A Letter from My Niece
Wassup Uncle Thabiti?
How’s it going? How are Aunt Kristie and my cousins doing? It was good seeing y’all over Christmas. I gotta say, I miss y’all already. I need more time with my cousins because I can’t believe how big they’ve gotten! The girls are young women!
With all the people around Granny’s house, we didn’t get to talk like I wanted. But I want to tell you again how much I’ve appreciated getting your letters. They’ve been helpful in some ways as I think through things. But just hearing from my big unc’ has been the best part!
Especially over the last week. It’s been really rough. First, momma found out last Tuesday that she might have cancer. Three days after Christmas. That just rocked us. There’s a lot of testing to do still, but already this feels life changing. Momma is in good spirits. She says she doesn’t feel sick. But you know momma. Even if she did feel sick she wouldn’t tell you. She’d just keep working and cleaning and fussing about everything! We’re trying to keep it together with prayer and thinking positively about things. We have our moments. But the hospital has been full of visitors and the doctors and nurses have been great. I know you’ll keep praying for us.
And if news of momma’s possible cancer wasn’t enough, I had the worst experience at our New Year’s rally for justice. We planned a silent vigil on New Year’s Eve. We wanted to bring the New Year in remembering those who lost their lives this past year. And we wanted it to be peaceful, so we thought a silent vigil that focused on both the officers who lost their lives in NY and Florida and those killed by officers would keep things balanced and quiet.
Things started well. We marched down Main Street with candles and signs. We tried to work on the slogan stuff you were suggesting, but right now we’re still using “Black Lives Matter” and “End Police Brutality.” We added “Police Lives Matter” and “Respect the Police” for this rally. Everything was going fine until we got down to City Hall. It was around midnight when we got there, and we didn’t think about the tons of people who would just then be hitting the street from their parties and stuff.
As you can imagine, things took a turn. As more people flooded the street from the New Year’s parties, they began to slow down at our vigil, then stop. Some were respectful, dropping their voices and even nodding in approval. But then people began to comment. Some were saying things like “F- the police!” Others then joined in with “F- Mike Brown.” Before long what started as a peaceful silent vigil turned into an ugly shouting match with drunk people staggering around and a lot of people getting in each others faces.
But the worst part was some of the racist things that were said. We were called all kinds of names. “Black monkeys.” “Nappy-haired B-.” “Go back to Africa!” One man in his 50s shouted, “Black lives only matter if they’re picking my cotton!” He called us “obsolete farm equipment.” One girl about my age went on with “Nigger” this and “nigger” that. It was bad enough being called that, but the way she spat the words was filled with the iciest hate. The mocking in fake “black voices and slang” was relentless.
The police stood by and watched. Except for a couple of them who looked like they were laughing at us and telling jokes of their own.
I don’t think the worst part was the name calling, though that was bad enough. The worst part was I didn’t know what to feel or how to respond. I was so mad I could’ve hurt somebody. But then I was so scared that they would hurt us at any moment. I was ashamed that I was afraid. But I couldn’t help it. When that girl my age called us “nigger B-,” fear shot through my body like lightning! I froze when I heard her voice. When people came up into our group, kicking over candles and knocking over signs, I didn’t know whether to run or to kick back. But if I kicked back, I don’t know what would have happened or what the police would have done. And this morning I woke up still burning mad and still feeling ashamed.
That’s the worst part. The shame. I feel like I did that time when I was six years old and wet myself in school and my mom had to come pick me up. I felt like I was standing there in my own urine, running down my leg wetting my stockings and dress, unable to stop it with my legs clinched at the knee or to cover it with my hands, alone while the faces of the entire whole world made fun of me. It’s so shameful. I feel ashamed because people treated us that way. And I feel ashamed that I didn’t respond to them. I should’ve said something—anything. But I took it. I froze. And when some of the people with us began shouting back, I felt ashamed at some of the stuff they said. I just feel like I wet myself with my own shame, then had the dirt of other people’s hatred thrown on me, and just muddied all over from the mix of the two.
Why do they hate us so much? What did we do to deserve this? What’s wrong with us that people can’t accept us? I hate white people. Since they hate us so much, I’m going to hate them right back.
Please keep writing back, uncle. I wish you were here. Love,
I hope this letter finds you feeling better than you did when you last wrote to me. I hope the Lord has comforted you by His Spirit and helped you process all that’s been happening lately.
How is your mom? What’s the latest from the doctors? We’ve been praying for her and for the family there. I called her the other day and asked how she was coming. She said, “These doctors can’t kill me. They’re trying, but I ain’t letting ’em.” That’s your momma!
I’m sorry to hear about the silent vigil, which ended with way too much talking and shouting, it seems. I want to write a lot more to you, but maybe it’s best to pass along one lesson I’ve learned growing up a generation ahead of you. It’s this:
There’s nothing wrong with you and me. The problem is in the racist.
Don’t ever forget that, beloved. Whenever you’re tempted to think, “What’s wrong with me?” when encountering racist people, know that that’s the wrong question. We all have our problems, but God making us who we are isn’t one of them. If people have a problem with your brown skin and want to make all kinds of irrational conclusions about you based on it, it’s really their soul that’s sick. Not yours.
I can’t emphasize this enough, Niecie. One of the wicked effects of racism is that the attitude of the racist sometimes worms its destructive way through the heart and mind of those being mistreated. We can—and very often have—internalized the attitudes of others and that’s led to all manner of self-hatred and self-destruction. When that happens, the racist wins the most significant battle. You cannot let the racist win this way. Let them have a thousand laws or revert to the 1950s if they want. But never let them have the pleasure of so thoroughly defeating you that you begin to believe about yourself what they say about you. Never.
The problem is the racist and their heart of hate—not you. And that’s why you must never hate them. Returning hate can feel so logical, so natural a response to what you’ve received. And you can feel so justified because you’ve been mistreated. But it creates a vicious cycle, an unending loop of barbarity between people. Racists are to be pitied and loved, resisted and instructed, but never hated. Don’t let them pass that along to you. Be angry about injustice without forgetting what you’re demanding—that everyone—the racist included—be valued as someone made in God’s image. I know it’s difficult to see dignity in persons spewing irrational and abominable hatred, but that’s the burden we bear as a people who through suffering should see the value of humanity more clearly than some others perhaps do. It feels like a heavy tax, and it feels hopelessly unfair, but it’s the only way to retain your own dignity and protect it in others. That’s your twin goal; don’t let hatred make you forget it.
I will write more soon. But right now, don’t let hate win. Hate is wrong. It’s sinful. Fight real hard to love, forgive and continue. And know that you momma, your uncles and aunts, and a whole bunch of friends love you with an everlasting love.
Wishing I were there,