In cases of emergency, do not scream and never run.
Do not raise your voice or assert your humanity, even when your ability to be human feels threatened.
For you have the unbearable task in moments of unimaginable crisis to somehow embrace invisibility.
While I do not imply a literal disappearance of your molecular nature, I do in fact mean you must vanish.
The you that we taught you to be. Strong, courageous, outspoken, and proud of their heritage.
The you that is articulate, competent, argumentative, and bold.
That you, the one that sat on my lap as we listened to your grandfather tell us stories of his childhood, with a sense of pride and wonder.
The you that listened intently to the political master class of black men in the barbershops we set in.
The you that grew up watching those same black men, who were doctors, lawyers, janitors, mechanics and teachers don black suits with crisp white shirts, and black ties with bleached white gloves, every Sunday morning as royalty, while they stood guard as ushers as we worshiped.
The you that watched your mother slay dragons and your grandmothers move mountains, each to become the Queens that they are, and all while somehow holding the rest of us together seemingly with ease.
That you must shrink. That you must vanish.
You must find a magic that turns your first “officer, how may I help you” into an incantation spell that somehow mystically yet masterfully envelops all of who you are into something singular, something non-threating, something empty and docile.
You must become invisible. But son, only for them and only for a moment.
For you will never be invisible to us.
We see you. We always have.
From before your West African ancestors arrived in the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland. We saw you.
We saw you when your ancestors journeyed from the red clay of Kenya to the rich deep brown soil of Northwestern Nigeria. We saw you.
We saw you when your elders set in circles and the mothers prayed. We saw you.
We saw you when your great great grandfather bought his first acre of land and taught his children how to farm. We saw you.
We saw you when your grandmother became the first person in our family to earn a PhD. We saw you.
We saw you when I asked your mother, on that rain filled day in Cambridge, to marry me. We saw you.
Son, we see you. All of you and you are sacred. That is why you must learn the unimaginable impossible and unbearable art of invisibility, because we must see you.
Rev. Dr. Ron Bell is a writer, pastor, musician and speaker with a passion for helping people work through their emotions to put words to their grief and loss, which leads them to discover a new strength in themselves. Learn more about his work at drronbell.com.
For a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism, we invite you to visit UpperRoom.org/OvercomingRacism.