I remember the first time I heard someone use the N word. I was in high school and riding in a car with a friend. Suddenly another car cut him off and his response was to yell “Fucking nigger.” I was shocked. And I was confused. I grew up in a loving progressive home in which my mother, a lifelong teacher, opened our home to her racially diverse students that needed mentoring and needed kindness. I grew up in a home where my father, a pastor, worked at a church that believed in the unconditional love of Christ for all the world. Unconditional love for all the world, not just a select few believers. These were the pillars of my childhood. Rejoice in diversity. Help those in need. Love unconditionally. Then I heard that hateful word, spit violently by someone I thought was my friend. My world changed. My sheltered childhood abruptly and uncomfortably clashed suddenly with reality. It’s a moment I have never forgotten.
Now, here I am again. Shocked. Confused. The America in which I thought I lived is not what I believed it to be. And in my shock, I feel ashamed. Not ashamed of our country. I am ashamed of myself. Ashamed of my privileged, sheltered, naïve belief. Ashamed of my insulated ignorance. Of my selective attention to reality. Like the child I was growing up, I am a child again, riding in a car with hate, not understanding. Surprised by it. And afraid of it. What would my father say? I try to remember the things he taught me about unconditional love. But I can’t seem to find consolation. I reach out to my mother, who taught me to see past color and creed, and ask what to do. And her hopeful words still offer no consolation for me.
I am awash in distracted sadness. And everyone says it will pass. We’ll go back to business as usual. It won’t be that bad. But it’s too late. Too late for us. Too late for me. It has happened. The honest hatred of so many people has presented itself clearly and openly. You can’t go back from that. It changes you. It will change me. And I hope that it changes all of us. I hope that we can all see this country for what it is now. A divided, afraid, misinformed, impoverished, confused, defensive, addicted, malnourished nation. We need to own that. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.” Let’s NOT go back to business as usual. Let’s keep talking about this. Let’s keep voicing our opposition to hatred. Let’s teach our kids about it. Let’s stay angry. Let’s never go back to believing that intolerance isn’t really a thing anymore. I am sorry that I was naïve. I am so sorry that I was ignorant. But no longer am I either of those things. I see you America. I see you now. I offer no consolation here because there is none. Unconditional love? Help those in need? Those may have been pillars of my childhood, but they are not pillars of this country. And I’m afraid they never were.