Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years from now, my daughter will wonder what her first birthday was like.
That’s when I’ll point to the sky, and tell her that it was graphite colored for the entire week prior to celebrating her first full trip around the sun. I’ll recall that as she mastered the art of walking and ran circles around our apartment, I questioned if was safe for her to simply be outside.
I’ll let her see the headlines of how wicked wildfires killed numerous people, decimated thousands of buildings and engulfed swaths of land not too far from our home. I’ll tell her how gusty winds brought the residual effects to our doorstep.
I’ll let her know of other disasters that took place in the days prior to her first birthday. I’ll bring up news clips of how enormous earthquakes caused massive amounts of death and damage to our neighboring country to the south. And I’ll show her videos of the southeastern portion of her home country, and I’ll explain how the people there suffered from horrible hurricanes and flooding.
I’ll laugh out of reflective frustration, as I explain to her how these disasters took a backseat to the manmade bullshit of the day.
Unfortunately, I’ll have to discuss the 45th President of the United States.
I’ll have to explain his antics, this thing called Twitter, the significance of “alleged” ties to Russia, and how a debate over standing or kneeling for the national anthem was a bigger issue than the prospect of nuclear war.
I’ll bring up the story of a gunman in Las Vegas who chose to take the lives of 58 innocent people.
I’ll delve into this thing that’s been labeled “the opioid epidemic,” and how it received more attention and empathy than the crack epidemic of my childhood.
I’ll show her numerous headlines proving the issues of sexual assault and rape were at the forefront of the entertainment industry. That’ll naturally lead into a discussion about how difficult it was to simply be an African American woman in 2017. I’ll show her the stats on how Black women made 67 cents for every dollar a white man made.
I’ll tell her how a Black woman got suspended from her journalism job for making similar remarks to those a white rapper and a white Miss America pageant winner received praise for.
I’ll bring it home, and show her that the land where she was born was ground zero for the sex trafficking industry. And I’ll follow that with the tale of how the local police department played a role in it—and received a bogus slap on the wrist for their heinous participation.
All of this, and I’ll add my opinion about how the biggest enemy of the Black woman was arguably Black men.
I’ll have to let her know that from the time of her conception, I was convinced that I wasn’t ready to have a child. I was her first opposition. God bless the grace of the gorgeous woman that is her mother, for she believed otherwise.
I’ll explain to my daughter that beyond my own internal struggles, I cowered in the face of bringing another soul into this place where I’ve seen little significant change in my lifetime. A place where our people have been fighting for generations to obtain an equal shot at the freedom to pursue happiness, but little has changed. I’ll explain to her that America in 2017 had moved toward progress just as she did when she was learning to walk: two steps forward, one step back, with the ever-present threat of falling.
And then, she’ll ask, why didn’t I leave?
To that, I’ll tell her two things. First, there are significant problems in just about every part of this world. And secondly, I thought I could change something right here. I thought in ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years, there’d be significant change. I thought in the next few years Oakland could be the model of equal economic, racial, gender and religious diversity it has the potential to be. I thought California could not only decrease its overcrowded prisons, but also put an end to the practice of incarcerating youth. I thought America just might be able to see that people crossing an imaginary border aren’t “illegal,” just people looking for a better life. I thought that maybe, just maybe, one day a Black girl wouldn’t be afraid to walk by a group of Black men on the street—instead, she’d be happy to see fellow members of her community. Hell, she might even refer to them as her brothers -- and they’d act accordingly.
Again, I’ll laugh out of reflective frustration, as I tell her that I knew the politics, the policing, the people and the pollution of this place were perilous in 2017. And even though I overcame a lot of my fears in that first year, and grew almost as much as she did, there were still things out of my control. Things like the smoke-laden layer of sky that threatened our respiratory systems and caused us to cancel her birthday party at the park. And then I’ll show her photos of us having a good time on her first birthday, even if it’s just spent running circles around the apartment we’re fortunate to call home; especially in the face of all that’s going on outside.
Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of 'OG Told Me,' a memoir about growing up in Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.
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