When I was 18 years old, I brought my black boyfriend home to meet my father. My father, a first-generation Italian-American, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, was racist. I had no idea. It never occurred to me that my father, who had never mentioned race in any capacity, would have a problem with his daughter dating a black man.
I walked my boyfriend into the back of my father’s store, only nervous because I was about to introduce my dad to a boy for the first time. My boyfriend had a smile that would light up a room and a charm that was irresistible. He was funny, respectful and likable; I was positive my father would take to him. I led him into my father’s office and said, “Hi Dad. This is Teddy.” Teddy reached out to shake my father’s hand. My father turned around and walked out of his office.
He called me that night to express his “disappointment” in me, and then he didn’t speak to me again for almost two years.
I never forgave my father for that and our relationship was never the same. It wasn’t something we could ever work through because my father had an interesting habit of pretending things that he couldn’t justify or explain never happened. He eventually denied that he had ever had a problem with Teddy’s race. When we finally started speaking again, if I ever tried to bring it up, he just looked at me with a blank stare for a few seconds and changed the subject. I am certain that until the day he died he never saw a racist when he looked in the mirror.
My father turning his back on us in his office that day was a pivotal point in my life. It was the first time I felt real shame – deep in the pit of my stomach. I thought, “I come from this.” I felt responsible for it. I didn’t know how to explain what happened so I never tried. I buried it deeply and revisited it from time to time, anecdotally, if I ever had to explain my strained relationship with my father to anyone.
My father died five years ago. We never did bridge the gap that caused in our relationship. He never met my husband – the father of my two children. I sometimes wonder if he would have accepted him. Our son was made in my father’s image. He has the same skin tone (my father was very dark-featured Sicilian), the same hairline, and the same furrowed brow. With his long legs, and baby belly, he even has my father’s stance. Some day, I’d like to tell my son stories about the grandfather he resembles so much. Do I leave out the one that will certainly put a chasm between him and his dead ancestor?
I’ve been thinking about my father’s “silent” racism since last weekend when I heard the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. The interview with the woman who sat on the jury put me in a dark, quiet place where I haven’t been since that day I left my father’s empty store – red-faced and horrified.
I think all of us thought race did not play a role. We never had that discussion. – Juror B37
The absence of racial diversity in your surroundings doesn’t justify blatantly ignoring that racism exists. If your life experience is so homogeneous that it doesn’t even occur to you that a young, unarmed black man who is shot dead by a white man would ignite a conversation about race, then you live in a bubble. I know, because I spent my young life there – some naive place that allowed me to pretend racism didn’t exist, simply because I hadn’t witnessed it firsthand.
How many times have you heard someone mention the “race card” when talking about the Zimmerman trial? It’s almost as if some believe that arrogantly denying racism exists makes a person less racist. Denying that we have a lot of racial inequities in this country doesn’t make you transcend them; it makes you entitled and naive. Race isn’t even an issue to me! Exactly. That’s the problem. You can’t live in that kind of oblivion and not be responsible for what happens outside of it.
My husband and I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Orlando, Florida a couple of months ago — a state now synonymous with Trayvon Martin‘s death. When the kids finally get down to sleep at night, he likes to go on long bike rides. Every time he leaves the house alone at night, I’m uneasy. I never tell him that because how do you tell an almost 40-year-old man that you fear for his safety every time he leaves the house? It’s ridiculous. I just keep my mouth shut, and hope no one messes with him.
We haven’t had any problems lately, but there were a few incidents in the past when we came here to visit. Once a cop actually drew his gun on him when he was playing guitar in the park because a neighbor thought he looked “suspicious.” On Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, he went for a walk and got a police escort home. Another neighbor thought something just didn’t look quite right about a grown black man going out to walk off a huge meal on a nice night.
Every time something like this happens, I try to comfort him but I can’t. I don’t know how that feels. I don’t know what it’s like to have the whole damn world assume that you’re guilty of something constantly. The same Korean shop owner that would greet me with a smile when I got my coffee in the morning would follow my husband around the shop when he went down to pick up milk for our child. I don’t know how that feels. How do I even begin to speak on it? I just look at my husband and shake my head. I don’t know what to say.
I just can’t ignore the crippling shame I feel any longer. I could hardly look my own husband in the face after that verdict the other night. So how do I face my child?
How will I explain to him eventually that the beautiful half of him that came from his black father is going to make his life harder and there’s no explanation, justification or logic behind it? That there are people that will simply hate him and suspect the worst of him? That he will need to justify his every move and be forever responsible for making the white people around him feel comfortable and safe – or else.
I have a black son that I am raising in a state that thinks his life isn’t worth shit. I have friends so used to this type of news that they weren’t even surprised by the verdict. I don’t want my friends to live in a world like this, I don’t want my husband to live in a world like this, and I damn sure don’t want my kids to. I have no idea what to do about any of this. The only thing I’ve been able to do so far is open my mouth and say,
This is wrong.
This is racist.
This is fucked up.
A young man who was doing nothing but walking home with some snacks in his hands is dead. We have a murderer who hasn’t expressed a second of remorse and a defense team that was disturbingly giddy about the verdict. We have a juror who thinks a vigilante who gunned down an unarmed child had a heart that was “in the right place,” and we have a huge segment of the public who simply doesn’t care that a 17-year-old was gunned down by a man who had no business following him or questioning him in any way.
I’m just completely at a loss.
The fact that there are people who can look at all the details of this case and truly believe race wasn’t a factor makes me terrified to raise my son in this world. I’d rather be surrounded by blatant racists, rather than hoards of silent, indifferent ones justifying the death of a young, unarmed man and never seeing a racist when they look in the mirror.