Sometimes the world is a shitty place. (Sorry, Mom couldn’t come up with a better word there – it wasn’t for a lack of trying.) Last night after you went to bed, we learned that a grand jury could find no probable cause to indict a police officer for shooting an unarmed teenager in broad daylight. At least six times. With witnesses. I’ll agree with many whose thoughts I heard this morning, that without seeing the evidence as the grand jury did, I don’t know all the facts. But we’re not talking about a “preponderance of the evidence” or “beyond reasonable doubt.” We’re talking about probable cause to indict someone for killing someone else. The lack of decision in this case, and those like it, is something I’ll always question. And I hope you do, too.
Last night’s decision hit me like a punch to the gut, and in addition to being angry, disappointed, and nauseous, I’m also twitchy and unproductive. I’ve tried to figure out – for the sake of Michael Brown’s family and Trayvon Martin’s family, and all the other nameless grieving families out there – what I can teach you so that you won’t be a party to anything like this in your lifetime. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Learn from everyone. Let’s be honest – the odds are pretty high that you’ll be bullied, picked-on, or otherwise called out for being different, simply because of your moms. By the time you read this, I’m quite sure you’ll have already learned that your family unit is a loving, awesome place to grow up – but it is also not what some people consider “normal.” On the other hand, your odds of being shot in the street by a cop if you aren’t armed are awfully low. You were born into a diverse environment, surrounded by families of all racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. But the inherent privilege that comes with being born white will stay with you no matter where we live. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you, and likely to themselves. That’s one of the reasons we choose to raise you in the city; so that you grow up seeing more than just a reflection of yourself. It is our hope that you will absorb all the history, beauty, and pain our diverse surroundings have to offer, and that the lessons you learn will stay with you for the rest of your life, informing your world view.
- Speak up. Don’t misinterpret this one. I don’t want you to grow up with a misplaced lack of trust for authority. You should respect authority in all forms, as the good guys do usually outnumber the bad. But you should also ask questions of your moms, your teachers, your friends, and ultimately your government. If you see someone being mistreated in any way, speak out. If something seems out of place, it probably is. If something appears unjust, it probably is. Say the words you would want someone to say on your behalf. And if no one listens, say them again. Say them louder and with more and more passion until someone hears you. If you’re smart (and I know you will be) you’ll realize that a choir of voices carries farther than a soloist, and you’ll get other like minds to join you.
- Look through another lens. I’m afraid the U.S. history curricula won’t have changed by the time you enter high school, though there’s more than a decade before that happens, so I suppose there’s hope. You may get a teacher who talks about our government with a singular view, as though it is the same government for all constituents. I hope I can get to you before that teacher does: our government isn’t the same for all people. The world isn’t colorblind, so everyone’s lens has a different filter. Once you’ve taken the time to recognize others’ perspectives, you will see that the criminal justice system is particularly flawed. I think it’s important for you to learn now that the system which purports to protect us all was not designed with that objective in mind. If you and your generation can master the idea of acting on your compassion for others’ perspectives, maybe you will be the ones to change the system for the better.
- Value everyone. Today you are 2. You believe that everyone you meet is inherently good and that pretzels and juice can fix any problem. This view will undoubtedly evolve over time as you become jaded like the rest of us. But if you hold on to one toddler trait, let it be the unconditional love you show everyone you come into contact with. Cling to the fantasy that love can melt the frozen heart. If someone was taught to hate you because of who you are, show them that you were taught to love them, no matter who they are or what they say or do. Let them know that everyone has value in your eyes.
One of our parental duties is to protect you. We teach you how to look both ways when crossing the street, not to touch the hot oven, and to hold our hands in a crowded parking lot. I’m grateful every day that there are tips I don’t have to provide: don’t walk too fast down the street (someone might think you just committed a crime), keep your hands out of your pockets in a store (someone might think you just shoplifted), or don’t hang out in groups of more than 3 (too many friends may be misinterpreted as gang activity). It breaks my heart that so many of my friends have had to learn or teach these lessons. If your Mama and I can raise a child who sees things differently, maybe we will have done our parts to make a change.
Go out into the world to make a difference.