By Greg Jarrell
Dear John Tyson and Zeb,
You make my heart sing. The joy in your eyes as you take in the world sometimes takes my breath away, which makes it hard to tell you about the shadow sides of the world. But the world is full of shadows.
Your world is full of shadows because you live in a place called America. In school, they will tell you how great America is. Church folks will tell you what a blessed land we live in. What they will not tell you is this: that in America, the land that you are inheriting from me and that I inherited from my parents (and that far enough back was stolen from the people who first lived here), those blessings are only available to some people. They will not tell you that in America not every life matters. In America, your life is valuable and to be protected. But the lives of our neighbors? The lives of the kids you play with every afternoon, go to school with, eat supper with? Those lives are not regarded in America. In America, some lives are more valuable than others.
John Tyson and Zeb, this is a lie. This is the lie that America was founded upon, the lie that America has always depended on for its existence. Do not believe it. People are going to tell you something about a “Christian nation.” Do not believe it. Jesus was a dark-skinned brother, and in America we keep lynching him again and again.
You are free to do what you want with your body. For many of your friends, their bodies are to be controlled. Controlled by armed men, by quick profits, by ghetto-izing and redlining. There is no way to understand this. It is nonsensical. It is insane, and it is a breed of insanity that we keep passing down. I’m so sorry.
John Tyson and Zeb, I’m so sad that this is the world we are giving you. I’m even sadder that this is the world we are giving your friends, the ones with beautiful brown skin who will have to suffer for the lies that America is built upon. A great man named James Baldwin — he was a dark-skinned man — once commented that he cannot be free until people like you and me — light-skinned people — are free. That might seem backward, but I think it is right. You and I are going to need your friends to help us be free. We’re going to have to listen to them even when they have hard things to tell us. That’s going to be difficult, because people like us profit from all of the lies of the place called America. We can hardly see how those lies are distorting us, disfiguring us.
But you can see how the lies are disfiguring your friends. You can see their suffering. You can hear it, if you will choose to listen. You must never pretend that you don’t see it. You must never look away or you will never be free. Those people that suffer, that are treated differently under the law, in the courts, in the stores you go in, in your school — they are your brothers and sisters. If they are suffering, then you must join them in their suffering. To the farthest extent you can, their problems must become your problems. The God who made you expects no less, because God made all children. America will tell you lies about this, but you and your friends must embody God’s truth.
My beautiful babies, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you are inheriting this world from me. I wish I could stop the insanity somehow. Sadly, almost everyone wishes we could stop this insanity, but we don’t yet wish it enough to actually do it. We love the lies too much.
You have heard already about the “I Have a Dream” speech where in a flourish, Dr. King closes by quoting the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” I hope that one day all our neighbors can lead us in singing that song. Today is not that day.
Praying for Justice,