Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., is the chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and the author ofDemocracy in Black.
Langston Glaude is a rising junior at Brown University. He majors inAfricana Studies.
‘I find myself wishing that I were a kid again. But then I remember Tamir Rice’
After watching the aftermath of police officers in Baton Rouge and then Minnesota shooting and killing two black men, Eddie Glaude wrote to his son, Langston. Langston replied. Below is their correspondence.
I thought of you when I saw the son of Alton Sterling weeping at a press conference. It was the latest of a string of haunting public rituals of grief. The police had killed another black person. His cries made me think of you. It seems, ever since the murder of Trayvon Martin—and you were only fifteen then—that you have had to come to terms with this pressing fact: that police can wantonly kill us, and there seems to be little or no protection. That even I can’t protect you.
I remembered that day when the grand jury in Cleveland declined to indict the police officers who killed Tamir Rice. We were in an airport, traveling home. You cursed out loud and paced liked a trapped animal. I didn’t know how to speak to your rage. It was familiar to me, but I didn’t know what to say. How could I keep it from seeping in and coloring your soul a deep shade of blue? And when I read your Facebook posts in response to the death of Sterling and Philando Castile, I felt the sting of your anger. It too was familiar. You are your grandfather’s and father’s child.
James Baldwin wrote—and you know how much I love Baldwin—in “The Uses of the Blues” that “in every generation, ever since Negroes have been here, every Negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make the child who will be despised not despise himself.” He wrote that in 1964, and here we are in 2016, and I am worried about the state of your spirit—worried that the ugliness of this world and the nastiness of some of the white people who inhabit it might dirty you on the inside. Might take away your infectious smile and replace it with a permanent scowl.
I find myself more often than not, and upon reflection this is an astonishing thing to say no less think, wishing you were seven years old again. You were adorable at seven. The vexations of the teenage years were far off, and you still liked me. But I say this not because I find having an empty nest unbearable, although at times I do, or that I long to raise a teenager again—and eventually you would be that maddening teenager again. I just say it because I feel that you would be safer at home, with us.