed.  Black mothers and fathers worry about the of safety their black sons, simply because they are black. 

When I was in my twenties I was at the mall with my little brother.  He was about 14 at the time, but he was already taller than me.  I don’t think he’d ever lifted a weight, but he was still long, thin, and muscular.  Like his classmates he wore baggy pants and t-shirts everywhere he went.  Unlike his classmates he had a severe learning disability that left him with a pronounced stutter and the mind of someone much younger.  He had to be watched closely.  In spite of this, my brother is the essence of kindness in its purest form. 

Once when we were kids I tried to get him to sneak into a movie with me after the one we’d paid for was over.  He refused.  I started going anyway.  He cried, and begged me not to break the rules.

That day at the mall, he and I were eating.  I finished before he did and I decided I wanted to stop at a store while he finished his food.  I told him to wait for me.  I told him I’d be right back.  I went to a store, not far at all from where I’d left him.  When I returned he was gone.

I called to him.  Walked into store after store and could not find him.  I remember becoming convinced that he’d been taken by a security guard of one of the high end department stores and that he was being questioned.  Because of his disability, they might even have thought that he was mocking them.  I was panicked.  I searched and searched.  Thirty minutes passed.  I asked people if they’d seen him.  Finally I found him.  I burst into tears and buried my head in his chest.

“Uh-uh, it’s, it’s, it’s okay, Yvette,” he said as he awkwardly patted my back.  I didn’t tell him why I was so upset.  But I didn’t take my eyes off him again.

When I was pregnant I prayed for sons.  I love my boys and the way that they dig in the dirt, play with mealworms, and never tire of laughing at the word “toilet.” 

My oldest son has some anxiety and when he feels as though he may cry he makes angry eyes to fight the tears.  He’s only seven, but he’s as tall as his friends who are ten.  Late last year we went to the dentist for a cleaning.  I told the hygienist about his anxiety and I never left his side.  I rubbed his arm as a stranger put a loud tool in his mouth that sprayed water everywhere.  Every now and then he fought back tears by making angry eyes.  After a few minutes the hygienist said, “If you don’t work with me, buddy, I won’t work with you.”  To me he looked all the more afraid, to her he looked defiant. 

How old will he be when I have to have the talk with him?  He’s so tall.  Do I have to tell him when he’s eight that people will mistake his anxiety for a precursor to violence and that they may shoot him dead on the street?  

Monday, March 19, 2012


My oldest son said something to me tonight.  He said, “If I was regular, I would be white.”

I don’t know how I got here.  Actually, I do know I just don’t feel like admitting it to myself.  There are so few blacks in Arizona that people like me have to make a choice.  Either we live in predominantly black neighborhoods with terrible schools and random shootings or we live in predominantly white neighborhoods with great schools and little crime.  I obviously chose the latter.  Was it the best choice?  Tonight it feels like it was not the best choice.  I hate Arizona

I thought I could decide what I would pass on to my children.  I thought I was smart enough to know how to save them from this.  The minute those words left his sweet little mouth, all the running and all the effort of shoring up a different childhood from the one that I had suddenly caught up to me and I felt exhausted.  Is his life something I can construct out of thin air with prayer, advice from the best books, quality friends, and a literature-rich home? 

The horrific event that most civil rights experts credit with sparking the movement happened just a few doors down from my where my father lived when he was five years old.  My parents grew up at ground zero for the movement.  They took me out of Greenwood partly so that I could have a life that wasn’t defined by race.  In the end, pain over being a different color than my peers and neighbors was the anthem of my childhood. 

Now, here I am.  My beautiful, fresh faced, caramel colored son – the most beautiful boy I have ever seen – is coveting the one thing he can never have. 

Booker Wright said that he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he went through, and then immediately after that he took on the persona of a white person and said, “Hey, tell that n---- to hurry up with that coffee!”  Clearly, part of what motivated him was the idea that his children would find a world or make a place for themselves in the world where their race wouldn’t matter. 

For generations my family members have tried to throw this thing off and then run in the other direction, but it always seems to find us or at least it finds our children, stealthily and efficiently like a boomerang.