Little Acts of Futile Protest

I knew that it wouldn’t happen but I hoped for a miracle. I think we all did.

Most of us knew Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted but we sat waiting and praying for some semblance of justice. Anything. Everything.

There was no justice in Mike Brown’s murder.

There was no justice in the militarized police occupation of Ferguson. There was no justice in the arrests and “thug-othering[^1]” of a new and vibrant group of protestors.

The tide of America’s mythology pushed me to doubt, that on the night the non-indictment was announced, we would see Mike Brown’s murderer held accountable.

But I still hoped… and that made me all the more pissed off and angry. The announcement was a confirmation of our fears and doubts and a confirmation that hope and miracles really are rare and not often sighted.  We had, on national TV, a confirmation that the world hoped for was much more distant than we thought.

I sat, stunned.

In the face of this utter and defiant racism, a definite and utter silencing of voices crying out, how can we change things?

I, distant from W. Florissant, and myself white, complicit in the destruction of black and brown bodies, could easily say, Fuck it.

I, distant from the reality of black trauma, and actually a cause of it, could easily slip back into the comfort of sleep.

I still can.

That night, with protests continuing in Ferguson and cities all over the nation, I wanted to rage. I wanted to head out and join the activists in Portland heading downtown to ignite the flame of change.

But I didn’t…

I had to put my 1 year old daughter to bed. She had sat on the couch between my wife and I as we watched the announcement and while she was unaware of the meaning or the impact or the ripples…she was confused by our emotions.

Filled with rage and anger and confusion and questions and doubt and anxiety, I carried my tired child upstairs for a bedtime story. Inside I wanted to tear down the world but I soothed and kissed a child needing comfort, a comfort I felt hard pressed to provide.

My daughter loves books. One of her first words was book and every morning when we get her out of her crib her first words to us are to demand, “books!” And so, every night, we read. It is our little routine and we both love it.

I held her close, reminded that our nation had just invalidated the loss of someone’s child. Here in my arms, was mine, and I didn’t want to let her go. And all the rage boiled over. Unable to take to the street with molotovs and curses, with my child in my arms, I made a small and futile act of protest, the only I knew how to do.

I read.

I read my child a book.

In a night where a young man, the child of a mother and father, had his life invalidated, we read the gorgeous story of a young black child exploring the world. Full of magic and beauty, The Snowy Day is a favorite book of ours. A young boy named Peter wanders the city, alone and playing in a new fallen snow.

That night The Snowy Day felt like a powerful protest, showing a black body at peace.

That night reading The Snowy Day was my personal act of protest…

sitting with my white daughter…

a white dad….

mourning the loss of a black life…

mourning the denial of a justice….

…experiencing the beauty and joy and magic of Ezra Jack Keat’s masterpiece somehow stood as an icon against all the evil.

While the body of Mike Brown lay in the streets for four hours, these images show a black child playing and dreaming. On this day, where black life did not matter, these images of black life thriving felt powerful and full of potential. In a world that cuts down the lives of black adults and children, the simple act of presenting, even in fiction or children’s book, a world where black life expands and is beautiful is needed.

My daughter smiled at the images, she giggled. I want her to know a world where these black lives matter. Where Peter can play in the snow of this beautiful world. But now that she’s seen it, now that I’ve read it, we need to take of off the page and into reality. Yes, we need to dream in the face of darkness. But we enjoy the fictional but NEED the real. A world where both AND exists. Where Peter plays but also, outside the fictional, Mike Brown and Tamir and Trayvon, and Aiyana Jones, and children of color thrive and dream.

Reading this book to my daughter was futile. It doesn’t change any system. It doesn’t confront a systemic racism of police or government. On no level is close to people putting their bodies on the line in the streets of New York, Ferguson, Baltimore, or any other city. But its something…. and little somethings matter. If my daughter can dream a world of blackness playing, she can maybe one day be a part of one.

I laid her to sleep and went back down to the TV blasting images of death and betrayal but in those pages I had glimpsed something possible.

Perhaps these little moments don’t account for much but I hope that they mean something, it was all I could do beside scream (and I did that weeks later at rallies and marches). We do need people in the streets, we do need protest and marchers, we need folks to stand up and demand that no more children be gunned down.

How many small and silent moments pass between us and our children that have lasting impact? We can never know but we need to try. With a world mourning the destruction of black bodies and trans bodies and bodies of color, holding bodies close is a bold act of protest. With racism closing minds, opening them through imagination and powerful books is a small but powerful step. We also need small and quiet moments where parents hold their children close and read in the face of evil.

Find your book of protest and read it loudly.

[^1]: Thug-Othering is the act of naming one a “thug” in an attempt to distance, dehumanize, and other their identity. This act of de-naming is not identity giving but identity removing, creating an object.

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