“Dad, when I’m 8 years old, Barack Obama won’t be President anymore.”
Thomas dropped this little nugget in the car a few days ago. “Yes, yes son. Now stop distracting me while I’m driving.” The significance of his observation hit me a few minutes later. He was born the same year Barack Obama became the President-elect. His image of the POTUS is a half-bred black looking dude from Honolulu! It reminded me of a late night in the fall of 2008. I was up on daddy duty and got lost on the internet. Candidate Obama was visiting his dying grandmother. Images of him walking around his old stomping grounds in Makiki made me tear up. This guy was about to be President of the United States. And he’s walking around shacks in flip flops visiting his tutu. I felt an undeserved sense of pride. What times my kids were born into! This reminded me of an excerpt from Richard Dawkins book, Unweaving the Rainbow:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
Dawkins can be forgiven for conflating being born with winning the lottery. Compared to non-existence, we are indeed the privileged few. But as recent events have shown, the payout can differ widely, depending on where and when you were born and what color you are. Different payouts to the President, different payouts to me. I remember checking out the landscaping of the new house we bought in 2001. A white couple drove up, interested in the house next door. After touring the open house, the guy walked up to me and asked, “How much do you charge them for landscaping?”
I once read that great parenting is preparing your children for an unseen and unimagined world. We have no idea what the future will bring, but our children will have to live it ready or not. Who knows what race relations will be like in the future? Perhaps growing up in Hawaii gave me – and the President – a glimpse of a diverse, post racial world. Maybe that’s where he gets his Hope and Change bit. For me, I am also going to prepare my kids for the world as it is now. Because parents of color have to have different conversations with their children. And our concerns aren’t motivated by anger or suspicion or slights or injustice – it’s about self-preservation.
There was a story a few years ago about some kid running onto AT&T field during a Giants game. (I tried to find the story, but apparently it wasn’t worth internet immortality.) The kid got tackled and roughed up by security. I remember his father being interviewed in the news. He suggested that security was too harsh and that they would look into charges. The media and the public agreed. I wondered why the father didn’t say something like, “That was an idiot thing for my kid to do. I’ll make sure he never does anything that stupid again. Things could easily have ended up worse.” Instead, the father maintained the authorities infringed on his kid’s right and privilege to be a total asshole. Do I have to mention what color the kid was? As sad as it sounds, my conversations with my sons will probably sound like the conversations my father and brothers had with me. Don’t give them an excuse, or the satisfaction. And another thing, Don’t be an asshole.
Maybe that’s the problem. We all carry the fuckedupedness of our parents and their parents before them. Whether Filipino, Chinese, Jewish, Black, Christian, Muslim, universally hated atheist, or Star-Belly Sneetches, you go back far enough and some people will hate on another group of people. Will we ever figure out how to co-exist on this planet? Does the fact that my children have only known a hapa popolo from Makiki as the President of the United States of America mean that this post-racial world is within reach? Maybe. Maybe the dreams of our fathers and mothers will only come true when the sins of their pasts die with us. Then maybe our children will truly be the lucky ones.
What kind of conversations are you having with your children in light of recent events?