I live in a predominantly white and Latino neighborhood, so I remember when my daughter first saw a black person and stared with wonder.
Her response was so innocent, but it automatically made me clench my jaw with nervousness. I froze in place and silently willed my tiny toddler to exit the situation with grace. Look a little fascinated, that’s fine, I thought. But please don’t look scared, and for the love of God, please don’t do or say anything that makes us seem racist.
The remaining seconds of the exchange were a blur, because I was dumbstruck about what to do and say. I think I sheepishly nodded in the direction of the black mother who was with her child at the park, as if my nod could communicate an apology. That’s all I wanted to say. I’m sorry. I’m sorry my child finds your presence here an anomaly. I’m sorry that I feel so awkward. I’m sorry that things are the way they are — that this country still has Michael Browns and Eric Garners — and that I’ll never have to fear the same things for my daughter as you do for your son. I’m sorry that I want this to be easier than it is, but it just isn’t and I don’t know why.
There are conversations that should happen around this country, and I believe that a lot of people want to have them. But the words get stuck in our throats because the words are awkward and we don’t know how to let them loose with another mom at a park, as we watch our children appear fascinated by brown and white skin. It’s bizarre. We’re supposed to be past our segregated past, so we don’t have the conversations because we think they already should have happened.
So, I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t know what to teach my daughter about Black History Month. I don’t know how to tell her that Mommy is awkward at the park because people with white skin have historically taken horrible advantage of people with darker skin, but that people with darker skin have historically chosen resilience, courage and overcoming.
I don’t know how to have that conversation, but I know that reconciliation occurs when we open our mouths and speak — to our children, and to the mama at the park who hopes for a good future for her kids, too.