Dear Great Grandchildren,

I am writing this letter on the eleventh day of 2021 and already the year’s been horrifying. Just writing this letter is an act of hope. If you can read this, you are alive and have the intelligence and understanding to read. That means someone taught you and there must be some form of education. There must be air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. You must have protection from the elements.

Do you also have freedom of thought? Are you satisfied with your life? Are you safe and well?

If you are alive, I am writing to let you know I am sorry. I grew up in a time and a place, The United States of America, when humans flourished as they did on all continents. We behaved as though the resources of the world were infinite and we were entitled to use them as we wished for as long as we wanted. We fought with each other over oil to make our cars run and so that we could grow rich buying and selling it. Soon we will be fighting over water and arable land.

We are in the last nine days of the Trump administration. I wonder what you understand about the 45th president of America, Donald J. Trump. It is hard for me to explain how he came to office. I think he was carried in by human greed and a desire to protect a worldview that supports white, male supremacy. Also within Trumpism is an underlying belief that the earth, animals and all resources are there for the consumption and purpose of humans. His administration has made us more comfortable with gratifying ourselves at the expense of others and future generations. You!

We are in the middle of a pandemic (Covid 19) that has killed almost two million people as of today. Exhausted medical workers are treating patients in mobile units in parking lots because hospitals are overrun. This pandemic has shown inequities in America’s socioeconomic structure. We have attached healthcare to jobs but when there is no business, businesses close, workers are laid off and lose their healthcare. Those who don’t have to go to work, have sheltered at home since March 2020 to keep from catching Covid. That means, those who are forced to go to work, grocery store workers, gas station employees, first responders, are getting sick and dying. Most of the people dying are people of color because they are in service positions that require them to work with the public.

Towards the beginning of the shelter in place we watched a white cop hold his knee on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, for nine minutes as he called out for help. Bystanders told the cop to back off, and finally after asking someone to tell his kids he loved them, he called for his mom, and Mr. Floyd died.

I, along with the rest of the world, could not look away and am forever changed by it. I am embarrassed by my own naiveté. I really didn’t know how bad it had gotten; how bad it had always been. George Floyd’s murder, forced white people like me to realize that although all people are created equal, unfair enforcement of laws   blocks people from equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights may be inalienable according the Declaration of Independence but that is not the reality in which nonwhite people lead their lives and form dreams for their children.

How did we get here? Oh, wait, this gets worse.

On last Wednesday, January 6,, 2021, Trump (POTUS!) encouraged a band of about a thousand rioters to overrun and “take back the Capitol.” They marched to the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and smashed their way in as lawmakers scrambled into hiding. The rioters vandalized offices and had plans to murder key representatives. I am still reeling from how close we came to seeing a lynch mob.

How did we get here? I’ve referred to the Declaration of Independence above and its second paragraph starts as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.—“ That   phrase was written by white male land owners for their benefit. The writers never intended for people of color or women to be seen as having unalienable rights. Anyone who didn’t look like the men who wrote the declaration were only there to serve those who did. They weren’t even on the radar screen of the framers.

But we have a chance to change that. I am hoping some changes have been made  before you were born. Here is my hope for you. I am hoping that America collectively  acknowledged that they admitted that while they loved the idea of all people being free to pursue happiness, unfair enforcement of the laws has led to mass incarceration of people of color. (Blacks make up 12% of  the US population but 33%  of the incarcerated; while, Whites make up 64% of the population but only 30% of the incarcerated) That all are hurt by injustice. That slavery diminishes the oppressors while making life unbearable for the oppressed. We have to admit to ourselves that there are two kinds of people: those who benefited from slavery and those who were hurt by it. The economy grew on slave labor and benefited anyone who wasn’t enslaved. Even those who benefited from it have been hurt by it  because causing suffering robs the oppressor of humanity. When we turn our eyes from suffering and injustice, we suffer. That is why we turn away.

Racist behavior is an addiction that we keep looking away from but as long as it’s being fed, it’s allowed to grow like infection. We will remain sick until we face the infection, excise it and treat it with antibiotics. Moving tedious jobs off shore to a work force we can exploit is not that different from slavery. The world and its people are not here for us to use up; instead, we are temporary stewards of the earth and need to conduct ourselves in a way that leaves it in good shape for those coming after us. You know, like me to you.

I know we are far from the mindset that will allow us to do the hard work and actually apply laws fairly, distribute wealth in a way that gives all people access to higher education, safe housing, nutritious food and effective healthcare. I imagine this letter going off into the atmosphere unread. There is no you or anyone to read it. I am too late. Greed was too powerful for us to stop. I am sorry. I am writing to someone who might have been.

But no, I just don’t believe that will happen. We have been given a wake up call by this virus and its shelter in place, by the death of George Floyd and the insurrection  fueled by Trump’s anti-intellectual nativist message.  We have a chance to make those in power accountable, to deal head on with the hypocrisy that has been America from the beginning. I hope there is a you. We have a chance to make the ideals of America real for once. I hope  we made them true for you.


Great Grandmother Catherine Marshall-Smith