Today, while my wife was taking my son to his swimming lesson at the YMCA, she ran into the mother of his best friend from school (we’ll call the kid Joey). She tells my wife that Joey came home from daycare really upset last week, because one of the other kids wouldn’t play with him. Which, I mean, kids, right? So she asks Joey if he knew why the other kid didn’t want to play with him, and Joey tells her that the kid told him that he doesn’t play with brown people. And then he calls Joey “a bad word”. You shouldn’t have to use too much of your imagination on that one.
Did I mention that my kid is four years old? Because my son is four fucking years old.
So let’s talk about race a little. What’s that? You’re tired of talking about race? Guess what, I am too. But a goddamn four year old just treated the mixed race friend of my mixed race son like he was a piece of garbage. The kid was devastated, didn’t want to go to school the next day. And here’s what makes this sting a little bit more. My son is also mixed race, as I mentioned. I’m a whole mess of races — mostly black, some white, some Indian, some Malaysian. I’m also relatively light-skinned. I married a white Irish-American woman, and our kid basically looks like a white kid who tans well. So he, for lack of a better word, passes. And this kid, this racist little kid who told Joey he had the wrong skin color? Apparently plays with my son all the time. And my son never understood why they never played with Joey, his own friend who lives up the street, or the sole Southeast Asian kid in the class.
Were it not for a couple of random twists of the genetic strand, it’s my son crying in my arms about this. For Christ’s sake, I’d hoped I’d be able to wait until my son was at least ten before I was forced to teach him the lessons I had to learn when I was four.
How is this possible, you’re asking? How is this possible, you’re wondering? People are garbage, you’re probably saying. People are horrible, you’re solemnly intoning.
Wrong. Don’t diminish the problem with your pithy statements. If there has ever been proof of the continuing plague of racism that courses through the veins of this country, it’s this. It’s a four year old crying to his mother because he got called something that no one in civilized, polite society would ever say. Don’t ever think that racism is going to go quietly into the night. Don’t think it’s going to die out, like a candle gasping for its last breath before it’s blown out. Don’t think it’s going to go without a fight.
So I want you to think about this story the next time your drunk Uncle Dickhead starts spouting off about Trump being the same as Clinton. The next time your co-worker tells you that it’s because the black guy didn’t comply with the police. The next time your brother- or sister-in-law tells you that ALL lives matter. The next time some lackwitted mouthpiece on television tells you that we need to move past race. The next time someone tells you that they don’t even see color. Wrong. We all see color. We have to. All of us.
This has been a year where race has dominated headlines. Between Black Lives Matter, police shootings, stop-and-frisk, and God help us all, the rise of Trump and the soulless, ignorant troglodytes that support him, race has come roaring back to the front of the American sociopolitical landscape. And you know what? I’m glad. I’m glad because all of us needed to understand. Is racism everywhere? Of course not. But it’s a far bigger problem than the average person ever expected. It’s not just a problem for black men in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a problem for black women trying to break the glass ceiling. It’s a problem for four year-old kids who just want to play with their friends. It’s a problem for everyone. Remember that, come election day. Remember that if you think Trump and Hillary are equally terrible. Remember that when you’re voting your fucking conscience because Johnson or Stein is more in line with your beliefs. This isn’t an election. This stopped being an election months ago. This is a war. A war we need to win, and you need to choose a side. Stop it with your protest votes. Stop it with your determination to show how much better you are for voting for a third party. You need to choose a side, because somewhere there’s a four-year old child — who’s black, or Asian, or gay or trans or female — whose happiness, whose future, depends on it.