Our dearest Netanya,
This wasn’t one of your planned letters. I was meant to write you something entirely different about an entirely different photo. But as God would have it, you and I experienced something today that I feel I must explain to you.
This photo was taken today (24/06/2020) at 2:15 pm in Meanwood Park, Leeds. As we have done for most of this summer, you and I had taken our morning/afternoon walk. Normally, you sleep through most of it and for some reason I am yet to figure out, wake up at exactly the time I get to our apartment door; it’s like you always sense when we are back into our safe space- our home. Every so often, I take you for longer walks that last through lunchtime.
Today was one of those times. The weather was ridiculously wonderful. The sun was out, the skies were clear and the wind was moderate. As far as English weather goes, today couldn’t have been more perfect. So after breakfast, playing with Auntie Pam and charming your mother into a quick comfort feed, I packed you your lunch (Greek yoghurt with fresh mango, strawberry, grapes and passionfruit), my water bottle and headed out for our daily walk. We did several laps in a park near home before heading to Meanwood.
You slept through the entire thing.
I, on the other hand, sweated through it. You are growing heavy you see, and pushing you in your pram becomes harder by the day. But it’s the good kind of hard. The one that fills my heart with joy. As we went along, I was listening to James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, an exposition of the Black American experience as an allegory to Christ’s suffering on the cross. It’s a powerful book that I hope you will read soon, if you haven’t already. Your ‘Jjajja’, Rev. Amos Kasibante is to thank for pointing me to it a few days ago.
Anyhow, you woke up just when we had arrived at Meanwood park, and we found a place to lay our mat, eat our lunch and play. It has been about two weeks now since you first started walking. These days, you really enjoy standing up on your own and taking the three or for steps towards us or the nearest object to lean on, then walk back. You squeal in delight each time you let go of whatever you are leaning on. And if you are walking towards me, you do so with your arms wide open and give me the cuddliest of cuddles. Believe me my daughter, I taste heaven with each of them.So after several laps in the grass, I strapped you back into the pram and we walked through the park, coming to the footbridge on which you are in this photo.
Seven years ago, your mother and I used to stand on that bridge and look down to the water that flows below it. We would occasionally talk about how beautiful it would be walking across that bridge with our child(ren). How awesome it would be for us to walk further up to the pond where the ducks wadded back and forth. How excited our child would likely be at seeing the ducks and pointing at them and perhaps throwing a few crumbs their way. It was a dream at the time and because we were both doing our Masters degrees at the time and didn’t intend to stay there, we didn’t dare think of it as an actual reality. Even if you were to come, you’d likely come when we were back home. But the visualisation was very vivid. So powerful that at times, I think we walked that park as though in a trance.
Seven years later, here we were, you and I. A dream fulfilled. A hope realized.
The road less travelled now a thing of the past.
And the one most travelled pointing at me.
Being at once the child that everyone had, yet too, one belonging only to us.
And you, my dear, are making all the difference.
So I took the picture to remind me of the fruits of faith, even though I need only to hear your cry for that.
I took you to the pond of the ducks. But it was too hot and they were finding shelter in the nearby thickets. After hanging around the park for a little longer, we set to leave, passing through Meanwood town. Shortly after we had started making our way, I decided I need to put my earphones back on and listen to more of the audiobook. So I stopped by a lamp post and reached for my phone.
As I did so, a white man, perhaps in his fifties approached us. In his company was a woman I assumed was his wife and a girl that was no more than 5 years that I assumed was his daughter. I glanced at them and gave them the quick pressing of lips that I have come to learn is the normal way to acknowledge people you pass by here. None of them returned the gesture, which happens quite a lot and should not be thought of too much. But just as they had passed by the lamp post, the man paused.
His wife and child followed suit.
He put his hand in his pocket and out came a bunch of keys. He then moved back towards the lamp post near which we stood. He stretched out and begun to scratch away a sticker that had been put there. I hadn’t noticed it, but the ferocity with which he did it caught my attention. I saw him deface it by ripping through the middle, then again through each of the halves. The sticker was no more than 15cm on both sides, so from where we stood, I couldn’t make out the inscriptions that had offended him so.
As he defaced it, his wife and daughter looked ahead, only turning once to glance at him and assess how much longer they needed to wait. As his wife turned back, our eyes locked. She quickly looked down, then back to the front, such that all I could see was her back. His deed done, the father glanced at me and I could have sworn he wanted to puke. It was a few seconds and I honestly can’t say for sure whether he intended to communicate his disgust or simply happened to notice me as he looked back, but it was a look I will never forget.
He turned back, joined his wife and daughter and they made their way to the park we were from.
Like you, I am a curious fellow. Your mother too. I guess you had no choice but to be too.
So I took a few steps to the lamp post and tried to figure out what it was that had tickled the man’s fancy.It was a black sticker.
#BlackLivesMatter it read.
Only the hashtag and the B were visible at one end of it and then the last three letters of the word ‘matter’.
My Ramya, I could quickly make those words out because over the past few months, there has been a global campaign to highlight the racial injustices that black people across the world have historically endured and continue to face in places where they are a minority.
Like here in the UK where you were born.
I am not sure how much of this to write about now, because I am not sure when you will read this. In any case, there will be several opportunities in the future for me to expound on this. Suffice to say that for certain people that don’t look like you, the colour of your skin, my skin, your mother’s skin and most of your family’s skin means to them that you are less than they are. That you don’t matter as much as they do. That on the scale of humanness, you and me weigh a little lighter than those whose skin is lighter.
I don’t know the man that we encountered today. I had never met him in my life, nor he me.
By now you will likely have found out that I have no problem speaking my mind. That I am absolutely at peace with confrontation, particularly when I think it worth it.
I thought it was worth it.
I wanted to walk to that man and make him know that his action was stupid. Ignorant. Racist. I wanted to tell him that defacing the sticker didn’t erase the truth: Black Lives Matter.
But then I looked down at you.
You were smiling Netanya.
You whose brown face launches a thousand praises. You whose every little step cooks up a storm or pride in me. You whose little hands innocently wave to strangers to say hello, because who sees another human and doesn’t say hello? You whose mere existence is a manifestation of the miraculous.
You were smiling.
My rage was great, but my love for you was greater. And because I know you will see more than your fair share of such moments in your own lifetime, I chose to defer my confrontation. I thought of taking a picture of the defaced sticker, but then decided against it. It was your smiling face that I wanted to remember and the emotions it evoked. Not those of a stranger and his actions.
So we kept walking, making our way home.
In the hours since that encounter, I have felt ashamed Ayinza. Ashamed that I didn’t stand up to that man. That I didn’t stand up for you. I have felt embarrassed. I have felt helplessly and hopelessly emasculated. Why didn’t I say something? Why did I let it slide? I have been bothered by my inaction and I have told your mother the same.
“You did the right thing,” she says.
I don’t know. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. Perhaps that moment was not as bad as I felt it was or the man had other reasons for doing what he did and I misread his actions. Perhaps it was just me reacting at a time I was listening to a book of black people getting lynched. Regardless, it felt like shit. I, felt like shit.
I write this to you because I know you probably will have such moments in your own life. Where actions of others make you feel less than human. And your inaction makes you feel even less dignified.
But others cannot be the determinants of your worth. Like your big brother Lenny says each time anyone tries to impose themselves on him;
‘You are not the boss of me’.
So I write you this letter to remind you of this.
You are a dream fulfilled. A prayer answered. The apple of your parents’ eyes. First fruit of an unyielding faith. You are daughter of Nampeera and Muganzi. Granddaughter of Birabwa and Isharaza. And Olive and Kyohere. You, my daughter, have as much claim to this world and life as every other human being that has lived or will ever leave. Your life is neither insignificant nor irrelevant.
To your mother and I, yes.
But even if no one on else on earth thought so, it wouldn’t change the fact that you do.
Know that. Remember that. And never ever let it slip from you.
Because you do.