This letter is predicated on the possibility that my girlfriend -- your mother -- and I marry and have children. The longer we stay together this scenario seems ever more real, and when I consider that it'll be my genes which will determine your gender... and since my immediate nuclear family is all male, this reality becomes a certainty.
Many people have asked me what I think about raising a son who will, in all likelihood, be seen as Black. Not White, not mixed, and maybe not even Jewish. They ask me how do I feel?
Your mother often asks me this. And I tell her I hope you have her smile, my eyes, as well as a penchant for mischievousness. I tell her that I hope you are smart, and beautiful, and strong. I tell her I hope you to always ask questions like I did, but do better in school. I tell her that I want you to be raised Jewish, with a Bris, Bar'Mitzvah, and regular visits to synagogue. I tell her that I want you to speak more than one language fluently, just like her. I tell your mother that I want you to be her little protector -- but only when she can't hear me! -- just in case something should ever happen...
The truth is I do not know what to think or feel.
Except that I am afraid.
Fear doesn't even begin to describe it. I am mortified, petrified, terrified, stupefied by you.
Some days I feel the sudden urge to run out of my apartment and never stop running until I collapse or fall from the face of the Earth. Not because I am afraid or ashamed of you, but because I am afraid and ashamed of myself.
What does a White, Jewish, middle-class nerdy kid like myself know about raising a Black boy and teaching him to be a man?
I have experienced many harsh and terrible things in this world. I have been hurt by others for no better reason than I was different -- different clothes, different skin, different religion, different gender, etc. But for you, it'll be much more than that. You will bear the collective prejudice of millennia, of Jews and Blacks and more besides.
What do I know about racism? It seems the more I learn the less I actually know. And I've learned a lot. I've spent countless hours pouring over books, writing essays, blogs, debating people, talking with your mother, and at the end I'm still just as confused as I was when I started.
You'll meet many people, and for some of them racism barely exists, if it at all. For others it is the only thing that does. Each side will say the other spouts lies, propaganda, or hatred. They'll tell you because you're Black, or Jewish, or White, or all three that you're this, or that, or something else entirely. But always according to them. They'll circumscribe you, lecture you, and tell you why prejudice exists, or that bigotry never happens. Who's right? Which version of America (where I hope you will be born) is true?
There are times when too well your mother and I have seen how cruel this country can be to us for no better reason than because we're some kind of a minority. But then, other times -- times that happen so rarely that I scarcely have a moment to wonder if I imagined them -- I cannot help but ask myself if we're seeing something that isn't there.
How can I be a father to you when I cannot even begin to comprehend the existence of the discrimination which you will face (and that your mother faces) on a daily basis? The question fills me with dread, and yet I fear the answer even more.
But I won't run. I've never been the type to run away from anything. Even if I could run, I would have done it a long time ago. So no, I won't run.
But I won't pretend I didn't think about it.
Will you hate me for this? Will you hate me for being afraid? Will you hate me for being weak when you (and perhaps your mother) needed me to be strong? Or maybe you'll hate me because I am, like so many of the people who will discriminate against you, just another privileged White man.
Your mother often talked about privilege. How it was invisible, that you couldn't tell it was there until it was gone. But I never felt privileged growing up -- small, skinny, awkward, target of bullies, forcibly medicated, a Jew surrounded by the pity and intolerance of Christians, an absentee father, abusive uncle, and a string of dead relatives culminating in my mother, your grandmother. Whatever privilege I have, fat lot of good it did me! And whatever privilege I have left disappeared the moment I decided to share my life with your mother and help give birth to you. It's so hard to see the ways in which your life is easy when other ways regularly threaten to overwhelm you.
Your mother and I have often fought because of this, and over things I have said which may or may not have been racist, sexist, prejudiced, ignorant. I have always apologized, but I have not always been sure I was wrong. And that's just further proof of how unfit of a father I am for you! The mere thought of attempting to raise a Black man, an identity which is so alien to my own life is completely overwhelming. I actually quail at the impossibility, able only to laugh at my own fuckery! How can I be a father to you when I am already your worst enemy?
But I still love you. I love you though your life isn't even a twinkle in my eye. I love you because you represent what I have always felt -- conflict, opposites attracted, the amalgamation of someone who simply does not fit in to any easy category or juxtaposition. Upon your small shoulders I would pray for salvation that I do not believe in. Upon the heartbeat in your breast I would breathe my last gasp, because you are the flesh of my flesh, and the child of the woman whom I love more than anyone.
I'm not the father you need or deserve; I'm not even close. But because I love you, you will never know the difference.