This is our home
The kid’s shot to right field was the kind that made you gasp. It came off the bat like a laser, and it didn’t matter that little leaguer was barely 70 pounds. The ball didn’t just fly. It looked like it was trying to escape.
When the game was over and the ten-year-olds had their championship rings, my son grabbed his hard-hitting teammate by the hand and pulled him in tight for a hug. The embrace was finished as quickly as it started, and it was as natural as the sweat on their faces.
Between games, both kids’ little brothers dumped a backpack full of plastic airplanes and dinosaurs onto the cement next to the bleachers. The dinosaurs attacked the planes with mirth. The little boys laughed in the sun.
When it was all done last weekend, my kids didn’t make any mention of that fact that their teammate and playmate were a different color. To them, the superficial difference was no more important than the fact their uncle has red hair or that Daddy’s hair has turned gray.
This morning, my ten-year-old boy stood in his pajama bottoms and looked at another young man on TV who shared his name. Both kids were from South Carolina. They breathed the same humid air, ate the same southern BBQ, and had the same regional ball games on their TVs.
The thermometer was going to threaten 100°. One of those same-named boys was looking forward to going swimming later in the day. The other one was on the run, hunted by the law, accused of killing a room full of prayerful people for no other reason than they were black.
I stood looking at both pictures: the freeze-frame of a suspected racist killer, and the slow dawning on my son’s face that some things on TV—some things in the state he has forever called home—are just too real to watch, even if they share your name.
The easy thing to do here is escape it. Turn off the TV and take comfort in the fact that the alleged killer has been caught. Tell ourselves that this one aberration isn’t indicative of anything bigger in our culture. Be prideful that our children would never, ever do such a thing.
It’s easy to write off this 21-year-old kid as a nut and thank God he didn’t destroy anyone else in his rampage. If we do that, we don’t have to challenge anything about our culture that might also be responsible for the deaths of nine innocent people.
I can’t pretend to understand any of it. I don’t know the pain of losing a friend to a racist killer. I don’t know what it means to grow up full of fear and distrust of people because my skin is a different color. I can’t stand up and preach righteousness. So many things about where I’m raising my sons leave me conflicted. I started writing this on my lunch break and nearly trashed it four times, because what place do I have to say anything? I’m a white guy with only many-times-removed connections to the tragedy in Charleston.
Saying nothing. I could get by with that, and nobody would fault me for it. The good guys caught the bad guy, right?
And yet everything inside my head is screaming, because when it comes to being a parent—especially one who lives in the American South—this is as real as it gets, because we may be born with a lot of things, but hate isn’t one of them. Hate is learned. And if that’s true, it means something even more sinister.
Hate is also taught.
I’m helping teach my younger son to swim. Last night, I ran drills with him on what to do if some bully pushed him in a pool—how to keep his wits and swim to safety. It was rewarding in a way I can’t properly explain. And it was easy, because the kid really wants to learn. He absorbs everything, and he doesn’t forget it.
I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m not going to be able to change the world, but the decision to be a parent came with the unexpected weight of helping my children navigate a culture I sometimes can’t understand.
My kids are still young, but they are starting to see the things I wish they didn’t have to see. My wife and I are learning as we go, and today we’re both overcome with the kind of sadness and anger that is very hard for our kids to comprehend.
And so, I wrote myself these notes. They might sound silly, and they might sound trite, but, you know what? So do the bedtime books my sons read with passion every night.
Love your children. If they learn love first, they’ll find it harder to hate, because there’s not enough room in one heart for both.
Let your children live as long as they can without recognizing hate. There is bliss in never seeing the superficial difference between you and the other kid in the dugout.
When your kids learn hate—and they will if you ever let them outside the house—teach them that hate is a giant, blinking sign of ignorance. No kid wants to be stupid.
Don’t just teach them that hate is wrong. Teach them why hate is wrong. It hurts the people you hate, and it hurts you. Hate serves no purpose but to breed more hate.
When the kids know why hate is wrong, teach them it’s dangerous. Let them see the pain and havoc it can cause. Ask them to pretend what it would mean to lose their daddy because he was a white man.
When they understand all that, then teach them why hate exists in the first place. Teach them about culture and history, and the ignorance and meanness that bred hate in the first place.
And then, start over…and love your children. There may be no way to extinguish all the hate in the world, but at the very least, there will be a couple more people to pass on what it means to love.
Even as I type, a prayer vigil at the AME church in my own downtown is being evacuated because of a bomb threat.
This is our home.
It makes me want to throw up. It makes me want to scream.
Most of all, it makes me want to go grab my kids, tell them I love them, and thank them for being an example of how we in the South can be better than we are