A Letter To My Racist Grandpa
I still love you so much.
In high school, I dated a boy for two years. He was half Mexican. I didn’t find out until later that you didn’t like him because of his race. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I mean, you live in another state and I don’t see you very often. Fast forward to senior year of college and I met the man of my dreams. A little over a year later, he would ask for my hand in marriage.
I never thought something like this would stop you from loving me.
The grandparents on my dad’s side passed away years ago from illnesses outside of anyone’s control, and my grandmother (your ex-wife) also passed a few years ago from throat cancer. So, you are the only grandparent I have left whom I still love and cherish. The seriousness of your prejudice came after my mom had to have the difficult phone conversation with you letting you know my future husband is black. Apparently, you fell silent for some minutes and then began to scold my mom: “How could you let something like this happen? I can’t believe her dad would allow this! Their kids will be illegitimate… bastard children.” The quotes are paraphrased a bit, but when my mom told me your reaction, it was my first taste of blatant racism towards my fiance and our relationship.
Living in Mobile, Alabama during college presented a few challenges to our being together. Our closest friends and family supported us and loved us, but when it came to walking around in public… we were the next side show. People couldn’t keep their eyes to themselves, and a man even whispered in my ear “disgusting” before running out of the store where he disappeared into the Saturday mall crowds. These are small interactions compared to the hateful situations others have experienced, but it was enough for my fiance and I to pick another city to begin our lives.
I never expected to receive the bulk of the rejection from you.
I remember opening up the mailbox that Christmas and counting four Christmas cards (parents, brother and sister), but not one for me. It happened again the next year. It hurt when my birthday came around and I didn’t receive the card I’ve come to expect and enjoy from you every year. It happened again the year after. These were small, but painful gestures of rejection.
Honestly Grandpa, you don’t know much about me. You don’t know how much I love the man I’m with because you’ve turned a hateful, cold shoulder towards him. You don’t know that I have more piercings and tattoos. You don’t know about my aspirations for social justice and my goal to making this world a better place. You don’t know about my favorite music. You don’t know how much I love coffee. I still hope you know how much I love you.
I get it. You were a sheriff, a bailiff, a homicide photographer and have witnessed some of the worst atrocities human kind is capable of committing. These experiences have burned into your skull the racial prejudices and biases you hold deep within your heart. You’ve also never had to face these racist tendencies because you live in your own bubble. My future marriage to a black man interferes with your bubble and you would rather push me away then be forced to face the hateful thinking lying within your heart and mind.
I’m still the tall, skinny, blonde-headed little girl who giggled and laughed every time you tried to tickle me. I remember you teaching me how to change a tire while listening to traditional Native American music — the heritage you hold and represent — in the garage outside your house. Playing seven rounds of Yahtzee, watching the Jungle Book 70 times and how infectious your belly laugh fills a room are things in my childhood I hold incredibly dear. That’s still me. I’m still your granddaughter who still loves her grandfather.
My fiance is smart, kind, thoughtful, selfless, gentle, generous, uplifting, brave and has every quality a woman like myself could ever dream or imagine. He makes me a better person every day. He is black. The color of his skin shapes who he is as a person, his culture, his family and his experience in America today.
I love him for who he is and I can only hope one day you will too.