She’d worry less, she’d be less angry, and the world would feel more like a place where she belonged.
Recently, someone going by the name of “Mr. Conservative” asked me how I would feel about the George Zimmerman trial if the victim was white and the assailant was black.
I thought carefully about the question—considering the well-known cases of missing girls like JonBenét Ramsey, Natalee Holloway, and Jennifer Moore—and wondered what would be different if in a similar scenario, a straight, middle-class, white female had been on the other end of the gun. These were stories that captivated the media, while Trayvon Martin’s case took months to garner attention. It was an intriguing juxtaposition. What was it about a murdered black boy that made him less valued than a white girl in this nation?
Like me, so many black women can’t help but see themselves in the face of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother. We can’t help but wonder how we could cope with not only her loss, but such blatant and hateful disregard for the torture and suffering of her child.
Proposing that I reverse the races of the suspect and victim in this case is a suggestion that negates history, facts, contexts, and limits. It ignores the complex intersections of race, gender, class, sexual identity, and national origin that are always shaping how we value people we encounter.
Mr. Conservative’s proposal demanded some imagination. And, so, I dared to ask myself what it would be to have a child that the nation would collectively mourn, like they have for Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, Jessica Lynch, and others. There is no question that violence against women throughout the United States is ubiquitous and takes many forms, but I also see how easily our country is able to tap into a collective compassion when an attractive, middle-class, white woman is murdered in a way that we never afford men of color.
What if I could have a white daughter instead of a black son?
If I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, I wouldn’t feel so guilty when I think about bringing a child into this land, this country that birthed my grandmother, and her grandmother (and her grandmother) into a life of too much work and too little of everything else. I wouldn’t worry about delivering yet one more black boy into a stopping, frisking, caging, miseducating, underpaying, state-murdering, soul-killing system that seems so bent on wiping out, stepping on, and entirely disappearing his kind.
If I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, my child could be one more of a long line of affirmative-action beneficiaries that shows unrepentant disdain for all the others. She’d take cases to the Supreme Court and write editorials for the Wall Street Journal about college admissions without noticing the irony. She’d feel entitled because she was entitled.
And people would care if she was hunted down in the dark and killed like prey.
If I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, I think I’d worry less. I wouldn’t read all the research that shows me the countless ways that world could so easily strike down a being I’m still not brave enough to conceive. I’d read more novels and less news. I’d bake. I wouldn’t be so afraid. I’d definitely be less angry. I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about my life and wondering how to explain to my own child, the one I carried in my womb, why some white kid at the playground called him “nigger” or African-monkey-booty-scratcher or the teacher said his work was too good to be his or some girl he liked said he was too dark or—God help me—what to do when a white man chases you in the rain.
I wouldn’t already be preparing myself for his premature death.
If I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, my peace-loving, highly educated, radical, anti-war, liberal, social justice, peace-and-conflict-studies-minor, communitarian self wouldn’t be so carefully and genuinely considering the purchase of a gun—just so, if ever necessary, I’d be able to stand my ground long enough to protect my beloved son. So I could see him graduate high school. And get married. And give me grandchildren.
I think it would be easier to breathe.
If I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, my Ph.D would feel more like a personal triumph and less like a statistic that would improve my child’s odds in life.
And maybe, if I could have a white daughter instead of a black son, this world would feel a little more mine.
Khadijah Costley White is a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.