“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Harper Lee died last week. Since then, I’ve been processing what her death means to me personally and the impact that her words have had in a society that continues to struggle with race and color. By coincidence, the night before she passed, Big Boy had been reading his assigned chapter for “To Kill A Mockingbird” and had thrown it down out of pure outrage and disgust. He was angry. He is an avid reader, this son of mine- during the summer he will read up to 5 books a week. He swallows words whole, coming up for air only to breathe and he reads all books- he has been exposed to great literature and I am so thankful for that. But this book- this book finally put him over the edge.
It was a pure teachable moment, the moment I have been waiting for since I gave birth to these children who come from such beautiful and pure cultures that also put them at risk for brutal racism, discrimination and stereotyping.
I have shied away from writing about these issues. Why? Because they are so deep and I carry my own emotional baggage from childhood. I am still on my journey and traveling through this subject of raising black children in America. Especially when I myself am not black. I am scared. I feel like I’m not doing enough. Or maybe not doing it the right way. Is there a right way?
But Big Boy’s outrage put it out there. You can’t sweep it under the rug. I told him, anger is good. Because I think it is good. If you look at every social justice movement in this country it started with that spark of anger from people saying “that is enough.” We must try to create change and do better.
We are tired. So tired of having to explain ourselves or not explain ourselves. Of having to defy stereotypes, of having others judge or make assumptions about what type of people we are, based on how we look, how much money we make or don’t make, what neighborhood we live in, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to. It’s me having to tell the boys that they shouldn’t wear hoodies, especially dark ones at night. It makes me angry too. And so scared.
Harper Lee’s words resonate with us and now that she is gone, I feel even more so. On the eve of her passing, my son got angry because he read her words. For 13 years, my husband and I been trying to teach our son what it’s like to be a black boy growing up in this world. But it was Harper Lee’s words that put that brutal truth in perspective. No more sugar-coating, no way about it.
Use that anger and turn it to good. As parents, I think that’s one of our biggest jobs and legacies- to educate the next generation and help them to confront that which makes us uncomfortable, have conversations with those who are different and have different opinions, tackle that which we find conventional and status quo but wrong and create change that will ultimately make the world a better place.
My friend Kristin told me yesterday that by the year 2030, all the people of color put together will be the majority in the United States. I told her- well by then I’ll be an old lady so it’s on our kids- they are the ones who will have to figure out how all the mixes of colors and peoples can best work and live together in harmony.
It’s an uphill battle, all the odds are against us but as Harper Lee told us in her own words- that’s the definition of courage- to begin anyways knowing that everything is stacked against you and to do it anyway.
Rest in peace Harper Lee and thank you.