It seems like every other morning we are waking up to heartbreaking, horrible, horrible news from this world. We start to really consider how much more our spirits can endure.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
When I read the fantastic story in the Washington Post about how Franklin — the first character of color — in the Peanuts strip changed comics history nearly 50 years ago, I felt heartened, hopeful, for the first time in a long while.
(Photo Credit: Fox Animation; Blue Sky Studios)
These last 18 months in this county have been hard to swallow: the back-to-back killings of unarmed black men, women, and children; the egregious racial injustices jabbed into our ribs; the raw and relentless hate and violence bestowed on black bodies; and the excruciating pain of watching (often on video) as the very breath is choked from Black Lives. Hope is buried deep under horror and heartbreak.
And so when I read this WaPo story, one that delved into this country’s history of racism, feeling something far removed from outrage or despair was refreshing, a relief.
What made the story so outstanding is layered. First, it pulled back the curtain on an important piece of behind-the-scenes history that most folks had no idea about. Second, it added more value to a cultural icon . And lastly, perhaps most important , it showed what it means to use your voice — in whatever capacity — to speak out against injustice and speak up for truth.
Both Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and Harriet Glickman — the white, retired teacher who sent Schultz the letter that effectively birthed Franklin — decided to stand up for what they believed in, stand up for what their hearts knew was right. It took courage for Glickman, so troubled by assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the stifling climate of racist violence, to move beyond sentiment and actually do something. She wrote a letter.
And Schultz, who could have rested back on it is what is convenience, instead used his reputation and immense influence to effect change. When faced with objections from the higher-ups about his strip introducing Franklin’s character, Schultz said it with his chest: “Either you run it the way I drew it, or I quit.”
“There is an awareness that nearly a half-century after Franklin was created, thereby integrating America’s beloved comic strip, he still resonates as not just a character, but also as a symbol of cultural illumination.”
What’s funny (not ha-ha) is how I grew up reading Peanuts comics and happily watching the Charlie Brown specials on TV, and simply thinking nothing about Franklin. Of course Franklin is there, he exists, he’s in the mix. But I saw him as just another kid in the group. He just happened to look like me.
In my world, having a Franklin in Charlie Brown’s crew was small and subtle, but ultimately major and important. Through him I saw a brown kid living a regular life and having adventures with his friends. He was folded into the full picture, not pushed to margins or — worse — erased altogether.
Now, as a mother raising a brown boy in America, I’m seeing Franklin with fresh eyes. He’s come into finer focus, showing up as more than extra color on the page. Now, knowing what I know and what I’ve seen played out in real life, the fact that Franklin existed in the Peanuts universe represents the change that I hope we’re moving toward: not a colorblind world, but a rich, colorful, reflective one.
Author of THE THUNDER BENEATH US. Journalist. Runner. Mother. Creator of Ms. Mary Mack. Living this life the best way I know how.
Originally posted on BlogHer.com
This is my latest essay on Washington Post’s “On Parenting” column. As I mentioned on Facebook, I wrote it in March. Who knew we the vile word would be back in the headlines three months later? It makes me prepare for it — and for my young son hearing it — even more. But I remain determined to defeat it.
A mom braces herself for when her child hears the N-word
By Nicole Blades
We were on the playground at recess, and I had just become King of the Mountain by pushing René off the snowy hill. He didn’t see me coming and ended up taking the most inelegant tumble-slide down the mound. Frustrated, he threw it at me. Nigger. Without thinking I quickly hurled something back: a snowball packed with ice. I must have been about 9 years old, and it was the first time anyone ever called me that to my face. I remember feeling angry, humiliated, but ultimately wounded.
For so many people, that word — despite tired attempts to reclaim the power rooted beneath it –will always be loaded with loathing and a brutal history, making it hard to truly shrug off. I may be able to let go of the incident in which it shows up, but the word doesn’t quite leave right away. It has a way of lingering behind like a noxious belch.
The thought of my young son having to face that stench on his own has me already gripped by a preset angst. He’s only 6, and his grasp of layered concepts such as race and ethnicity is limited. But my husband and I don’t subscribe to the simplistic idea of colorblindness, so the conversation about racism, discrimination, and ignorance will definitely happen at a more appropriate age.
Still, I can almost see the hurt and humiliation in his sweet eyes as he recounts what some awful kid said to him on the playground or in the classroom or cafeteria, trying to break him, shoving him into his perceived place, stripping away his right to just be. And I can feel it, as I listen to this imagined retelling, the heat in the pit of my gut surging, scorching up my throat and positioning itself hot and stinging on the edge of my lips, ready to roar and advocate for ice-ball solutions.
Of course I know that violence will never be the salve for ignorance, and intolerance can’t be wrestled into a sealed box by brute force. I also know that parenting through nasty racist encounters, when angst and anger roiling in your belly leave you thinking eye-for-an-eye instead of edification, takes real work. Work that, to be honest, I’m not convinced I can actually pull off with a cool, collected head.
But then I think about my role here: I’m a mother of color committed to raising a compassionate, confident child of color with a sturdy sense of self, who will be unruffled by his “designated” status as a perceived interloper. I think about the real work of other mothers just like me, determined to buck against the warped social construct that grants privilege and sympathy, as birthright, to one specific group of people, and persecution and skepticism to all the others. I think about my vow to protect this child and prepare him to protect himself, to teach him how to brace for the impact of hateful, hurtful words without retaliating with sticks or stones. And it’s immediately confirmed: it’s not a matter of whether I can pull it off. I just have to. It’s a must.
One way to begin is by infusing his still-forming identity with countervailing messages about his self-worth — by assuring him, daily, that he matters. Telling him, in plain English, until it starts to sink into his malleable core.
Like many critics of the 2011 movie “The Help,” I took issue with several parts of the film, including the tired, patronizing arc of the white savior. But one thing that I appreciated—despite its hamfistedness—was the scene in which maid Abilene (played by the fantastic Viola Davis) tells the little white girl that she is basically raising: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Mocked as it was, the line still resonated with me—maybe even more today as black boys and young men seem to be marked and virtually endangered in this country. These babies and young men and women need to be told that they are seen, needed and valued.
To carry out this important work, I’ll start where I am, here with this young boy, creating a similar mantra so he understands, accepts and holds as truth that he is important and smart and worthy. And that he can be the king of mountain, with his head high, letting the N-word and the other heinous taunts crash into the slush below him, where they belong.
Nicole Blades is an author and freelance journalist who writes about motherhood and race, identity, culture, and technology. Her second novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US (Kensington), will be published next year. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleBlades.
This essay was originally posted on WashingtonPost.com.
I don’t even know where to start. I mean, I’ve been here before: heartsick, nettled, hurt, with a tight ball scratching the middle of my throat as I shake my head and say that this cannot continue.
How can it keep going on like this? The breaking point, we passed that long ago. But here we are again, staring at this thing — this assault on Black Lives — fresh.
But for me, the words, they are not coming this time. They’ve been lost, or more likely trapped beneath unbearable grief, outrage and exasperation at being here at this horrible nexus once more. Others have managed to drag sentiment and emotion out from under the rubble of all this and push the right sentences together to express how they feel, how I feel. And I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for their important voices, letting me know that they’ve been crushed under the weight of it, too; that they are sick and tired of this warped paradigm and are desperately searching for new roads out of this deep, ugly pit into which we continue to sink.
People like Jon Stewart.
And people like:
Jamil Smith in The New Republic.
Anthea Butler in The Washington Post.
Charles P. Pierce in Esquire.
Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.
Updated to include:
Edwidge Danticat in The New Yorker
And this must-read piece by Claudia Rankine called “The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning” in The New York Times Magazine. Rankine grabs all that’s weighing down my heart and spills it out across the page. For example, she writes:
“The truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living, we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us. Our deaths inside a system of racism existed before we were born. The legacy of black bodies as property and subsequently three-fifths human continues to pollute the white imagination. To inhabit our citizenry fully, we have to not only understand this, but also grasp it.”
I read Rankine’s piece standing at the kitchen counter, barely able to move, my skin soaking up each word.
(via The New Yorker)
These people (and many more) are helping me find my footing and focus again.
And while I’ve finally steadied myself enough to read about the nine victims killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on sites like BuzzFeed, I simply wasn’t prepared to watch this video of the victims’ families addressing the man who murdered their loved ones.
“You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.”
They forgave him, while the despair and unimaginable pain were still raw and clawing at them. They forgave him. They looked at this man covered in darkness and evil and they let their light shine on him. Hearing the emotion in the families’ voices… it crushed me all over again, just wrenched my soul.
I’ve been trying to take care of myself, my mind and spirit, by backing away from social media on this horrible massacre and instead hanging out with my son this week, the start of his summer break. We went to a baking workshop where kids can make cookies one day, and off to a feel-good movie about well, feelings, the next day. I’ve put my entire effort into being a light for him, and he has been — as always — a clear and clean source of joy for me.
But I’m still tired. I’m still sad and angry. I’m still at a loss for what to do next, for how to get out of the quicksand of hopelessness.
Then on Friday, a friend posted something on Facebook that felt like a firm, steady hand lifting me up out of the muck. She did some research on things that she can do to “honor the victims of the terror attack in Charleston, and any ongoing efforts to unite and educate the public on how we can actively fight against racism.”
Here are some of the resources that she gathered:
- MoveOn Petition to remove Confederate flag from all government places
- Where you can donate to the funerals of the victims and local not-for-profits
- Donate to the AME Church (you can use PayPal)
- Learn more about the history AME Church and find a local church that you can visit this weekend and show your support, in person
- Sign this NAACP pledge to STOP HATE and get on their list to learn more about events and ways you can help move the needle on racism and racial injustice
And I’d like to add one more thing, especially for those of you who have a platform — a blog, a social media following, or whatever — please speak up. Even if you feel like you don’t have the words or fear saying them in the “wrong” way, please push that aside and lift up your voice. Write a blog post. Say a few words of meaning in the comment/caption of your Instagram photo. Share an important or informative article with your social media circle.
Do not be lulled into this false idea that it’s someone else’ s fight.
Do not let your silence betray your heart.
You are needed. Your voice, your support, they are needed. This battle is ours, and it’s going to take everyone operating on love, compassion, truth, and justice to bring about any real and meaningful change. Because it must change. It must.