More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason … The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded. “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.
The other day, my boys were asked if they were part Mexican. So I reviewed the mathematics of our family for them again: “Black (dad) + White (mom) = you Ritz crackers”. Trying to explain the idiocy of race, much less the sheer madness of race relations is exhausting. It was pure joy trying to explain segregation to my boys at last year’s themed Christmas party:
Me: Yes, we used to make black people do things in one place and white people do the same things somewhere else. This is what happens when grown ups rule the world.
Reese: But we’re mixed. What about us?
Me: Well, because of how you look, you would have had to make a choice. You guys could pass for white and that’s what some people chose to do rather than admit they were half black.
Malcolm: Daddy, I’d have chosen to be white. It sounds easier.
Today we went to the pool. The boys love to frolic in the water while I read slush stories for my anthology poolside. I can’t help but wonder what if we were stopped at the gate. They were allowed in but I had to watch from the outside the gate. How do I explain that to them? How do I live with the shame (even knowing that it wasn’t my fault and I certainly didn’t do anything wrong)? What lessons does it pass on to them about me, them, or society? And what do we all do with that pain, that injustice, that rage?
It’s 2010. We have a black president. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our capacity to divide. Our capacity to hate. We still so capable of fearing and hating all but our own kind; we’re still so capable of internalizing all manner of hate and scorn; and we haven’t quite gotten past passing down lessons of ignorance to our children. We split along a tribal mentality … forgetting that we’re one tribe. The more things change, the more things stay the same …
I look into the face of my boys. I still see me in them, despite our color difference. I know that we have as a family. I see the hope represented by me and my wife. I look at the beautiful diversity of my friends and family and I know that things have changed. The battles may change, and the war isn’t over, but the cause is just. We continue to have these cross cultural conversations. We continue to build bridges between and toward one another. We continue to decry injustice when we see it. And continue to change things.