There’s a great quote by James Baldwin which goes something like, to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage. That about sums up how I’ve felt over the past few days post the most recent high profile trial of a white man murdering a young black boy.
Last year I read a book entitled The Other Wes Moore, about two black men whose paths diverge late in life. This book is the attempt to tell the story of how we all need someone to interfere positively in our lives. And when this positive interference doesn’t happen, it can have catastrophic consequences on our ultimate decisions and life paths. Two men, same name, similar circumstances, very different fates. I revisited a few quotes from the book last night in hopes to find some answers. Instead what I found were more questions. Like, why aren’t we as individual citizens programmed to seek to understand one another, before we demand to be understood? At the root of our nation’s historical race problem has been, and will continue to be a constant state of misunderstanding. Often times it’s intentional. We don’t try to understand one another, particularly given our dominant culture that continues to whitewash away history. But why?
As a father with two young daughters, I have some experience with trying to understand someone who I don’t yet understand. My almost four year old daughter, who attends a language immersion school, sometimes will literally randomly speak in Spanish or French when she’s excited and I have no idea what she’s saying. As for the almost two year old, good luck understanding half of what she says (unless you’re grandma and you’ve successfully decoded her private language). But as their father, I have no choice but to try and understand them, their frustrations, their pain, and their joy. I have to spend enough time knowing what makes them tick, not just for my sake, but for my ability to relate to them and show them how to relate to the world. That’s my responsibility as a parent. Yet, I often wonder, what is my additional responsibility to the rest of my fellow citizens in the world? Shouldn’t I give them a similar benefit of the doubt and assume that their stories, point of view, and experiences matter as well?
As a father I see myself as my daughters’ keeper. What if I saw myself as my fellow mankind’s keeper? Perhaps I then wouldn’t say foolish things like “I don’t see race” (as if you can choose to ignore an essential part of someone’s identity). I suspect that I would listen quicker, judge less, and act more responsively to the needs of others once I truly understood whom I am dealing with. But are our lives too fast paced, are we too busy to do this? To be our brother’s keeper means that we’ve got to take time out to actually care, and we all know how much time is at a premium these days. If it were me on the wrong side of a misunderstanding, I would certainly hope that someone would take the time to hear my side of the story. The problem is, for too many black boys and men in America, their story isn’t being told. And where it is, in the halls of Morehouse, or with progressive efforts of schools like Imhotep Academy, the story isn’t being heard by nearly enough people yet.