Often when folks don't want to face the fact that white supremacy is a generational ailment that is alive and well they'll cite "well that generation is dying off" as evidence that eventually white supremacy won't be a thing. They look toward older generations that still display overt racism and pat themselves on the back. "We aren't like THEM" is the thinking. Most folks go about their day fully convinced that we've made progress and so, beyond retweeting the things their POC friends say, there isn't much to do. Those folks are entirely convinced that racism is a thing of the past. Yesterday Isaiah was laying in my arms watching cartoons. When the kids arrive home I usually ask them about their day and help them decompress as needed. Isaiah is an emotive introvert and often wants to talk about the deeper implications of his peer interactions at school. Once we had a whole conversation based on his questions around money. Some kid brought money to school and another kid made reference about his parents never having money. Without a word from me, Isaiah landed on the decision that money and the pursuit of money keeps us from helping people who truly need help. I am sort of amazed. Needless to say my son, and his tender heart, frames the world outside of the typical nine year old experience. I worry about that often. As Teen Titan (this awful asinine cartoon) played, Isaiah lay in my arms and preempted my question. " I know you are gonna ask how my day is and I feel really bad about it." "You feel bad about what, buddy?" I asked him. He muted the television and looked down at his hands. He picked at his cuticle as I watched his forehead twist with discomfort. I breathed and braced myself. "My friends were talking about what we are and I just didn't say." Shame washed over him. "I am proud to be Black. I like being Black. But it is hard and my friends mostly don't like Black people, so I just didn't say." I sat for a moment absorbing what Isaiah said. He continued, "and because I am Brown, but not like BLACK Black, they don't think to say. So I just don't say anything because I want them to be my friends." I didn't say anything. I just hugged him and after awhile I loosened my embrace and apologized that he felt like he had to hide.
Isaiah is living in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Siloam, a recent Sundown Town, still feels the reverberations of white supremacy and all the trappings of a world where people of color were not only othered but threatened. To have a non-Black person in Siloam tell it, they would tout their kindness and hospitality. They would mention how Siloam has something special about it. To be fair Siloam is a lovely town. It is set far enough away from the hustle of a city, it has beautiful spaces, and a general sense of warmth. What people of color know, however, is that surviving in this town is a daily struggle. You are othered daily. Isaiah is part of a Black queer family and he understands, instinctively at nine years of age, that the best way to maintain his relationships is to obfuscate his Blackness. He is experiencing the conflict of choosing his identity over community. Isaiah chose to pass, or remain ambiguous to his peers, because he has learned that they value his Blackness not being present.
So there I was sitting with Isaiah in my arms absorbing all of his fear and regret. He is nine years old. A nine year old understands the nuances of race so well that he thought to mask his identity in order to obtain the social acceptance he so deeply needs. I wanted to tell him he didn't need to hide. I wanted to tell him that he had every reason to feel proud of being Black. I wanted to tell him it gets easier and that one day he will find his people. I make it a firm point to not lie to my children when I can avoid it, so I remained silent. I held him tighter and sat there wondering about those people who are patting themselves on the backs feeling entirely proud that racism is a thing of the past.