Dear Blair & Quinn,
(A Letter to My Nieces)
You were born into a family of love that has showered you with affection, positivity, and privilege since your first moments on the planet. Blair, I knew you understood this when you were not even 3-years old yet every time a family member left your presence you said, “I love you.” You have been surrounded by support, sheltered from ills, and filled with confidence. These are among the greatest gifts in life.
The greatest gift of my life was being close to you both while you were young and forging meaningful relationships with you, as opposed to some fleeting “Santa Claus”-like relative who flew in with gifts once a year, which I would have been had I not been laid off from the P-I.
These blessings of our lives are not shared by everyone with whom we will come in contact. While these blessings enrich us as individuals, they also put on us a great responsibility as citizens – a responsibility that does not make us superior, but forces us to be humble. As you read the rest of this letter, keep that at the top of your mind.
You are loved. Can you take the love that is given to you and transform our society and your world? I believe you have it in you to do that. By loving others and using your imagination.
No, not in the Christian missionary, “our way is better than your way, so let me force my way on you” manner. No, but by meeting people right where they are.
For Black American, “right where they are” is a precarious place.
“Right where they are” is the place where they have lost their family names and heritage, where they been exploited for generations, where they have been owned, then emancipated, then swept to the margins, crammed into ghettoes, surveilled and imprisoned. “Right where they are” is on athletics fields and arenas for the fulfillment of White America’s entertainment. “Right where they are” is a place you have never had to imagine.
Imagine it, though.
Our nation has a long history of using its collective imagination for the sake of oppression. We have covered ourselves in white sheets to inflict terror. We have tied people up on the limbs of trees and let them drop to their deaths. We have sterilized minority women with experimental treatments. We have put Native Americans into abusive boarding schools. We have torn apart cultures, ruined the land, and justified it all in the name of Capitalism and “growth.”
That is not using our imagination for love. And I cannot believe that is what your pure and loved imaginations will conjure as you grow and mature.
You grew up with a gay uncle, his partner, and a lesbian aunt. You never knew the history people like them endured in the past – the discrimination, the violence, the secrecy. That’s because you never saw in them anything different. But you can see people of color and their difference, if not their race’s own history.
What if I told you the only difference between them and you was what whiteness did to them? Could you imagine that? Could you love them even if they did not forgive you?
By the time you are old enough to understand this letter, you will have heard racial slurs and racist jokes. Probably even out of the mouths of people you love. You will have seen young black men used for their physicality and disregarded for their intellect. But will you be able to imagine another way?
I implore you to imagine another way. And you can by reading and wondering “why.”
Don’t wait until you are older. Do it now. Read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and love him. Read Derrick Bell and ask yourself why he and other Critical Race Theorists may have reason to be angered over the stall of the Civil Rights Movement. Read Zygmunt Bauman and push your imagination into ugly possibilities – then climb back out with that love and humbleness.
Wonder why all the time. Why might my friends and neighbors be so racist? Why do people I respect make racist and sexist jokes? Why are their no people of color in my neighborhood? Why do I have it so good? Why do others not? Why does Aunt Mol care about this?
Love others. Imagine equality — real equality, not the kind millionaire politicians rant about while trying to halt unemployment checks to your laid-off neighbor whose house is being foreclosed.
With your love and imagination, you will see the world in a more pessimistic light and it will hurt and frustrate you. But let love and imagination be the shovels and picks with which to dig out of that hurt and frustration.
Make your world better than ours with your love and imagination.