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The Cost

Rilla Askew | Longreads | December 16, 2014 | 5,065 words

“I dreaded the day my godson would run up against a white person’s prejudice.” Rilla Askew on race in America and a family’s nightmare.

Posted inNonfiction, Story

The Cost

“I want to tell you something: it is nearly impossible for a young black man to stay out of trouble in a country where skin color is the marker for suspicion and violence and grief.”
Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Rilla Askew | 2014 | 21 minutes (5,065 words)

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When my godson Trey was a toddler growing up in Brooklyn, every white woman who saw him fell in love with him. He was a beautiful child, sweet natured, affectionate, with cocoa-colored skin and a thousand-watt smile. I remember sitting with him and his mom in a pizzeria one day, watching as he played peekaboo with two white ladies at a nearby booth. “What a little doll!” the ladies cooed. “Isn’t he adorable?”

I told Marilyn I dreaded the day he would run up against some white person’s prejudice. “His feelings are going to be hurt,” I said. “He won’t know it’s about this country’s race history, he’ll think it’s about him. Because so far in his young life every white person he’s ever met has adored him.” Marilyn nodded, but her closed expression seemed to say I was talking about things I didn’t really understand.

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