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Saturday, June 25, 2011

From a White Father to His Future Black Son

Dear Jared Mendel Tow,

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.

Sincerely,

Dad

15 footnotes:

Mira said...

This is a very personal post. But you left comments open. Is it ok to comment on this?

Pretty Preeti said...

Nice. Traditionallly it has been that bi-racial kids that are half black usually identify as black, but I see now that there is a new "bi-racial consciousness" that has arisen in the latest generation.

This whole "privelege" concept is overblown. Most people are overpriveleged in some ways and underpriveleged in others. Lately its a term to pressure people into feeling guilty about something they had no part of.

Congratulations if you ever have a kid!

Just keep him away from the MRAs and PUAs. Especially the MRAs.

Zek J Evets said...

Mira,

I always moderate comments, so yes you can comment here. If others leave nasty things, (like Benjamin) I will, of course be deleting them =)

Preeti,

Whew! You're becoming my number one commenter! And thanks =)

I'll be sure to show him the intellectual ropes of the blogosphere... if the blogosphere even still exists like this in the future! (O.o)

Mira said...

I asked because it seemed like a very personal post. It's always difficult to comment on that sort of things. I was just making sure you were open for comments.

So, here's what I think: You raised some important issues and concerns, but it's a good thing. It shows that you care and that you're really thinking about it. As the opposite of people who just let kids "happen" to them (and then they're completely clueless about what to do). This is a surprisingly common thing, so I guess you're doing your best to be responsible.

I know you're scared because you don't have all the answers about the race. And I guess in some moments it seems like you have NONE of the answers. It's normal, I guess. It won't do your kid as much harm as you fear it might.

What you're dealing with here is basically an identity issue; how to make your kid smart, and informed, and strong enough to face the world and to understand it. And I guess feeling that you have no answers is frightening. But I do believe kids need their parents' support more than anything.

And if you're there for your son, he'll be fine, even if you mess a thing or two regarding the racial issues.

Also, I think you might be able to help your child more than you think. You're Jewish, and it's not like you don't know what is like to be oppressed. I know, I know; it's not the same as being black. I don't think you can compare the two forms of oppression (which often ends up in heavy Opression Olympics), and yes, I do believe different forms of oppressions have their unique mechanisms.

That being said, though, I do believe that a person who's been oppressed KNOWS what is like and is able to empathize, even if it's another form of oppression. It's a lie that people can't possibly know what is like/emphatize just because they're not black (mixed, female, etc.) They can. But THEY DON'T WANT TO. That's the main problem.

Many people know what is like to be discriminated against; they just don't use that experience to treat others fairly. Instead of remembering their own bad experiences they often engage in discrimination, forgetting that they, themselves are hurt when others do the same to them!

I guess you won't let that happen to you with your own child. So I don't think it's your job to teach your son "how to be black" - you can't do that even if you tried. But you can teach him how to cope with discrimination and what to do when others hurt him and how to stand up for himself. In a way, I think it's better than trying to 100% understand "what he feels like". His world might be quite different than ours; like Pretty Preeti said, mixed kids of his generation might identify as biracial (or whatever), so you can't predict those things.

There's one thing that got me confused:

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.


So, you did think about being too afraid to raise black children? Or about having children with a black woman? (I mean, were you worried whether you'd be able to raise them, or to have them at all)?

Oh, and one more thing. I don't know if you wrote this with a son in mind because you wanted to focus on gender, but there's a good chance Jared might actually be... Penelope?

Recent researches indicate that baby's sex depends on mother, too. Female's body might make X sperms quicker than Y (or Y quicker than the X ones). So it does depend on the mother, too, and since your girlfriend has many sisters, I'd say your chances for having a daughter aren't slim. ;)

PS- A bit self-centered question: is Jared a Jewish name?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry Zek, you will pull through! My oldest aunt's father was Jewish, my aunt being the product of a teenage love affair, or lust affair. This was in the 1930s Toronto. My aunt never knew her father as he wished to keep her a secret from his family. With signs saying "No Jews, Negroes, or Dogs" at the local beaches, the anti-Semitic riots at Christie Pits in the 1930s'(forget which year), I would think that most whites at the time would not have cared as they considered jews to be on par with blacks. but such is life!

My aunt never found out who he was until after he died. She married a Black American from the South, and moved to Detroit. Whenever she visited my grandmother in Toronto, a 'traveling salesman' would show up under the guise of selling something to my grandmother. It turns out that this was her 'father'. He used this ruse to keep tabs on her. She didn't like him and always wondered why he showed up when she was in town. Anyhow, I think she had an inkling that he was her father as my grandmother never 'bought anything' when he came around.

Anyhow there's a huge difference in the times so don't worry about it. You will have bigger things to worry about such as paying for post-secondary education, providing for such mundane things as putting a roof over the kids head and food on the table. You will always have haters. That is what you should teach the child, it has nothing to do with him but is a reflection of cretin hurling abuse or treating him like a second class citizen. Teach him to navigate these hurdles.

Rox said...

Wow, this post was very touching. Your candor and honesty is really refreshing! What a heartfelt post my commentary is not worthy lol

Zek J Evets said...

Mira,

Haha, so many questions! But I don't mind. I feel that fatherhood is still a ways off, so it's interesting to think and write about it.

I was originally worried about getting married in general, then about being a parent, and then slowly I evolved that conscious fear into a realization of the specific circumstances surrounding my relationship with Jasmin, and our possible future children. It just kinda... showed up, I guess.

And yes, Jared COULD BE Penelope. But call me sexist, I do think a son first would be easier =P

Lastly, no Jared isn't a Jewish name. Jasmin picked it. Mendel is the name of one of my great-grancestors though!

Anonymous,

I published your comment, because it was so nice, but I usually don't publish anonymous comments. So please pick a name next time!

I know the exact situation your aunt and her father went through. My dad and grandpa couldn't go to most public pools when they lived in New York. Funny though, I always remember that one movie with Ben Foster when I think of that.

Your advice is sound, and comforting. Haters abound, but teaching him to navigate the waters seems like the best idea, and the best that I can hope for =)

Rox,

Haha, nooo! Your commentary is most welcome!

Herneith said...

Sorry Zek, anonymous was me. I forgot to use my moniker.

Zek J Evets said...

Herneith,

Oh no worries. Thanks for revealing yourself ; )

Alee said...

Touching.

I think that the race thing is overblown when it comes to family. At the end of the day he will be your son and you will know more about him than any random black guy/person.

As far as the -isms go, as long as your willing to learn and change, that's all that matters.

xxxphantomxxx said...

zek dude dont speak to me you don't have permission.

Zek J Evets said...

Phantom,

Then why are you here trying to talk to me, haha? I don't recall giving YOU permission to come to my blog with your spam and flaming.

Please, let me show your ass to the door =)

Eurasian Sensation said...

@ Zek:
um, you obviously didn't pay attention - you don't have permission to reply to him.

Phantom has been trolling my blog too. Sad, really.

Zek J Evets said...

Eurasian,

Damn! I knew I was missing something in his bastion of ignorance. Tighter than an otter butthole that is.

I guess trolling is all some people are good for? =/

Crystal said...

You are already so far ahead in realizing the realities that you, your child and your wife face in this world. You are also ahead that you love your son. You should trust God and be the best Dad that you can be, and trust God for his guidance. it appears you are on the right track. This would be true for any child and any parent. You seem to have the fears that all parents have when faced with the responsibility of bringing a life into the world. Already proud of you Dad!