You Can Never Prepare, But Shine Bright
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Today. Late afternoon. My 8 year old daughter and 6 year old son were playing on the side of the house, on the lawn. Phoebe, was figuring out how to balance on her new bicycle. To celebrate an excellent school year almost complete, Et and I gifted our children with new bikes for them to enjoy this summer. We figured we could loosen the reigns a bit and let them joy ride around the neighborhood.
We’ve had lingering fears about letting our youngest two play outside in front of the house alone. We’ve been cautious. For good reason.
In this idyllic suburban neighborhood, in Southeastern Pennsylvania, racial stressors plague our every(other) day. We’ve seen and experienced microaggressions so frequently that we have conversations about them, and the people who use them on the regular. We prepare our African American kids for the world we live, a world filled with virulent, racist, bigots. And yet, even with all the preparing you’re never really ever prepared.
We see Trump signs on lawns. Confederate flags on cars and hanging in driveways. It isn’t easy.
Today, none of us were prepared enough. Prepared to see the tears stream down a little girl’s face who’s heart had been broken in an instant by some random white men in a navy blue van. In their 40s or 50s, Grant ran upstairs to us to tell us that these men had called his sister names outside their car window. We ran to the yard, but they were gone. Phoebe’s body shook in my arms. She just couldn’t understand it. Neither could I. My husband and her big brothers ran down the street, bats in hand, hoping to find the car that got away. The evil had fled. The cowards were gone. They, or maybe we, were lucky.
While Phoebe and her brother, two little kids played in their yard, their fun had to stop, their innocence had to be rocked, assaulted by a car full of grown white men, smoking cigars, bearded, and despicable.
If only we could’ve prepared for the pain, and the ongoing conversations of what to do after “it” happens to you. After you are attacked for no reason other than being a black child on your new bicycle, in your own yard, with your little brother. What heals that pain? Not me having admitted to I’ve felt that pain, too? That was the question she asked as she cried, “Mommy, have you ever experienced anything like this?”
She may have forgotten all the stories we’ve shared. All her brothers stories, overheard. All the times we acted out what to do when somebody tries to attack you with racist words, with mean schoolyard quips, with sexist assertions, with ignorance. What can preparing do, in the moment, but remind you, you can never be prepared for somebody else’s unfounded hate?
These pains never go away and we know it. We knew it when we “prepared” our kids the first time, the second, the twentieth, and so on. I still remember when Philip, the Armenian boy called me, Nigger Bitch, at 9. His father happened to show up moments later. While all my friends and I stood in shock. And, when another schoolmate told on him, his father turned to me and said, yes, you are a Nigger.
We. Have. Felt. It. Have endured it.
My babies. Will never be the same. Our 13 year olds have not been since their first brush with hate. And now, neither will our two youngest.
And, I cannot express just how much my whole body vibrates with anger and resentment that in my country, my children, will never be just kids. Someone will see them as something other. Someone may try to break their spirit. Someone will try to force their self-worth away just when we think we can / should be able to let down our guards.
We will always have to have these talks, to prepare them. And now, we will always have to have these talks to heal them after the first wound breaks open.
Our family, my husband, her big brothers, grandparents, godparents, all of us, are here for Phoebe and her brother, Grant. She and her brother are laying beside me right now. I have to say, how proud I am of how her baby brother had her back — he wanted to protect his sister, and he did.
And even though they are still reeling and processing it all, Phoebe Ann found the strength to write and draw about her experience after speaking with her tribe. Those who love her. Those who see the light she carries everywhere she goes. We see her. We love her.
Here are her powerful words. Her Little Light Will Shine, Big.