After all, racism is its own kind of cancer, isn't it?
I thought: This isn't why your readers come here. This is a blog about breast cancer, and sometimes parenting. Does anyone want to hear your opinion on our country's gun laws or its state of race relations? You have such a small voice, anyway. Who would even listen?
Those were the sounds of my self-doubt, that voice in my head telling me to stay away from this one, but I’ve stayed silent for too long and it’s making my skin crawl. Also, if I can reach 10,000 readers a month? 20,000 on a good month? That's something, I think. And it's a conversation worth starting. We are so overdue for honest dialogue about race in this country. Also, I don't know what else to do, so for now, my action is in my words.
As one blogger put it:
If you have a platform, small or large — a website, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, an email list, a group of friends at church or on the playground, a family — do you use your platform to help improve things? To discuss our world? To learn? To teach? If not, why not?
But before I get to my words, let's start with Jon Stewart's words. If you haven't seen this, it's worth a watch.
I thought things would have changed after Newtown.
They did not.
I can't quite believe that in 2015, it’s still easier to buy a gun than a car. It means that these terrorists on our own soil make me eye everyone suspiciously when our family goes to the movies, wonder if some rogue nut with a vengeance is going to open fire at a TSA agent every time Chris travels, or worry a little bit every morning I drop Quinn off at school. Our houses of worship aren't even safe.
Guns are one issue and I wish we'd do more as a country to regulate them, but I am not hopeful that things on that front will change anytime soon. So someday I will have to talk to Quinn about gun safety and make sure his friends' parents don't have weapons that could kill him before I drop him off for a play date.
I will also have to talk to Quinn about racism, and hatred, and fear, but not yet. I still want to preserve some of his innocence. I still don’t know exactly what to say. See? There are parallels to cancer.
Here’s the gist of what I want him to understand: he was (and we, his parents, were) born into a certain privilege, even if we have faced some hardships as a family. This is a conversation that will be part of his upbringing as soon as I can find the words. (This analogy to Frozen might help.)
On privilege: did you know I am more likely to survive breast cancer because I'm white?
Fifty years after the civil rights movement, our country is still flying the confederate flag over our state capitols. Ours, because as Brené Brown says, “This is not bigger than us. This is us.” This isn’t something we can continue to ignore because we don’t live in Florida, or Charleston, or Ferguson. We can’t continue to blindly believe this scourge isn’t happening in our backyards.
News flash: it is happening.
This is us.
I don't imagine these conversations with Quinn will be simple, or easy.
But certainly our talks will be easier than if we were black. Because then I'd have to warn him about continuing to wear his beloved hoodies, which are decidedly cute on four-year-olds, but might bring grave danger in his teenage years. I would have to talk to my son about how people might not trust his word, value his worth, or see his beauty, how some might even call for genocide simply BECAUSE OF THE COLOR OF HIS SKIN.
Or maybe I wouldn't. Because what mother wants to tell her child any of these things? No mother I know.
On my flight home from Maryland yesterday, I sat on the plane next to an African-American woman and we got to talking about motherhood, and in-laws, and our kids, and cancer, and alopecia. Her youngest is a boy, and he's sixteen. Her oldest is a pastry chef. After a bit, because I was working on this post, I asked her whether and how she'd talked to her son about Charleston. Her eyes got a faraway look and she said, "Not yet. He watches the news a lot, and I'll wait for him to bring it up. 'Til he asks. He internalizes things, needs some time."
What I hope I can do for Quinn until I find the words to talk about guns and cancer and race, what I hope I am doing, is guide his character to be strong, teach him to respond to adversity with grace and resilience and forgiveness. I'm not trying to jump straight to the Kumbaya part or be too Pollyanna-ish, but I believe we have to look for the good. That's one thing almost four years of living with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis has taught me.
Look for the good. Find reasons to hope.
This is what we can learn from the mourning families in this tragedy, including a daughter who said at her mom's killer's bond hearing:
“I will never talk to her ever again. I will never hold her ever again,” said one sobbing woman who identified herself as the daughter of Ethel Lance. “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. I forgive you.”
This is us, too.