Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Saturday morning. I am two hours into a mad dash to Phoenix to pick up Son #2's car. Son #1 has agreed to pick me up at the airport. We stop for a bagel before I hit the road.

I am struck, as we walk in the door, by the whiteness around me. We are in a middle class neighborhood in north Phoenix, and yet I am surprised to notice that my son is the only African American in the bagel shop. I feel a few people glance at us- but I am used to these looks. A short chubby fifty something white woman with a six-foot, African American male is not, I guess, an altogether familiar sight anywhere, let alone in this oh-so-white neighborhood.

We place our orders, two plain bagels toasted with cream cheese and a vitamin water(his), a whole wheat with light cream cheese and a coffee (mine). The sales clerk seems confused that I am paying for both orders. Again, I am used to this.

She types in his name. Or kind of his name. Not Isaiah. Not the proud Biblical name given to him by his birth mother, but rather Isaeh. His name is often misspelled, Isaih or Isiah, but usually not this badly. I am mildly amused.

He is not.

When we get back to the car, he is seething. "Did you see that?" he hisses, heaving the bag of bagels into the back seat. "Did you see that?"

I am momentarily confused. "What, sweetie?"

"Did you see how spelled my name? It's because I'm black. It wouldn't happen if I was white."

I tell him I did notice, but that I didn't take it as a racial thing. I just thought that person was ignorant. Didn't know much about the Bible. Was a bad speller. That it probably would have happened if he was an Asian or Hispanic or Anglo Isaiah. I didn't think it was directed at this color.

He is not appeased.  "That happens all the time! Did you see how people looked at me when we walked in there? I'm sick of it. It happens all the time."

I do not know what to say. 

I have lived with this man child for more than ten years. Can picture him as a first grader, sitting cross-legged on the multi-colored rug, long before he was my son. Remember the day we bought his first shoes, the crooked gap-toothed grin, amazed at the riches of owning not one, but two pair. I have watched him literally take the shirt off his back because his brother wanted to wear it. I know the dimple in his cheek and the sweaty after practice man smell.  I know his love of barbeque potato chips and all things sweet. I know that he is an artist who loves to draw and create with his hands.

And I remember the call in middle school. He was being suspended for fighting because he had defended a child with Downs' Syndrome when someone made fun of him. I remember the first week of high school when he asked if he could have double lunch money. There was a kid in his class that was new to our country. From Ethiopia. He didn't have lunch money. Isaiah was sharing his lunch, but he had football practice after school and he was starving. And the deep joy when he was selected captain of the football team his junior year. "He doesn't say much," said the coach. "He just leads with his actions. Every. single day."

And yet I also know that other people do not perceive him this way. They look at my muscular six-foot-two, generally clad in baggy sweats guy, and they are afraid. They do not know his sweet spirit. His kindness. The goodness of his soul.

I look at my son.

It is not enough to say I am sorry. It is not enough to talk about activism. About Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or a dear friend who is a city councilman in Denver right now. It is not enough to talk about being someone who makes a difference. Change is way too slow. The wrongs are way too big.

And I do not know what to say to this man child, who brings so much light to my world.

And so much fear to the world of others.

I do not know what to say.


Vanessa Worrell said...

This post is so timely. It brought tears to my eyes. Your descriptions of your son are so very vivid and well written. Do you mind if I link this post on my Facebook page?

Carol said...

Sure, Vanessa, you are welcome to share it.

Dana Murphy said...

Your son sounds like a wonderful "man child" and a beautiful person. Just the kind of person we need more of in this world. I can't pretend to know his struggles or his perception of the world, but I hope it eases his heart just a little to know that the person behind the counter definitely couldn't spell his name right - no matter what color he was. :) A bad speller is a bad speller.

Tara said...

This is the reality our children face every day. I think now, though, the lid is off the anger - and the mask is off of society's face. We are beginning to see ourselves as we really are - maybe this time, change will finally begin to move faster.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

Beautiful piece of writing, Carol. So powerful. It brought tears to my eyes too.

Ramona said...

Carol, such a touching piece. I love the flashbacks you used to show Isaiah's sweet spirit, kindness, and goodness. I echo Tara's hope that change may begin to move faster this time.

Linda B said...

It's a tribute to your son to write this, Carol, a young man we all want our children to be like, a kind man who looks after others, someone who is hurting because of others. It "is" more than words, & I hope these recent events will teach us to be better.

Michelle said...

A moving slice ... that will hopefully move our world forward without silence or judgement. Thank you for sharing and I'm sorry for Isaiah's pain and frustration. I don't know what to say either ... except I'm sorry.

Tabatha said...

Bravo to your son for his kind-hearted actions! May he continue to be moved to do more.
I read an article recently about an African American woman who went to China and found that many people there stared at her. She thought they were as curious about her as she was about them, and wasn't offended because she didn't equate curiosity with disapproval, which probably improved her trip a lot. I think curiosity can be pretty rough on differently-abled folks also; they get tired of it, although people can't help noticing. I hope your son is able to navigate the world in comfort, no matter where he is.