I write this as I just finished watching Netflix’s adaptation of the play, American Son.
While the story was predictable, my heart is still broken because it was so much more than the story you see unfold on the screen. It’s more than just a missing son in the middle of the night. It is a story about the unfolding of a marriage; the relationship between mother and son as well as the relationship between father and son. It is a story about black and white and the dynamics of interacting with the police. This is a story about a mother, who happens to be black and a father who happens to be a white. This is the story of their son that you never actually see.
I am a black woman who is married to a white man and has a white
son children. I have mentioned this before; I live a predominantly white area, went to predominantly white schools. As an adult now, the only other black people I am around are my mother and father. At work, I am now one of three black people. But for the last 12-years it was just me and one male. So to have a film that had a black lead actress, and her husband who is white I was interested to see how it all played out.
Watching Kerry Washington’s character try and explain to Steven Pasquale’s character what is like to be black in America. Having her character try and explain to his character what is is like for their black son to live in a America. I have never had to have those conversations with my husband, our children are white. But I know I have tried to explain to him what it is like to me be, in America and I know he does not understand. I think he tries. But there is no way he really gets it.
I try and make jokes out of it because I am surrounded by people who have no idea. I am surrounded by people who I am the only black person in their life. But sometimes I get tired of making jokes out of it. Kerry Washington’s character, Kendra, made a statement at one point how her son has said he feels like the “face of the race”. And I get it. The amount of times I have had to explain, or try and explain, something to a white person because I am the only black person they know… it just gets old. I bring it up pretty frequently, about the time I was asked if black kids wear sunscreen and what kind. How in the fuck am I supposed to know? I don’t wear sunscreen, my parents never put it on me and it never occurred to me to put some on. When I needed to buy sunscreen for my own children I had to call someone and ask and for some reason everyone thought that was funny. I was simply a person who never used sunscreen and wanted to keep my fair-skinned children from getting burned.
There was a moment in the film where a ranking black officer was speaking to Kerry Washington’s character and he said he knows what kind of life she has; that she has a husband who has a photo of her in his phone and when someone implies something racist he takes his phone and out says, “look at my wife”. My husband has told me himself he has said that to someone.
Watching this film reminded me just of all the things I have had to endure as a black woman that my white husband will never understand and it became so frustrating. I stopped telling him about the things people say to me on the phone at work; because he can so easily brush it off as “their idiots”. I even stopped telling my own mother because her response is “people have no idea who they’re talking to”. You’re right mom, they don’t. But that does not make it sting any less.
To have someone call, and make a complaint about their neighbors. And say that they are afraid to confront the neighbors because they can be “ghetto”. I don’t even know what that means. This person did not just say the word ghetto either, they kind of whispered it like they themselves were ashamed of what they just said. Or to have someone call, in hysterics, DEMANDING to know the names of the BLACK OFFICER and WHITE OFFICER that responded. My job is to help these people, and while trying to simply do my job this person indicated they had the RIGHT to know the officer’s names because they themselves were half black. I was going to give the caller the information they requested regardless of their race. The thought often occurs to me, would they be saying this if they could see me. The answer is almost 100% no. And that is the part that is incredibly painful. Or how about the extended family member, that after the birth of our son, indicated that they were happy our son looked like them.
I had to explain to my white son one day why he can not just “pop off” at the police. Also why there is no reason to be afraid of the police while his close black friend has a completely different opinion. His friend’s family is teaching their child completely different lessons.
This is the kind of shit I have to sit there, chew and swallow. All. By. Myself.
Maybe my thoughts on the police are different because I work with them. Maybe not. I will never know.
I cannot expect anyone to understand these feelings. Nice is the wrong word to use for this film. But it was “nice” to see another black woman try and explain something to a white man. To see another black woman have completely justified feelings in a situation and have to push them down to make everyone else feel more comfortable.