The word split my heart right open through the small ear piece of my phone while driving. My comfortable world of whiteness shattered around me, and the high pitched ringing wouldn’t stop. The skin on my knuckles turned transparent as I gripped the steering wheel and stared ahead at a stop sign, fiery hot anger bursting at my seams.
Someone who loves me and my son was recapping a story about a family-friend’s response to us bringing our son home through adoption. The word apparently fell out of his mouth like a joke, like it was no big deal, but it burrowed itself deeply into my heart, creating a wound that may never go away.
My understanding of my own ignorance moved to an entirely new level – a level I’d been blind to because of privilege. Privilege that comes with white skin. Privilege not to feel guilty about, but to accept and move on and use for good.
My mama blood boiled and my mind raced as I unclicked the car seat belt protecting my two-and-a-half-week-old son. He is black, or rather, he is brown. He was just referred to as a nigglet. Did I mention he was two-and-a-half weeks old?
Fierce, like a bear, my instincts wanted to throw literal daggers right back to the assaulter, making him hurt more than I did. But physical pain will never match the agony that words can bring to a heart. A joke or not, the term is not allowed here. I will not tolerate it in this family. My son will not have such nastiness cling to his identity.
Thug, gangster, monkey, ape, ghetto, oreo...all slurs that have been spoken over my son who is less than a year old.
Back at home, 8 p.m., I had a sweet little baby to snuggle and sing to, to speak good words over. I committed that brisk January night to standing up for racial justice. I committed to learning and listening. I knew I would fail and make many mistakes, but I couldn’t not try.
It was that January night that the great unraveling of myself began. It suddenly hit me that I had a few almost-glimpses into what it’s like to be a person of color in this nation. And this was some people’s everyday lives: racial slurs, jokes, unearned disadvantages, feeling less than, constantly fighting a system that oppresses them simply because of their skin. Exhausting.
Wearing the title of mama is so much more than changing diapers and wiping tears; I’m finding that it is learning how to love my children even at the expense of myself. Even at the expense of comfort due to disagreements and hard conversations.
Being mama is choosing my kids and their identity over my comfort and closeness in relationships. It is choosing to quiet everything I thought I knew so that I can attempt to truly see what it might be like to live inside their different skin.
But who am I to say that I could ever know what it’s like to live in this nation as a brown or black person when I walk around with skin so pale?
Still, I am a sojourner, seeking justice, even if it makes me uncomfortable. I plan to start and leave a legacy of fighting for justice in my family. I hope that the generations to follow will carry the torch, not stay quiet, and instead stand up for the oppressed.
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