I will only know how to love you
By Allen Kenneth Schaidle
When you get pulled over by the police, make sure to already have your license and registration in your hands. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Do not make any sudden movements. Turn on all the inside lights. Roll down your windows, even in winter. Call my phone and place it on the dashboard. Say, “yes officer” and “no officer.” Do not touch anything handed to you by the officers besides your papers. Know your rights.
The officers will not know who your parents are. They will not know you are a gentle person or that you inherited your finest qualities from your mother— her kindness, her likability, her beauty, her curly hair, and her smile. They will not know you have never been in trouble before, that you are perhaps an honor roll student, or on prom court. They will see your brown skin—the pigments from your mother. This will confuse them because they will not know where to place you. They might ask you, “where are you really from” when they hand you back your license. Always reply with “America.”
I am telling you all this because I have never had to take the precautions you will have to or say any of the statements you will need to memorize in my sporadic encounters with law enforcement. My white skin shields me from such interrogations and assaults.
These undertakings will extend beyond your police interactions. I do not know how to raise you in a world I so naively and blindly walk through. I will not know how to respond when kids at school make fun of our family traditions rooted in your mother’s Islamic culture. I will not know how it will feel when someone says you are not beautiful or smart because of your skin color. I am trying now to educate myself, but I know I will also fail at times.
I do not need to tell you because you already know — your skin and my skin are not the same color. You are the product of the love shared between your mother and I. A love united across races, religions, cultures and nationalities. You are perfect. You are what America ought to be, what America is becoming, and what America needs. So, I am trying to start now filling your life with love and celebrate your life in the face of the systemic oppression you will face.
You are of two worlds. One white. One brown. One privileged. One oppressed. One that can trace its roots to the sons and daughters of the American Revolution. One who became American just before your birth. One who is never asked if they are American. One who is constantly told they are not American enough.
You are not born yet — still a thought between your mother and I. America is warring inside herself and I find myself talking to you more than ever now. Maybe by the time you read this things will have revolutionized, and all of “the bad apples” will have been picked and plucked from their ranks, but evolution is endless; this I promise you.
I have cried too much over the names you will wellknow from your history texts and I pray your generation will not have new names to chant. I will not know a lot of things. I will know only how to love you and how at times, my whiteness will hurt and scare you because of my ignorance, my racism, my prejudices and my privilege.
We will fight. I will try to listen. I write this looking at a mirror. Sometimes, my whiteness will be the embodiment of your sheer terror. My white history is coated in confrontation and brutality. I wish America were what it could be. That it could be more like you.
I do not know anything about the America you will be brought into. I will not know a lot of things. I will only know how to love you and at times, this will not protect you, but I promise to always be there.
Allen Kenneth Schaidle is a native of Metamora.