Letter to my cousin
When I stopped by your house the other night, I had only intended to tell you about the impending death of a relative. At first, I honestly thought about telling you over the phone or even texting. It’s hard for me to talk about, but I thought face to face would be better. Or at least more real.
After I told you and saw the look on your face, I had to look away. I realize now that I’d never seen you look sorrowful before. My instinct was to make a joke. You being a white, middle-class, educated Connecticut liberal in his fifties, I said, “But, hey! At least your presidential candidate won!”
Then you said your candidate actually did win. For a second, I marveled at how you turned that joke around on me. Then I realized you weren’t joking.
You voted for him.
It still feels like you’re playing a really infuriating practical joke. I mean, I could understand if you voted for him because you wanted to shed light on the country’s all-too-hidden truths. Like, you knew that if she won, the country would’ve collectively thought that we’d defeated sexism and racism again, but if he wins, then we can start the real fight.
But that’s not why you voted for him. We went over it. Initially, you said you looked at all the issues. But when I pressed you, that didn’t seem to be the case. You said she didn’t have a platform. I explained that her platform was described in detail on her website. You responded with silence.
Then you said you voted for him because you hate her. “Anyone but her,” you said over and over. You went into many reasons why you hate her.
I did my best to listen, but if I’m being honest, all I could think about was how you have two daughters and black relatives.
I thought the best thing to do would be to tell you about some of the racism I’ve faced. I figured if you knew some of my experiences, you’d be able to understand my problem with your decision.
I told you about being pulled over. I told you about a near miss at a gas station in West Virginia. I told you about a lot of things, and as I was talking a strange thing happened: I realized I’d never told you any of these stories before. I don’t know why. Maybe I was scared you wouldn’t believe me. Maybe part of me expected you to already know. Maybe a little of both, but what I didn’t expect were your responses.
When I said the Klan endorsed him, you dismissively replied that no one cares about the Klan. I said that I care, and you said, “Well, yeah…”
When I brought up violence against black people, you brought up Chicago, implying black-on-black violence. I asked you if you knew how Chicago got that way. You were silent. You also said “it goes both ways.” When I asked what you meant, you indignantly said, “I can’t go into downtown Hartford without getting shot because I’m white.”
And now I wonder to what degree race actually played a part in your vote.
You are not worried by the existence of the Klan. You seem to think violence is inherent in blackness. You think black people will kill you because you’re white. You openly disregard the fact that your race and gender give you economic, political and social advantages. And you voted for a man whose racist words and actions could likely lead to my physical harm.
White people in this country only recognize people as racist if they claim that title, and sometimes not even then. But as a black man, it’s of no consequence to me whether or not racists understand or proclaim what they are. If their actions cause the same amount of harm, their degree of self-actualization is irrelevant.
I wonder if you’re a racist, but I’m not interested in what you have to say about it. My hope in writing to you is that you will change your actions. I hope you will choose to join protests against the vicious racism happening all over this country. I hope you will choose to volunteer your time and donate to organizations that fight racism. I hope you will stand up for the people who need you.
I hope that I can stop wondering about you.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.