Septemus 36


Dear son,

I am glad you asked me to keep writing to you. I missed it. I’m flattered that you missed it, too. You’re right: there are things we can say in writing that we can’t say otherwise.

You and I talk a lot about the world, about all those sorrows and injustices, historical and current, that bring you down.

But in all our conversations, I don’t think I’ve told you that I’m proud of you. I am proud to have a son who cares passionately about social justice.

I’m not pleased that the cruelty of the world upsets you so much. But I am in awe of the depths of your feeling, your thinking, and your ethics. You are a fine man.


I noticed this when you were a child, of course. When we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you were outraged at the slavery in the book. Then when you found out that slavery wasn’t a fictional invention, you were incensed.

“It can’t really have happened,” you said.

“Not only did it happen,” I replied, “but in my own family.”

I told you how Nonny and Poppy’s great grandparents had been slaves. Poppy’s great grandmother traveled north on the Underground Railroad–that’s how she got her freedom. Our family passed down her story like a banner, and it was a banner that you grabbed hold of and hoisted high.

The rest of my family came north in the Great Migration.

Hearing about this sparked your interest in history. It sparked something else, too, some deep-seated memory hidden in your cells.

“That’s what I would have been,” you said. “I am a bizoo.

I assume that bizoo is the word for slave in your home language.

Lately, you’ve been reading Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938. That accounts you read make you angry.


“It’s not right,” you say.

“Of course not,” I reply.

“What makes people do that? It’s unthinkable.”

“It’s economics.”

“It’s heinous,” you say.

I explain the economic theories of oppression.


“Economics doesn’t excuse it,” you say. Of course you’re right.


Sometimes, you cry out in your sleep. When I check on you, I find your hands clenched in fists.


When you release them, you cry in your sleep. I wonder if I should wake you. But maybe these troubled dreams help you process what we can’t comprehend and cannot conceive when we are awake.


In the morning, when you eat your breakfast cake, you are all smiles, the sorrows and rages of the night forgotten.

“We should institutionalize cake,” you suggest, “solve all the world’s problems!”


We can institutionalize equal opportunities. We can legitimize anti-discrimination policies. We can develop theories, plans, practices, and incentives. But we can’t abolish oppression, when an economy rests on it. Just ask any woman making 55 to 75 cents per a man’s dollar.


“I’m glad I’m here, Pops,” you say, breaking me out of my contemplation. “There may be problems in the past, and there may be issues now, and there may be causes for the future, but at least here, I’ve got the chance to live free like the royalty that’s me.”

Oh, son. I am glad you’re here, too, not just for you, but for all the causes you’ll be taking on. This world needs a social justice warrior like you.

With admiration and pride,

Your pops

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