I have always thought of the “Dear White People” editorials as gags, devices used by people of color to highlight the many misunderstandings that non-people of color have about us. Until I got an email from a white former classmate yesterday. And had to write a “Dear White People” letter of my own in response. I have changed her name, but this is what I wrote her:
June 4, 2020
It is I who should ask how you are; I am remiss. Dad and I are both well. We are staying home, safe, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of the Coronavirus, in just two weeks I graduated online (NYC) and congratulations to you, too; celebrated my cousin’s 59th wedding anniversary online (Atlanta); and mourned online with another cousin as she laid to rest her beloved husband of more than 35 years (Kingston, Jamaica).
And now, this, the ultimate pandemic of racism, starting in Minneapolis.
As you may remember, I was raised on the continent of Africa by Jamaican parents. My American passport was an afterthought–the result of a casual conversation between my parents and an American consular officer in Monrovia, Liberia, who thought that my birth in the U.S. could be a future opportunity for me.
As a result of my upbringing, of being raised majority, I have always felt like an “other” here. I can’t imagine what it is like to truly be part of a nation like this that has labeled Black people as overly sensitive and exaggerators when we are brutalized by police or others who weaponize our race. Now, in the age of cell phone films–snuff films documenting the last gasps of people like Philando Castile and George Floyd–finally we are believed.
That George Floyd called out for his mother in the last moment’s of his life makes me curl into myself with shame for this country that I have resided in for much of my adult life. (This vision of parents, ironically, is one shared by many once seriously ill COVID-19 patients as they hovered between this world and the next.) I only hope that George Floyd felt comfort as he transitioned into his mother’s arms.
Today, the day of George Floyd’s first memorial service, coincidentally, is my younger godson’s thirteenth birthday. He is a beautiful Black boy who has both I.Q. and E.Q. He is an excellent student; adores his parents; was protective of his elderly grandparents, now deceased; and calls me regularly without anyone’s prompting to inquire about Dad, to wish me a happy Mother’s Day and to extend his congratulations upon my graduation.
Once when I was out for an evening with his parents and him, I insisted on taking public transport home. “I’m used to getting around by myself,” I told the trio. “Well you shouldn’t be,” my godson said, leading me gently to the family car.
I’m horrified that someone with my godson’s natural beauty and grace is exposed to these snuff films–which threaten to become the modern-day version of lynching postcards–literally while he is eating his cereal. What must he be thinking? What must this world look like to him? What kind of psychic damage is this doing to him?
I watch the coverage of the protests for police reform and notice the media’s emphasis on the multiracial crowds. But what does this mean? Is it a real issue now that non-Blacks are interested and involved? And how do the organizers of the many different civic groups across the country know who are boogaloo boys or boogaloo boys-adjacent?
Into today’s toxic stew enter ignorant Drew Brees. His contention that no athlete should take a knee because it disrespects the flag and his relatives who served this country illustrates that Black contributions to the military since the beginning of America are largely unknown or dismissed. I alone have seven American-born and raised relatives who served from World War II to the present. Two additional Jamaican-born relatives did tours in Vietnam en route to their American citizenship.
Heather, it is all so exhausting. I can’t imagine a lifetime of this, of having to respond to the stupid statements of people who don’t read history, don’t talk to people who don’t look like them, and assume that they have the monopoly on achievement. It’s a waste of time.
I can’t wait to leave America, something I have always planned to do if I outlive my father; he is my last real tie here. I’m just over it. Yes, I’ve had opportunities here, but when I look at the lives of my cousins in Jamaica, so have they.
As for writing, I try to write but everything is all jumbled up. That the health and racism pandemics butted heads so violently last week is all too much to bear witness to, much less to record in any coherent fashion.
As for your contributions to various nonprofits, everyone has to do what they see fit in order to move humanity forward at a time like this.
I realize it is I who should reach out to my non-Black American friends and acquaintances, to console you, so I am remiss. I just haven’t known what to say. I just want to breathe.