To the Editor:
My parents brought us up with exhortations to “Give back” and “Leave the world better than you found it.” My father — coming from a long line of Scottish Presbyterian ministers — felt these obligations very deeply, and strove to live them every day. My mother — fun-loving, hospitable, and beautiful — saw her responsibility through the lens of noblesse oblige, but did her best to welcome, feed, and even clothe the many people my father brought home to help along the way.
I thought I knew what discrimination meant from a very early age.
My mother resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (like Eleanor Roosevelt) when Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall in 1939, and raised money for the NAACP. In 1945 I was beaten up on the way to school because my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Munce — a Black woman and member of the YWCA board of directors with my mother — had come to dinner at our house. In 1946, my stepsister Kim married a Jew, and when she changed her name to Silberstein, she suddenly could not get reservations at the fancy New York restaurants she was used to, nor find an apartment on Riverside Drive, where she planned to live. My parents fought against housing discrimination, for fair employment practices and civil rights, and raised funds to support the retrials of six Black men falsely accused by a racist police department of murdering a shopkeeper in Trenton, N.J., in 1950.
My own life has been filled with efforts to fight discrimination in housing and education, with marches against wars and deportations, with shout-outs on elections and quiet conversations to call out prejudice wherever I hear it. Ben Moore and I raised six sons, and we watched Dallas Airport police bring their dog to sniff around our 10-year old, adopted, dark-skinned son, while ignoring his five white brothers sitting next to him. We have warned him to be extra-careful about his teenage driving, and to be very polite to any police with whom he might interact. Our family now includes daughters-in-law from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Guadeloupe, and our 13 grandchildren are a motley, many-hued crew speaking several languages.
But truly, until this month, I did not understand racism. I have not felt the pain and the anger — in almost equal measure — of what it means to be Black or brown, a person of color, in America today. I have not understood that it is — truly — a matter of LIFE and DEATH.
Somehow, we have returned to the political thinking of our Founding Fathers that Black men, women, and children are less than full human beings. We are permitting some police and some vigilantes to act as if their guns gave them permission to treat people of color as though they were not — like white people — endowed by God of certain inalienable rights to LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So this is a letter to my Black and brown friends, on-Island and around the world — a letter of respect, of caring, of concern. I don’t want you to be fearful, to be rethinking what you tell yourselves about your life’s meaning, or what you tell your children and grandchildren about who they are and what their lives can mean.
I want you to know that of course all lives matter, but at this moment we all must stand up for Black Lives Matter. I want you to remember that many people of all colors are protesting and witnessing on the Island and across this country because they — we — believe in your rights and in your humanity. And I pledge to redouble my own energy to stand beside you, with you, and for you as we struggle to build the Beloved Community and to leave this world better then we found it.