I’m all talked-out about the ongoing tragedy in Ferguson, and better writers have pretty much summed up my feelings. But since Thanksgiving just passed, I’ve decided to look beyond the despair and instead post some things I’m thankful for.
I’m thankful for my parents who, despite growing up amid deep-seated racism, taught me that people should be judged by their actions and not by their skin color (tip of the hat to Martin Luther King, Jr., of course). When my father heard me telling a joke with the word “nigger” he got in my face and told me to never, ever say that word again. And although it wasn’t uncommon to hear the word among my relatives, my parents made it abundantly clear I’d get my ass whipped if I ever said it in their presence. The point was well-taken.
I’m thankful for Miss Brown, my kindergarten teacher. When my parents invited her to our house one afternoon, my neighbors began phoning each other in alarm because there was a black woman in our neighborhood.
I’m thankful for my friend Thomas Harris, who also alarmed the neighborhood by simply walking home with me from school.
I’m thankful I went to Hilltop Elementary School, where my earliest friends were white, black, and Asian, and where I never could have imagined that anyone would question my associating with people of all races. In fact, I believed the world was like Sesame Street, and only later did I realize some people actively hated other people who weren’t like them.
I’m grateful for my grade school teachers who assigned me book reports on Martin Luther King, Jr., Sitting Bull, and Abraham Lincoln.
I’m thankful for the white supremacist who called me a faggot and punched me in the face when I counter-protested a racist demonstration against the NAACP in Glen Burnie in the early 90s. The group taunted me for being a “nigger-lover” and told me they were going to find me and teach me a lesson. I later found out the head of the group, a notorious white supremacist organizer, was arrested for possessing explosives.
I’m thankful for the cop who refused to press charges after the white supremacist punched me, and who told me, “There was no problem [with the white supremacist group’s demonstration] until you got here.” I learned a lot about the attitudes of some cops that day.
I’m grateful for the Baltimore Sun reporter who turned my being punched in the face into a “scuffle” (see below). I learned a lot about reporters and their “objectivity” that day.
I’m thankful for the black cop who loosened my handcuffs when I went to jail for the crime of taking photos of people being arrested at a peaceful election rally in 2008. He was clearly disgusted that a dozen innocent people were jailed for doing nothing more than expressing their First Amendment rights, and he made sure to loosen the cuffs so they weren’t biting into our skin.
I’m thankful for my city of Baltimore, where every day I walk past more brown faces than white. When I travel to other places and I don’t see brown faces, it feels strange and alien.
I’m thankful for living in the 21st century, where mixed-race couples and families can live (at least in many places) without fear. Most of the time.
I’m thankful for my friends who have adopted children of other races. Respect!
I’m thankful that my kids will grow up—like I did—with friends of all colors and ethnicities. Bonus: They also will never question the fact that some of their friends have two moms or two dads.
Now excuse me while I eat some Tofurky leftovers.