Opinion | Finding the Right Words: Letter to an African American Child

Opinion | Finding the Right Words: Letter to an African American Child

Dear Maya,

Following the murder of George Floyd and the series of protests across the city of Minneapolis and in other states in the US, I can only imagine what you are feeling right now as a black child who has known only Minnesota and America as your home. I felt the sadness and frustration in your voice when I spoke with you this morning, and my instincts, as my Babygirl, was to console you and assure you that the protest will be over soon, that calm will be restored, and that your community and state will return to business as usual. In all honesty, there are many more assurances that I wish I could give you right now. I wish I could tell you that, as a black child, you will never have to endure racism ever again. That your life, your body, and your dignity will not be subjected to wanton harassment or unwarranted death by the very police that are oath-bound to protect you. That your pursuit of the “American dream” will not be stricken by fear, trauma, indignation, and mischaracterization.

All these things I cannot assure you of, Maya, because your history, the American history, is filled with similar grim and abhorrent instances, in which African-American tragedies are greeted with a sort of political facade that implies an end to racism. But systematic racism did not end with the passage of The Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1957, 1964, 1968, and 1981, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Title 18 of the United States Code or even with the recent arrest of former Officer Chauvin. The truth is, American racism has gone through a series of metamorphoses and the most vivid evidence of modern-racism is police brutality. 

Our generation was made to believe that the unwarranted murders of Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDole, William Chapman II, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and now Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were not racially motivated and that the police were just doing their jobs.

Maya, there is enough evidence to conclude that the police departments of your country did not exterminate these lives fortuitously, it was as a result of modern-day racism that, in the age of social media and the post-presidency of the first black American president, is still pervasive. 

I am so sorry, Maya, for not being able to assure you that there would not be another George Floyd or that it would not be you. And that is because any assurance of the end to systematic racism and police brutality in America has to come from Americans themselves. When I say Americans, I am not only talking about those at the highest echelons of the political and business worlds, I am also talking about the hardworking and compassionate Americans, blacks, white, Hispanics, all Americans whose collective actions against racism at the ballot boxes, in schools and workplaces, homes and religious centers, on social media and in private conversations are the tangible determinants that ending racism in America is possible.

Here is something important that I want you to know as well: that just as no one has the right to treat you less of a human being because of your race, gender, sexuality, and religion, so too you should not treat anyone less of a human being because of these things. As a result of the heightened tension and ongoing protests, you will be made to feel like the only way you can prove your worth is by acting, saying, or implying, that the white race, and by extension, every white person is a racist, or a proponent of systematic racism in America. Some white people are racist, no doubt, but it does not make you any less of a racist if you judge every white person “by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character” as Dr. King succinctly puts it. I had to learn this from a coworker.

Prior to my immigration to the US, I had always thought, through reading thousands of pages, from Ta-nehisi Coates` books and articles to James Baldwin`s, that every white person is somewhat a racist or has racial resentment against black peo