• round 1
At four years old, I cannot help but brag on how bright you are. I am the luckiest auntie in the entire world.
You are so happy, it borders brilliance. Your love is so full that it takes on new forms of life. You hide not your curiosities and fascinations; it is what makes your being such a joy to (learn how to) be around. You teach me so much about how elementary seeing captures the essence of seeing itself. I love seeing you in your delights. And you delight in colors.
I, too, share your fascination with colors.
But I am fascinated for all the wrong reasons. I am fascinated not with their sheer essence, but with what they have become fashioned to mean for me, and most frighteningly, will mean for you very soon.
You are a black boy. That means something sinister here.
You live in South Carolina. Colors conjure up something there.
The last time I visited you, your mother mentioned to me in passing that she will have to have a talk with you soon about your toy guns – your neon green and neon orange toy guns. I do not even think that you will understand what she is saying.
What is fear, mommy?
Why will they think that about me?
Can’t my guns keep me safe from the bad guys just like the Ninja Turtles?
Oh, Kai – if only it were fantasy.
All you will hear is, you can’t. All she will mean is, please don’t die.
• round 2
For me, colors can be sources of fear; they can be quite scary…
…for others, color can be terrifying.
For you – right now at least – colors are fun, suggesting apples, oranges, the color of mommy’s hair, the patchy white fur of your dog, Scrappy. Scrappy has always been a wonderful color palette for your curious sensibilities – his mixture of white, brown, gray and black. In many ways he embodies the reconciliation that we have yet to master here.
We have outgrown your world. I wish we could all stay in it, but we cannot. There is no room for us there anymore. Something has encroached upon it, colonizing it with false systems of belief where colors must mean something more menacing.
I live in a world where I see blood instead of apples. In America blood has overwhelmed the imagination leaving permanent stains upon it. The makers of your coloring books think you too young to make the associations already associated with you: that, at this rate, there is a good chance the red you are best acquainted with will be the color of your own blood spilling forth from your tiny body. How kind of them.
In my world, I do not see oranges. I see small, fragile toy parts that are supposed to ensure your safety, that are supposed to protect you and prevent you from looking like a threat, that are supposed to safely ensure that you remain a child. No, I do not see oranges. I see strange forms of protection; for whom, I am not so sure. I do not think that bright orange anythings can keep you safe. They can only serve as reminders of the protection that refuses to protect you. The brightness of the orange means nothing outside of identifying your potential. It is the potential of the wrong sort that terrifies me most.
When I think of black, I see death. To be specific, I think of body bags. I watch the news helplessly wondering why the majors saw death first and fast-forwarded so many towards it. I want to see hair color and your daddy’s glasses too, but I cannot. When I see black, I see an endangered species. I see bad math and wonder when I was trained in this transitive law, where if brown means black, and black means death, then brown means death. I see black and see bad math insisting that two-thirds was sufficient enough to describe your ancestors, that zero and nothingness adequately captured their essence and your worth, your voice – your beautiful voice that leaves me breathless and in love.
Now, breathlessness has become the narrative of black men, those who once were little black boys – just like you.
Where I live, where you must relocate to sooner than you should ever need to, I see death instead of the color white. Some might mislabel it as purity, but can death ever be pure, so clean, so justified?
To be continued.