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A Letter To My Nephew, Born On Election Night

You have always been the perfect foil to our current commander-in-chief.

11/07/2017 19:44 EST | Updated 11/08/2017 12:04 EST
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Dear Miles,

When asked about the night he was elected, most people think of where they were. Instead, I think of where I wasn’t – the waiting room of a New Jersey hospital, bustling amongst our anxious family, restless in anticipation of you. That night, I sat three thousand miles away at a friend’s San Francisco apartment, watching states turn red or blue.

The more red that flashed across the screen, the more concerned I grew for the country you’d be born into. My hope exhausted with each flash, so I sought solace in imagining your welcoming party.

I imagined your mother – my sister – enduring the pain of your natural birth, and your father, confidently reframing her pain as power. You’re strong, and when he arrives, he’ll be strong like you. I imagined your aunts and uncles, painstakingly preparing their first impressions, practicing “I-love-yous” until every sound was perfect. I imagined your grandparents, bowing their heads and repeating words to God – praying for you the way they had every day.

Your welcoming party wanted you – a kinky-haired, chestnut-skinned, Black boy – to love your new home. More importantly, they wanted it to love you back.

And when the election results rolled in with a crashing weight, revealing our fifty states to be less-than-united, your welcoming party knew precisely what to do. Your parents hugged you tighter, your aunts’ and uncles’ “I-love-yous” rang louder, and your grandparents’ prayers shifted to a singular focus: your joy.

Miles, you taught me that prayer works. And when we met six weeks later, I experienced your radical joy for the first time.

When I first heard you laugh, I sat in your grandmother’s living room, waiting my turn to hold you in unpracticed arms. In the background, a television showed him taking the stage at a press conference. Before he could share his hate with your country, you burst into a piercing laugh, reaching a frequency reserved for the happiest of babies. Your laugh grew louder with each lie he told, booming against the television screen.

And then it hit me. Miles, you are his perfect foil ― a Black boy, boldly laughing, sharing joy to spite his hate. And if there is a learning curve for laughter, your joy is nothing short of genius.

At 8 weeks old ― months before most newborns learn to laugh ― your giggle was full-grown. After 12 weeks, right on the heels of his inauguration, the slightest attention would trigger your cherubic chortle, and inspire a routine response: “I’ve never met a baby so happy.” And as your laughter grew louder with the passing months, so did its contrast with the spirit of your country.

For us, his election was not the upending of American history. It was its ratification."

His presidency has taught your fellow Americans what Black people have always known: joy in America is never safe. For our people, his election did not signal a new era of political injustice, or presidential infractions. To us, the Trump reality starkly resembled the Black American reality ― an existence defined by limited freedoms and questioned personhood. Even in the wake of slavery, your family has watched presidents stand idle in the face of terrorism against our people ― be it by lynch mobs in recent decades, or police officers in recent weeks. For us, his election was not the upending of American history. It was its ratification.

But make no mistake: American history’s catalogue of injustice does not forgive his unmatched malice. And the bigger you’ve grown, the more bigoted his policies have become.

By the time you learned to recognize your parents, intensely smiling at them from across the room, his immigration policies worked to tear Mexican families apart. By the time you learned to lift your arms, opening your hands to the world, he was fighting to close your country to people of Islamic faith. By the time you were starting daycare, thrust into a classroom of students who look differently than you, he implied support for white supremacists ― violent terrorists hell-bent on harming our people.

Miles, on the night you were born, your country elected a president who does not care about you.

And yet, your joy has persisted. With each passing month, your smile has grown stronger, and your laugh has grown louder. Your joy is your greatest weapon. And every time you share it, you remind your country that Black joy is Black resistance.

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Miles Arinze at 3 months old. 

Your great, great, great grandparents knew the power of their joy. In the face of slavery ― America’s most murderous and damning legacy ― they sang songs. Knowing they could be killed for expressing their joy, they sang louder, crooning hymns of deliverance from a country where Black death mattered more than Black life. Even now, our people continue to fight for our lives, seeking protection from police and terrorist groups killing us by the hundreds. Miles, it is important to know that Black lives matter ― and are best lived out loud. When you cannot find the words to express the pain your country has provoked, you must sing. When you encounter systems built to keep you off your feet, you must dance.

America is breaking, but it is not broken. And when you share your joy with your country, you help make us whole. Never forget that your joy is as radical. Your laughter is your protest, louder than marching feet or beating drums, powerful enough to start revolutions.

Miles, hold fast to your happiness. Smile to spite his hate. Laugh to share your love. Protect your joy the way we’ll always protect you.

Happy first birthday.

Love,

A.T.

 

Follow A.T. on Instagram and Twitter, and check out his work at atmcwilliams.com

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