I Wish A White Person Would Write This to Us
Today I read with delight and then mixed emotions David Swan’s piece, “Dear Muslims.”
Swan’s letter expressed a desire for love, unity and brotherhood in the midst of terrorism and fear. His letter drew hundreds of comments thanking him for the outpouring of love on his heart. I too was touched and then I had an emotion that surprised me.
First, I was jealous that I hadn’t written his brilliant piece myself. As glad as I was for his defense of Muslims and his reverence for their humanity, I wondered solemnly, enviously why more White people, like him, don’t write a love letter like that to Black people. It would go a long way and I believe it’s exactly what we need and long to hear.
Then, my jealousy grew beyond the letter.
I realized I wasn’t just jealous of Swan’s love note to Muslims, but I was jealous of them and other cultures of people whose collective suffering and differences can arouse empathy, awe, and appreciation in this country.
And, it makes me wonder. What must it be like to come here in refuge, teeming with promise? Like the Cubans. Hard to start over, no doubt, but to be welcomed and comforted by — and always reminding us of — the fact that “they were somebody over there” and now somebody here, too. Like the Jews. Eventually rescued from death by American might and resources, now kings of Hollywood and titans of Wall Street. Like Asians of any ethnicity, since most Americans hardly know the difference. Thought studious and brainy whether they speak proper English or not and whether or not they are actually smart or studious.
Again, I wonder. Why it is so difficult for this country to recognize the history and hurt of Black people?
To acknowledge our contributions to the American dream benefiting so many at great cost to our souls. (Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me on this.) The difficulty we still face in attaining equality and opportunity in America. How just last week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — sitting alongside his intellectual equal, an African-American legal scholar raised in segregation — could dare suggest Black students go to “lesser universities.”
Does anyone else ever wonder what it means and what it takes to be seen as whole, equal, and deserving of America’s best as a Black person in America?
It too often means you earn acceptance to the degree that you can or are willing to mimic the status quo and suppress notions that your needs and suffering matters. Deference and invulnerability are your tools. You overachieve. Downplay provocation and lie to yourself that your excellence is all that matters. Ironically, in your effort to earn your humanity, you become decidedly less human in a steely resolve to renounce a need to be loved, accepted, and enough. To be a Black somebody in America is to be extraordinary because we are automatically presumed lesser, and therefore, deserving of less.
I am jealous that I don’t get to be ordinary and yet, I fear to be ordinary in this skin is a sin.
This worry has always driven me to perform so that my humanity and worthiness would be seen quickly and undeniably. I was groomed for it.(See Margo Jefferson’s, Negroland.) At times it’s worked out well to be thought so extraordinary simply because expectations for me are low to begin with.
“Fascinating,” they say, when they hear me speak Spanish or Japanese.
When truly it isn’t.
Though good for a fleeting ego boost and fickle introspection by others, my lingual exhibition has done nothing to affect real world change for the perception and circumstances of Black America. Think about it. If we still have to tell Americans that Black Lives Matter in the wake of an African-American President, affecting this change can’t be done by Blacks alone. White Americans, Christians must step up to express solidarity, compassion, and empathy with Black lives.
Again, that letter.
A few weeks back I wrote:
The message called on Christian Americans to walk in love with Syrian refugees and reject the fear mongering and cowardice of Christian leaders. I knew it was a risky message that might be met with more fear. I lost hundreds of subscribers.
I wonder if Mr. Swan or any other White person who might write a love letter to Black people is concerned about a similar backlash.
I am. I’m afraid a letter like this on behalf of Black people doesn’t exist because there isn’t a White person out there who feels wholeheartedly enough, or isn’t outraged enough to take this risk. I’m afraid they’d get hate mail. I’m afraid the reader comments wouldn’t be as kind. That they’d instead be filled with venom; the hateful variety where readers site crime statistics, welfare numbers, and the rate of children born out of wedlock to prove Black people are not only unworthy of love, but unlovable.
And, then I think maybe it’s too hard. That it’s easier to have sympathy for someone’s pain you don’t feel you’ve directly or indirectly caused. Maybe it’s harder to apologize and love someone who is down if you feel like you had a role in putting them there. I don’t know. But I do know that was a nice letter. A beautiful letter. One I wish I’d written and one that I think Black people would like to receive.