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Talking to My Daughter About Charlottesville
“Once your children know that even one person detests their bones and breath, they know.”
My first time was innocuous, free of hatred or pity, a thought beginning and ending with curiosity alone. Twenty-nine years ago, Molly Johns and I met on the playground outside our kindergarten classroom, back when you could still eat peanut butter cookies in school and no one knew there was sugar in chocolate milk. One day, she and I walked into the bathroom separately and left holding hands. We stayed that way for much of the year, best friends, rarely speaking a word to each other.
My memory here is certain but not sharp: I am passing the playground’s plastic slide, and Molly’s arm is there, close to mine, and her arm is not the same as my arm.
blut und boden.
And once they know that even one person detests their bones and breath, they know. You could take them by the hands; you could try to look back. But what is the point? You are already a pillar of salt.
And what happens next isn’t fair. What happens is that burden folds itself over her shoulders, a mantle I don’t want her to carry, and she says:
Which part?The racism, the destruction of black neighborhoods, the hidden pockets of public housing among great wealth? Yes. But a racist rally and a car crash? No.
She wants to know if her light-skinned grandmother would have been in harm’s way. Look at the world opening like a pop-up book before her.
You are right to say we can’t hide her from it. Just know I’m losing my breath as I watch.
His mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category, “cute,” and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children. She smiled at the little boy as he climbed on the seat.
I think of white strangers who admire my daughter’s Afro, who stop to gaze at her large hazel eyes. How can we know their hearts?
When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me . . . I am not complaining, nor am I protesting either. It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves.
How does it feel to be a problem?
Too little, too late; not too much, too soon. We knew they were coming.
let it be known
that hate has
but love has
many more . . .
thank you for your
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Not knowing happens to all mothers, and to all of us—if we are breathing, we are without escape from things we can’t know.
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I’m not just advocating for a child whose challenges don’t follow a script. I’m also a black mother advocating for my black son in a room full of people who don’t look like us.
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Patten didn’t undress for fifty days while onboard Neptune’s Car because “the threat of rape had never been far from her mind.”