My Husband is Eric Garner

Before going out for a jog last week, my husband came into our room warmly dressed: black sweatpants, a black hoodie, gray and white running shoes and a navy beanie ensured that he’d stay warm on a morning where temperatures flirted with freezing conditions. I glanced up from my work, hesitated, and decided not to speak. I didn’t have to. He knew exactly what I was thinking and purposefully asked: “Should I wear something else?” To most, this is an innocent question to ask one’s spouse before a gala, a concert, an ugly sweater party, church. To both him and me, however, this question was simple, but far from innocent. It held within its punctuation another series of questions, the real questions: “Do I look threatening? Do I look like I’d harm someone? Will the neighbors look twice? Do I look guilty?”

Yes. The answer was yes, I thought. Never mind that you’re kind and compassionate, pastoral and loving. Never mind that you went to a private high school, graduated from a great college with a Music degree, worked for a bank and now teach middle schoolers how to worship God. Never mind that you’ve bought more outfits for your unborn daughter than I have, that you sing her songs with your guitar, and you sleep in her nursery sometimes. No one will know that because, right now, in our predominately white neighborhood where we’re maybe one of two black families, the darkness is too different. You’re too unfamiliar.

Yes, my darling, you should wear something else.

If Eric Garner and my husband were to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about life, I’m 100% sure they’d find some commonality in their experiences as black men, experiences that have conditioned them to proceed with caution, to defend themselves, to think twice, just because they’re black. Experiences like deciding what to wear on a jog. It’s the same commonality that makes every move in public a strategic one; it’s the same commonality that begs the question: “Should I wear something else?”

My anger and frustration with last week’s grand jury decision was not at the police (because there are great cops out there, a few whom I know as friends and family), it was not at white people, it was not at the police officer or his department heads, but at the realization that no matter how much I try, I cannot change the fact that things like successful parents, private schools, a fully-funded Bachelor’s degree from USC, a Master’s degree from Judson, a suburban upbringing, a nice car, articulate speech, and a relationship with Christ won’t change my skin color, and unless my skin color changes – unless my husband’s skin color changes – cases like Eric Garner’s are cases that tomorrow could be ours. From Staten Island to Barrington, my skin is seen first. And in some cases, my skin could be the only thing that matters.

After the decision was announced, my husband, in his sadness and frustration, turned to me and said: “I’m so glad we’re not having a son.” Though taken aback, I understood.

Some people say that race wasn’t a factor. Race is always a factor when you live it day-in and day-out.

Some people claim not to see color. Not seeing color is one of the most undermining acts one could choose.

I don’t know what the answer is to systemic racism, and I don’t really know where to go from here. As a Christian, I pray that I may wear patience and grace, compassion and kindness as I face the reality that, until I die, I’m black. I also pray for permission to be angry and to not apologize for the inexplicable and non-fact-based ways in which I mourn for the state of our country, and for the state of systemic racism in America.

Where do we go from here? I’m not sure. But until then, I pray for our country. I pray for my husband.
Ashlee Eiland4 Comments