Mixed Emotions

by Abay Israel

Abay Israel

Our son was born on the 7th day of the 7th month in the middle of the worst pandemic of our lifetime.  With a Black-immigrant father and a White-American mother, his beautiful face shines in bright contrast against a backdrop of intense race-relations plaguing the United States. I smile each time I look at our little miracle but I also cannot help but worry about the shape his life will take. Maybe this is what being a parent is like? Living in a constant state of competing emotions? Or maybe there is something else? Will he have the same experiences that I had? That I continue to have?

Would he be pulled over and searched by the police because he matched a description?
Would he be hounded and harassed by strangers on the highway while driving in the south?
Would people say derogatory things about immigrants and Black people around him?
Would he consistently be the only person of color in the room? In his meetings? In his classes?

I hope not because it is exhausting. I am exhausted.

OrionThe truth is I am scared that he will be treated differently because of the color of his skin. I am sad that we live in a world where the statement Black Lives Matter is polarizing (and infuriated that it is politicized). I am tired of unnecessary death. I am skeptical about change, numb to the corporate statements, and ashamed that I have not done more.

But I am also happy to see a new day, in a job that I love, with the privileges that I have, and the wonderful family that we have made.

So when asked what is it like to be a Black man in America, my initial response is that I do not know. I barely know how to describe my own emotions and I was not even born here. Plus I can only guess what the world will be like for my son. With all the statistical and anecdotal evidence, stories of shared experiences, and historical context, some things are clear while others are a bit more nuanced. My view is that diversity must mean more than data points or meeting some company threshold, it is about people. It is about us. It is us. So if a colleague, friend, coworker, or stranger feels comfortable enough to share their story, our first job is to listen. Our second is to be compassionate. Remember, we are stronger together. We are better when we embrace and celebrate our differences. We are ISR.

About the author: Abay Israel (israela@umich.edu) is a Data Project Analyst at ICPSR. He was first recruited to ISR as part of a diversity-focused internship program in 2005 before accepting a full-time position in 2007. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Mathematics from Morehouse College and a graduate degree in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan. He is originally from Trinidad and Tobago but currently resides in Ypsilanti, Michigan with his wife, son, dog, and two cats.

This article appeared in ISR’s Bridges newsletter, September 2020