My White Son

It happened on Saturday,  somewhere between first and second base, the top of the second inning. I peered out among Cyrus’ t-ball team and realized he was the only white boy. I looked out among those tiny hats and tiny cleats, among the six year olds. And I saw another coach on our team: a black man. And I saw his beautiful black son, with his six year old sized ball pants, his genuine smile and love of the game. I saw a small black child and realized that child would grow up to be a black man. I looked at his dad again. I started to cry. I wondered what this man would have to teach his son that I would never have to teach mine. I wondered at what it meant to raise a black man in this country.

And then I thought, for the first time, of my own responsibility; I have a white man to raise. At what age do these two teammates become something other than just children?

  *    *   *

My parents tell a story of when I was about three years old. One night they decided to open a magazine and start pointing to people and naming them. I vaguely remember this night. They pointed to white people. They pointed to black people. They pointed to Asian people. Not too long after, we found ourselves in KFC. A couple walked in with a kid. I jumped up, stuck my head over the booth, pointed, and screamed, “Black baby!”

When they tell this story, they recall the extreme embarrassment. When I ask why they decided to show me the magazine, they can never quite remember the reason. I suppose, growing up in such an isolated community, they wanted me to know that there were more people in the world, people who didn’t necessarily look like me. That couple was quite possibly the first black people I ever saw.

 *   *   *

Cyrus has never been shown the magazine, so to speak. I don’t have any plans to point at people and give them names. I am lucky that he hasn’t grown up in a tiny, conservative white town. His friends and classmates come from everywhere and are sometimes differently-abled.

This doesn’t mean that I’m naively saying, “I don’t see color.” I see color and racism everywhere, since I grew up around it.  I want him to have a deep understanding of this country’s history. I want him to acknowledge his own privilege. I want him to speak out. I want him to do good. I want him to be good.

In order to do that, I have to make sure I’m setting a good example. I know it is my responsibility to be active in the community. I know it is my responsibility to listen. I know it is my responsibility to speak up, when it is my turn.

Now it might be my turn.

White people: You have seen and heard a million racist things in your lifetime already. You know it happens. You know you’ve been complicit in it by turning your back or laughing. How can you possibly think that this racism hasn’t touched every aspect of the lives of non white people in this country? Shut.the.fuck.up. And listen to people of color. Really fucking listen to the narratives of your friends, neighbors, and, most likely, strangers. People are dying just for being. Do the right thing. Your children are watching.

People of Color: I see you. I hear you. I’m listening to everything. I’m angry. Really fucking angry. I am, at the same time, paralyzed and more motivated than ever. I acknowledge my privilege. I vow to do my best to make this world a better place for all of our kids.

I am raising a straight white man. And I am scared as hell.




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