And so it has come to this: It actually gets harder.
Her room was a mess. Dolls and art supplies were strewn across the hardwood floor. Her bed was unmade. The dresser drawers open, skirts and My Little Pony shirts hanging out. And she sat there in the middle of it all — doing nothing. I had asked her, implored her, begged her to start cleaning up. No, not even clean up. Just straighten up enough so there might be an obstacle-free pathway from the door to her bed. But she sat there, crying, screaming for mommy. On a normal night I would’ve simply allowed my daughter to go down the hall and hug on The Wife’s legs while she changed our son into his pajamas. But not this time. By God, that child was going to stay in her room and clean. it. up.
And so she cried. And screamed. And gagged. Until finally, she threw up. A giant amoeba of clear mucus pooled on the floor in front of her. She stood there, shocked at what had transpired. I stood over her biting my tongue, because saying, “See, I told you so,” doesn’t do much for a three-and-a-half year old. I helped her change out of her semi-soiled pajamas and sent her down the hall to be with her mommy and brother. I stayed behind to clean gag reflex vomit. The Girl had won the battle and it felt like the war was tilting in her direction as well. All this before 7:30pm. The night couldn’t get much worse than this.
But it did.
An hour or so after finally getting both kids tucked into bed and asleep, The Wife and I turned on the TV. Honestly, I had forgotten — or didn’t know — the grand jury announcement from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson was due that night. I wasn’t overly excited about watching the announcement. I had recorded the Mark Twain Prize for Humor the night before, and a show celebrating a comedian is really more my style than watching a potential shit-storm unfold on live TV. But alas, The Wife had the remote, so we watched.
On one half of the screen was a live feed of an empty lectern where St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, would announce the findings of the grand jury. The other half flashed from Anderson Cooper to a large gathering of protesters and back to Anderson Cooper. Despite leaks reporting there would be no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, and despite living nearly 900 miles from the events unfolding before us, the tension loomed thick over us.
“Are we going to see a riot break out on live TV?” I asked her.
“I don’t know, but I hope not,” she replied.
The announcement came. No indictment. No charges. No trial. No surprises.
On one half of the screen, President Obama held a press conference imploring citizens to protest peacefully. The other half flashed to protesters-turned-rioters attempting to overturn a police patrol car. Weary of the endless cable news analysis, we turned to a different channel — one not covering the events unfolding in Ferguson. For me, the new show was mostly background noise. I had turned to social media for further details. To be completely honest, I was also folding clothes.
It has been half a day since the announcement and the beginnings of the protest, rioting, and looting. I’ve had some time to reflect on what has happened. I’ve read some of the evidence presented to the grand jury, along with some commentary. I’ve had short and hushed conversations with The Wife about it. And, like many Americans, I’m struggling. Although I don’t agree with the grand jury’s decision to not indict Mr. Wilson, I can acknowledge their decision.
No, what I’m struggling with is something much deeper, much more nefarious and much more destructive than this event. I’m struggling with the very real racism that still exists within our national psyche. And I’m struggling because it’s not something I’ve ever concerned myself with. I have never considered myself racist, and so I’ve never given much thought to issues of justice and equality. Sure, I learned the basics of the Civil Rights Movement back in high school and a little in college, but I never dove head-first into it. I only needed the basics. Besides, it’s not my struggle — it wasn’t then, and it isn’t today.
Except that it is. More so now that I have children than ever. How do I explain to my kids, my white kids, the racial inequalities that still exist today? How is it fair for me to teach my kids, particularly my son, to treat police officers with respect — even if the officers’ actions aren’t deserving of it — or else risk being arrested, while a black father may feel compelled to teach his kids, particularly his son, to treat police officers with respect or else risk being killed?
How is it fair that my kids will attend a high quality public elementary school in our mostly-gentrified neighborhood, while equally bright, curious, and capable children in low income neighborhoods are not afforded the same resources at their public school?
How is it fair to live in a country where the justice system at the very least appears to favor the white and wealthy?
The answer is, of course, it isn’t fair and it isn’t equal, but it certainly is the way America exists in 2014. I do not have the answers to these questions regarding racial inequality. Not today, anyway. Maybe I never will. What I do have is a new awareness of it. What I do have is the responsibility to help my children understand that the America they live in today may not be the America they want to live in tomorrow.
What I do know is that last night I watched as America cried. And screamed. And gagged. Until finally, she threw up. We are all responsible for doing something to clean up the mess. I do know saying, “See, I told you so,” doesn’t do much. Everyone is responsible for figuring this out. I know it’s hard, but we can’t just leave the throw up on the floor.