As I write this — on Sunday, June 7th, 2020 — it comes on the heels of taking my family out to the park today for a walk. While I wish it was for just fresh air and sunshine… alas, today we walked alongside our community in a peaceful protest march. With masks adorned and side-by-side with people of all ages, creeds, colors, and religions, we took stride with signs in hand. My sons, 2, 4, and 8, marched alongside their neighbors, not wholly aware of the injustice that exists in the world.
My 8 year old grasps it a little. But he is still innocent at his core. This all seems to him like an odd off-shoot of a Minecraft or Roblox world. He doesn’t understand how his friends — those in his class at school, his teammates in baseball teams past, or even the girls who he plays with down the street — are treated unfairly in society at large because of the color of their skin. My wife and I explained it to him as best we could. And he could recite correctly the “hows” and “whys” of the situation. But I know behind his dark brown eyes, his thoughts and feelings are still forming. Meanwhile, my 4 year old was just beaming to have so many people to say hi to.
Growing up, I never thought of the privilege my skin provided me. In all honesty? From an early age, I thought I was supposed to have a chip on my shoulder. As a suburban Jew, so much of my first formative feelings on injustice come wrapped up in stories of the Holocaust, and the effect it’d had on my family. On my mother’s side, my grandmother, Mickey Lieb, emigrated from Riga, Latvia, fleeing with her family to be safe. Their extended family — as I was often told with little-to-no-detail — didn’t get the same privilege. And these stories, of Hitler and his ilk laying waste to those who shared my religious affiliation, fed me a steady diet of being “the underdog” in society. Never mind that I was literally as privileged as every other white suburbanite around me. I was never for real want in my life. And I’m equally able to say I’ve never been truly discriminated against, because of my heritage or choice of religion.
But now more than ever, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement as vocal as it’s ever been… I guiltily admit now to waking up. It’s not that I haven’t seen or heard of the injustice or impropriety prior. It has been there all my life, with my willful ignorance. As those close to me let ride their own casual ignorance, bias, and prejudice slide into conversation; always making me cringe perhaps, but never able to figure out how or even if to act.
And let’s not let the sleeping dogs lie. People I love and have known for decades or longer have all dropped those disgusting coded phrases. “The neighborhood is changing.”, “…those people.”, or “things aren’t like they used to be.”. Each time the words appear in conversation I remain stunned at the audacity. Our neighbors should never be judged by the color of their skin, lest we be judged equally in the inequality.
I think immediately of my barber. I met him because of his passionate amazing wife. She sought after me when my campaign ThinkHomewood dropped. She offered to buy me lunch. I’ll never turn a meal down. Once we sat down, she let loose the most eloquent tirade / pitch to me to assist her husband and his budding business. She’d seen the campaign, seen the work I’d done of my family (posted in various Facebook groups) and wanted the same treatment for DivercityCuts; the executive barbershop of Coby Powell. I didn’t wait a second after she’d finished asking to say “of course”. And she very nearly got emotional. I couldn’t understand why.
She proceeded to tell me about a side of my hometown that I wasn’t privy to in the decades I’ve lived in it. An underbelly of passive-aggression towards the black community that was as I imagine, true in hundreds-if-not-thousands of similar communities throughout the United States. On the surface, our town, like many, preaches diversity and equality. And in our best moments, I’d dare say my town has been a welcoming community of equals all sharing, loving, and standing next to one another with nothing but civic pride and contentedness. But those moments are fleeting.
The barbershop I was being asked to help get a little viral marketing boost to, was located on the second floor of an office park far away from any main street in town. I asked why the shop couldn’t be located in literally a dozen spots I could name in town that had been vacant for years. And then, with a smirk and brash words, she made it clear:
“The town has a rule about featuring a given number of specific businesses within certain distances.” And I scoffed. “We have like one barbershop I know of, and I’m not even sure it’s open anymore.” I retorted. She tilted her head down, glasses on the tip of her nose long enough to meet my eyes with hers.
I grew uncomfortable immediately. The entire brand she’d described to me was one of high class. A one-to-one barber-to-client experience. Come in. Sit down. The time and the chair is yours. Door closed until the next appointment in. Old-fashioned hot towel and shave, and a custom cut at a rate that clearly was a step above my admitted “Great Clips” personal flair. “And the only place the village could point you to was a single-room office in a building down the street from the recycling plant?”
She laughed, and paid the bill for lunch.
Coby has cut my hair and trimmed my beard up now for the better part of 2 years. Each time I’ve come in, his chair spun towards to door awaiting me, has never felt a foreign place. As soon as the clippers are on, a playlist of music I’d made to share with Coby after our first cut comes on. He plays it not to cater to me, but because he likes the tracks. We talk about everything. Politics. Pro-wrestling. Superheroes. He asks about my boys. He tells me about his daughter. And for that time in his chair, I will always think back to why we’re down the street from a Chick-Fil-A and Wal-Mart… and not our town’s farm-to-table café, or martini bar. But even in those moments of duress, the smile doesn’t leave Coby’s face. His lease will be up soon enough, and there’s a chance next time around he’s given the spot in town he deserves.
It’s that optimism that came to mind today, as I held my kids hands and marched with shouts of “this is what democracy looks like”, “hands up, don’t shoot”, and “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” filled the normally quiet suburban streets.
And while I’d wanted to end my thoughts this week on that happier thought, it’s drowned out by very real fear. Were I lucky enough to have this article get any kind of lift… what might happen to the savvier and angrier folks perhaps now aiming ire at those in power where I live? If not that, what if these words made it to those higher-ups — without an online mob needed — and it in turn soured any chances for one wrong to be made right under the guise of any wonderfully vague bureaucratic reasons. The potential for coded language and those all-too-frequent indifferent politically correct smiles that ooze “I’m so sorry, my brotha’, but you know how it is…”.
It’s that which we were also marching for today. And I know the answer is action. The time to sit back and hope for change died the day our current racist-in-chief swore in on a rained-soaked bible to a crowd he’d later lie about bold-faced to the press (you know, the enemy of the people). It’s taken too long for those like me to remain “liberal and mad as hell” with nothing to show for it. I want to change. I want to be a better example to my boys. To be more than another voice in a crowd, protected by a mob of like-minded neighbors all moving toward the same direction. The time to do more comes with proactive response, and reactive repayment.
My name is Marc Alan Fishman, and damn it all:
BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.