The Wounding- Talking to our son about Charlottesville
Posted on August 13, 2017
It is 8:30 a.m. and I roll over and grab my phone. Did anyone else die yesterday? Has the curfew lifted in Charlottesville? The news is in essentially the same place I left it before finally knocking off last night, too late.
The next thought that nudges its way into my drowsy consciousness is of our boys, especially our 9 year-old, bronzed from two weeks at camp, moving around softly in his room. I yawn, peeking out from under the pleasant veil of my whiteness and dig around in my soul for my brave. I know it is in here somewhere.
I make coffee. I would prefer to make a stiff drink, but it is not quite 9 a.m.
He is in his room playing Minecraft when I plop on the bed beside him. He smells like Dove soap and little boy. The tips of his hair are sun-lightened.
“We need to talk,” I say. He shows me an elaborate, 3-dimensional door he designed. It is wicked cool.
“Turn that off a sec,” I say. I am scared. I don’t want to mess this up. He is a big, bon vivant of a boy, sensitive and smart.
“Dad talked to you about what happened last night in Virginia, right?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, “There were some people marching saying white people are better than black people.”
“That’s right,” I say. I think of tucking my brave back down, behind my heart, and asking if he wants pancakes.
I don’t. Instead, I say, “Son, we have to talk about that.”
He looks at me with large, brown eyes, soft and scared. I take a deep breath and begin to inflict the tiny wounds of our culture on him. This is my job.
“There are people in the world–people with hate in their hearts–who believe that white people are better than everyone else.” He waits, silent. “I know you know about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. And that was an amazing, God-filled thing.”
“Yes,” he says.
“Well,” I continue, “There are still some people who hate people who are different than them. I think you’re too young still to talk about why that is, but there are a couple of things you need to know. First, they’re wrong. They are 100% wrong and they will have to answer to God about that. Second, they are dangerous.”
I pause. “Tell me the two things.” I hold his eyes locked to mine.
“They are wrong and they are dangerous,” he says.
“Right.” I go on. I do not have the stories of generations of black mothers to draw on for this conversation. That’s the deal when you’re white and you adopt a non-white person. You have to put aside your own fragile guilt and shame and put the safety of your child first. You make it up as you go.
“There may come a time when you are confronted by some hateful person who thinks this way, who thinks they are better than you because they are white.” His face is a stone.
“If that happens, I need you to walk away. I need you to stay safe.” God, that feels awful.
“I get it, Mom,” he says. “Walk away.”
“Yes,” I say, “I’m not saying we don’t fight racism and hatred another way, at another time. I’m not saying that you have to be ok with hatred. I’m just saying walk away and we’ll find another way to fight.”
We are both quiet for a few minutes.
“Is that why you march?” he asks me.
“Yes,” I answer. “Are you okay?”
And with that, I kiss his forehead and let him get back to Minecraft, wound inflicted. It will scar over, as will hundreds of similar wounds in the time to come. The scar provides protection and strength, and also a reminder of the wound that caused it.