I should probably start with how much I love you, because I couldn’t ask for better friends if I tried. I can’t describe how lucky I am to be surrounded by smart, beautiful (inside and out), ambitious, brave women. I would be so lucky to have an ounce of those magnificent qualities you casually stroll down the street with every day. I’m utterly amazed by each of you and have been so lucky to know most of you for so many years
That’s why it’s so hard for me to describe this silent heartbreak I’ve been suffering through. But that’s also why I have to share this heartbreak with you, for the sake of this beautiful friendship.
It’s a kind of friendship that will only get stronger through decades – being each other’s bridesmaids, having my children call you their Aunties. I couldn’t want anything more. Well, except maybe one thing – the one thing I’m most afraid that could shatter my heart for good.
And maybe that’s why, when I asked you the first time, I tried not to make it seem like a big deal. That’s probably why I started, “I know you won’t want to but…” because I was terrified of your answer. I was terrified you would laugh or say no or ask me why I would even ask you. I knew you’d say no but a part of me died for you to just say yes.
When I offered, “I know you won’t want to, but I’m heading to Times Square or maybe Union Square to march in the Eric Garner protests. Would you want to come with me?” I prayed with every fiber of my being you’d want to, without me having to tell you why you should.
Without having to remind you that people don’t see me the way they see you when we walk down the street. That one day, I’ll give birth to black children – children who’ll look like me. I’ll have children who will look like adults to the white world. They’ll be children who will look like demons to police officers. My children will have to be “twice as good to get half as far.” My children, with brown skin and textured hair, may cause your children to ask why they look different. I’ll have children who might force you to answer questions you’ve shoved to the back of your mind for the sake of our beautiful friendship.
And those hypothetical children will eventually come, not in the next nine months, but probably in the next nine years. And as their mother, I need to make sure that this world is safe for them. I need to make sure that they can stroll down the street in their brown skin, being just as smart and beautiful and ambitious and brave as their aunties, without fear of dying.
And I trusted so much that you wanted that world for them, too. That you want that world for me and my siblings and father and cousins right now. But then you said no, you didn’t want to march. And why would you?
You are smart and beautiful and brave, but you’re also white and rich and privileged beyond measure. Sure, I grew up in the same financial privilege you did, but I also grew up in brown skin. And you probably missed it or thought I was being dramatic if I ever pointed it out to you, but people look at me differently than they look at you. People assume to know things about me because of my brown skin. People expect certain things of me, things they’d never expect of you. And, I mean, it sucks but I’m used to it. And maybe I don’t point it out to you as much as I should, because you’ll never really have to worry about. And don’t feel guilty because that’s okay for you.
But it’s okay for me too, because I’m so grateful to stand of the shoulders of so many brave people. I’m forever grateful to my family, who tried as they might to stand up to the KKK in Chester County, and my pseudo-great aunt, who stood up for bussing and desegregated schools. I’m forever indebted to the ancestors who dreamed of and fought for a day where their descendants would be out of chains and living a life of their own choosing. I’m grateful for Maya Angelou’s incredible words that propel me forward every morning with more purpose than I can ever explain: “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of the slave.” I’m so grateful to have such strong history buried deep in my brown skin.
And I’m grateful to be surrounded by women like you who have supported me so much in my life. You, dear friend, who loved me so deeply even when I didn’t deserve it. You, who have stood by me even when I was wrong. You, who would defend me to the death even when if I were guilty.
So now I ask you, again, to please stand by me one more time. Please, choose mine when the crowd begs, “Which side are you on?” Please, march for me and my family and my future family. Please make this world safer for my future sons and daughters, your future nieces and nephews.
Because I’m so afraid of what it means if you don’t. I’m so afraid of what that can mean for our friendship. I’m so afraid of what that really means about you or what it really means about me. I’m so afraid of what that means for my kids and your kids. I’m so afraid of what that means for me next time we jaywalk or ask for help or get a flat tire or just can’t bear to breathe anymore.
Mostly, I’m so afraid, for the first time in my life, that I’ll really see Dr. King’s words come true. No, not the ones you’re thinking of – but the ones I’m always thinking of: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
So tell me, which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on? Because I could really use you on mine tonight.