By DENENE MILLNER
He’s full of life, my nephew—energetic, incredibly funny, frighteningly brilliant, and, at age nine, still comfortable enough in his kid-hood to dole out hugs and kisses freely, sans embarrassment. For sure, joy leaps from his raspy voice from sun up to can’t see. So when he called me early yesterday morning, instantly, I could tell that something was terribly wrong. “I’m really sad, Auntie,” he said simply, before his father gently asked him to hand over the phone.
I wasn’t ready for what my brother-in-law told me.
Someone, you see, had run a pick-up truck all over their yard the night before, desecrating their Obama signs and destroying the halogen lights on their lawn. What’s even more mortifying is that those same animals (they don’t deserve to be called humans) left two open pizza boxes full of human feces and soiled toilet tissue on my in-laws’ front doorstep.
This, I gather, was supposed to be some kind of sign that my family’s well-to-do, extremely conservative, ridiculously Republican neighborhood wasn’t feeling the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, or my in-laws’ glee for President-elect Obama’s historic win. Indeed, for the length of the campaign, these hoodlums expressed as much by destroying my in-laws’ Obama signs no less than 11 times (replacing them on several occasions with McCain signs,) ripping Obama stickers off my sister-in-law's car, and sending children onto the bus to verbally assault my nephew and his brother with all kinds of foul, ridiculous arguments for why Obama shouldn’t win. The same and more was dished out to the few other Obama supporters—overwhelmingly African-American—in their subdivision. Simply put, my in-laws were targeted by a bunch of jackasses for speaking up, having an opinion, and exercising their right to vote for who the hell they wanted to.
I’m trying really hard to let my light shine bright today, but it’s hard in the thick of this darkness. While the world celebrates America’s ability to move past color and elect a black man president, here, in my small Georgia town, tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Some Republicans are acting as if Democrats stopped the earth’s rotational spin and are seconds from dropkicking white folks off the planet. Others are making a run on gun stores, telling local media that they’re stocking up on AK-47s because Obama is going to eliminate their constitutional right to bear arms and, get this, because the president-elect’s tax policy will force small businesses to fire their employees, making people desperate enough to rape, rob, and pillage their neighbors.
Still more are leaving their crap, literally, on our doorsteps.
Granted, this incident isn’t nearly as harmful as what our prior generations dealt with in the face of southern racists. There have been no crosses burned on our lawns, no strange fruit hanging from our trees, no one shouting racial epithets to our faces. Still, that someone would do this to his neighbor in 2008 is beyond understanding.
I really wrestled with whether I should tell my daughters what happened at their cousins’ house. How, after all, do you explain such things to children too young to fully understand the atrocities of our country’s racist past? Sure, they know that Martin had a dream, that Rosa refused to sit in the back of the bus—that we are a strong, proud people who have overcome mightily and benefit greatly from the grueling, dangerous work of our forebears. But feces on the doorstep? For supporting the guy who won? How do you break that down?
This much I know: My babies needed to know. So that they could understand just how ugly people can be. So that they could see that despite Obama’s win and America’s collective celebration about moving past race and into a diverse future, we’ve still got work to do. So that they could comfort their cousins. So that they could remember.
I sat my beautiful daughters down and explained it best I could:
• Everyone has a right to their opinion and perspective, and it’s on us as intelligent human beings to respect them, even if we disagree…
• The world is full of small, narrow-minded people too dumb to express themselves in intelligent ways…
• There are still people—some who live among us—who don’t like us for very strange, silly reasons, including because we
have brown skin…
• It’s important for us to take the high road and represent this family in honorable ways, even when people aren’t looking…
• We ain’t the type of Negroes who sit back and let people just do any ol’ thing they want to us. Be clear: We. Fight. Back.
I do wish that in such an incredible time in our lives, when we should be excited for things to come, that my nephew didn’t have to witness such things, and that I didn’t have to talk to my daughters about them. Our children deserve better than this.
But we’ll keep our heads toward the sky.
And try our best not to let the jackasses steal our joy.