My daughter’s eyes were wide. Real wide. Wider than I had ever seen them. And she was trembling. (She was too bundled up to be cold.) I put her 48-pound, shivering body on my shoulders. She wasn’t the only child being transported like this—other children also rode high on shoulders, being carried along the marching route.
The energy was intense. There were those of us who were there because we believed that our bodies and raised voices were necessary to speak truth to power against police brutality. There were the looky-loos who just wanted to be a part of what they perceived to be spectacle. Then there were the pseudo-anarchists who thought destroying mom-and-pop businesses was how one should protest.
My daughter had no idea why we were participating, but she knew it was important, so she stayed relatively still and quiet. I tried to encourage her to chant or hold a sign, but she wasn’t interested in either. I felt her tighten her thighs on my neck and dig her nails in my head even before I heard the window shatter. Then another.
I felt my daughter’s anxiety and took her off my shoulders to cradle her in my arms. About 10 feet behind us, things were turning belligerent. In a march affirming that Black lives matter, White agitators broke the windows of a business where one of the owners was Black. It was time to go. My daughter’s elevated stress level was visible on her face: dilated pupils, mouth open, head searching for an exit. It was time to go.
I scanned the crowd, looking for the most efficient exit. After mentally plotting our course, we went for it. My daughter clung to me as I elbowed our way through the crowd. More windows broke and sirens blared. Now I was getting scared. We eventually cleared the crowed and ran the six blocks—thankfully not being patrolled by the police—to our car. I leaned against it and sucked in some of the deepest breaths I’ve ever taken, never letting go of my precious girl.
I rubbed her back and whispered in her ear until I felt her calm down. I put her in her booster seat and we just sat there for a while. When she asked me what just happened, I told her why we were marching, why what those people did was wrong, and how important it is for us to use what we had to make the world a better place.
I felt horrible for bringing her to a place I knew had the potential to go left. I’d seen it before during the marches to address the murder of Oscar Grant (whose story was immortalized in Fruitvale Station). But I think I would’ve felt worse not having her attend at least one political action at the bare minimum.
This moment we are in is a new Civil Rights moment. There really is no maybe or possibly about it. These marches are Civil Rights marches. We are participating in Civil Rights actions, and it is very important to me that my daughter is aware of this and the history these actions are built on.
I’m especially connected to this because women, young folks, and LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are routinely marginalized by both Black and White power structures are leading this new movement. As a young Black girl, my daughter has very few public role models—even the entertainment world has slim pickings to offer—and her mother and I make it a priority to expose her to Black folks handling their political and cultural business.
Some would argue she’s too young (almost 7) to be introduced to the troubles of the world, and to the particular and acutely damaging troubles of Black people worldwide. Once upon a strange and uninformed time, I would have agreed. But I’m walking around holding in so much anger and sadness about her future that I have to prepare her.
It sickens me that when I tell her “I love you” or “you’re beautiful” or “you are so very smart” that I’m not doing so from a celebratory place. What once were endearing words have now become little spells I cast to inoculate my daughter against racialized and gendered violence, physical or otherwise. That I have to tell my daughter she matters, that the lives of the people who look like most of her family matter, fills me with such sadness.
While I may not be taking her to another march or rally anytime soon, I will never stop protecting her and fighting for her future. As her father, I am basically holding her spot in the world until she is ready to claim it. When she is ready, she’ll know I did my very best to provide her with a smooth and loving transition.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.