Excerpt from my novella: A Friend of the Race
People ask me how my son, Ethan, developed such a fascination with black people from such an early age.
It must have been Michael Jackson on the video. Not Thriller. I wouldn’t have let him watch that as a child – the crotch pulling, the scenes in the graveyard. No, it was a segment in a Chipmunks video, of all things, a compilation of rock ‘n roll takeoffs –real-life footage of stars like Elvis Presley and Elton John, mixed in with those high-pitched cartoon chipmunks. Someone gave it to Ethan for his third birthday. I can still see him watching the video from his usual spot on the sofa in the den, barely batting an eyelid despite the catchy soundtrack. But when Michael Jackson appeared, Ethan was on his feet the entire time, moving to the beat, trying his best to moonwalk in his socks on the hardwood floors. Not in a playful way, either; it was all very serious.
Sometime later, his father, Tad, unbeknownst to me — we were separated at that point –bought the Thriller video, with “Smooth Criminal” and “Billy Jean”. I heard Ethan singing the lyrics, and saw him attempting those crazy dance moves before I found out that he had been watching the video over and over at Tad’s apartment. I asked Tad for the video, so that I could see it for myself, and what I saw disturbed me, never mind a five or six-year old. Tad promised to put the video away, “until Ethan was older”, never admitting it might have been a bad choice.
That must have been the start. But I never could have imagined what would come of it: my seventeen-year-old son at the Roxbury police station over some kind of gangland drug business gone wrong. To this day, I can’t explain why Ethan is the way he is, this strange, unwavering devotion to race. But looking back, I can see the passion was there from the start.