(Editor’s note: This piece contains strong language)
My father is the most peaceful man I know.
A few years ago, he came home from the watch store, and told us that the owner had said to him, “What would people think if they walked in and saw a nigger working here?” after my father had casually said something about becoming his apprentice and learning how to fix watches. In that very moment, I wish my dad hadn’t been the peaceful man that he is.
“… a nigger working here…”
I think about this story frequently. I was so angry at my father for not screaming in the owner’s face, or arguing with him until he had lost his voice. My father had let me down. I wanted him to fight, but I never told him this.
A few weeks ago in an argument, I brought this story up again, and in an instant, I finally revealed to my father how I truly felt; how I felt about him walking out the door before an argument could even begin. About how his actions made me lose faith in his ability to defend the color of my skin. As he listened to my concerns, with his legs crossed and his eyes calm but focused, he soaked up the emotion that poured out of his 18-year-old daughter. That day, my father told me that if he had gotten into an argument, he would have been risking his daughters having a future without a father or his sons having to lock the door at night, because they would now be the oldest men in the house. He wanted to fight, but he had to choose.
I thought my father hadn’t fought that day because he gave in. I thought he had let them win, when in reality, he had decided that his life, vows, and the promises that he had made to his wife and children trumped everything. His family was more important than defending the color of his skin, in that rundown watch shop. My father decided to swallow his anger in the face of a man who only saw his Black skin, a man who perceived my father’s brown eyes as more threatening than the small pocket knife dangling from his own jeans.
My father chose us. He chose to come home instead of lying on a rug in a pool of blood, alone, and unable to defend the skin that would be soaked in the very red that is printed on the flag of a country that promised to protect him.
There will be more racist shop owners, there will be more blood, there will be more sons and daughters waiting on the stoop for their fathers who are never coming home.
Who’s gonna raise the kids of the parents who were murdered screaming “Geroge Floyd?” Who’s gonna carry the body of a young Black man who has not even graduated high school yet?
My father is the most peaceful man I know, and I love him for that. But I won’t wait for my brothers to be the next young Black men that “fit the description.” I want to see my 13-year-old brother graduate from middle school.
I want to be peaceful, but where was the peace when my people hung from trees, naked and stripped of their lives? Where was the peace when Emmett Till was mutilated and murdered at the age of 14?
Where was the peace when unarmed Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in the comfort of her own home? Where was the peace when two men in a pickup truck chased Ahmaud Arbery, an innocent man, and fired a shotgun into his stomach?
We need more peaceful people like my father, but I won’t wait for his blood to be spilled.
So let me ask you again,
Where was the peace 400 years ago?
Makeda Zabot-Hall lives in Portland, Maine, and is currently a senior at Portland High School. Makeda enjoys swimming, writing, and volunteering at the Maine Youth Court.