A Necessary Letter To My Brown Stepson
This is a painful letter to write, but one that I must nonetheless for the world out there is harsh and I would be doing you a disservice to let you walk into it without prepping you in the limited ways I can.
Your father is a dark, bald man with earrings and because of this, he has been pulled over in his truck many times for no reason at all. You, too, will experience these things. Simply being dark-skinned, while sun-kissed and beautiful in its own right, is not always seen as such. In fact, it brings up a lot of assumptions - prejudices - for people. So when your dad tells you to take off your hat when riding in the car, it’s because he’s trying to minimize reasons for police to pull you over. Dark skin is reason enough for them. Dark skin with a backwards hat or beanie only exacerbates the situation and increases the chances of you being a target.
“I can’t wear a hat? But what if I’m cold?” you ask.
I’m sorry, but you will need to sacrifice your warmth in order to save your life. By no means is this an exaggeration. We have seen people being killed for ridiculous reasons. What might seem absurd to us is somehow justification for them.
Now you are a few years older but still in your teens and you have seen what we were telling you about. And for this, my heart breaks for you. We can’t always be there to protect you so you must be aware and protect yourself.
The woman on the bus who half blurts out the N-word to you before she catches herself. Yes, that is racism. You’re not even Black but she was trying to use whatever pejorative she knew to put you down and rise above you. If only she knew you have indigenous blood and have more of a right to be on this land than she does.
When your White therapist sends you nasty texts the week after you show true trust and vulnerability by disclosing your feelings about White people, yes that is racism. And I understand your reasons for terminating with her. She lashed her white fragility out onto you. You are not responsible for her feelings and lack of self-awareness. Walk away, my son. Walk away.
I am not saying to walk away every time. You will know when something is worth speaking up for. Only your gut can tell you that. But also know there is risk. Standing up for yourself even in the most tactful and respectful of ways can easily be portrayed as “aggressive” and “threatening.” You’ve already experienced this when you approached your teacher and asked why your grades hadn’t been input. She felt unsafe and called the office on you.
And yes, there is risk in being silent, too. That is our reality as brown people.
My purpose in writing this is to let you know that your experience matters. These aren’t lessons you’re taught in school but that doesn’t mean these things – racism and discrimination – don’t happen. I’m writing to make the implicit explicit. To let you know that No. You’re not trippin’. That store owner was following you around the store. That cop car did slow down when they saw you. You are not paranoid. You are very much aware. And I will continue to do my best in developing your awareness and discernment. Let’s talk more.
Your stepmom - Monica
Shared with the permission of my stepson to whom this letter was written.