I realize I’ve yet to properly disseminate my feelings about the world’s current events. Not just with regards to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor - they are just the most recent black people to have been murdered by the police that the public has taken notice of. I’m still processing how I feel about how George Floyd’s death is causing so many people across the world to literally risk life and limb during a global pandemic to collectively protest against the injustices of police brutality and anti-black sentiment. Against systemic racism. Against micro and macro aggressions and biases, inherent or implicit. Systems of inequality that exist within their countries and abroad. It is a profoundly moving sight to behold.
Every day on social media there are new trending videos highlighting the day’s events. I can’t look away. There are brand statements to scroll through. All of the online activism. Tweets of black exhaustion. Calls for self-care. Memes announcing that silence is being tacitly complicit and “I see you,” posts putting everyone on notice. Op-eds. From both sides. I’ve read and listened to a few since this whole thing began, but there was one that I caught wind of that reminded me that writing it out is how I usually work through how I feel about things. So, the following is me expanding on the thoughts I’ve had, for a long while but more so in the last week, about being black around white people and the worldwide protests against racial injustice.
First. I’ve watched many videos over the last week or two, but I refuse to watch THAT one. In fact, I refuse to watch any of them with that subject matter. Because watching black men die on camera for real is hurtful for real. If I did watch it, whether or not I realize it at the time - that shit would traumatize me. Knowing that these people were murdered and knowing it was likely under the sketchiest and most unfair of circumstances, but also knowing there is nothing I can do about it because what’s done is done, and the system is not set up for fairness I, along with everyone else who is outraged, would just have to take the hit on the chin and keep it moving. It’s depressing. And regardless of how gutted I'd feel about the loss, even though I don’t know these people personally, I'd still have to function. To work. To war with the darkness around me. Because white supremacy doesn’t just exist in the United States. It’s literally fucking everywhere. And if you’re committed to having a life beyond just existing in this world you must be strong enough to tussle with it, and sometimes on a daily basis feel the emotions that it evokes in you, hide or process them quickly, and somehow proceed gracefully with the rest of your day. To allow depression, rage, or despair to gain a foothold would mean losing precious energy or losing time because of not being able to function properly. I speak from experience when I say that unchecked mental illness because of emotional trauma can cause even more trauma over time. I wish it on no one because all too often hurt people hurt people.
I hate to admit this, but society is set up for black people, black women specifically, and overall it seems everybody who has some sort of moral compass, to get pushed around and have to climb their way up after starting way back in the negative. So, knowing this, I swallow or just ignore it. Sometimes I jive a bit and water down me. Who I am. To make people comfortable, less afraid, or intimidated by my directness. Or my skin tone. Or my audacity to be direct while also being my skin tone. Ultimately, causing myself more trauma. I wish more people understood we’re all human beings who would probably get on really well if we made a consistent effort to actually see, listen to, and have compassion for one another. Alas, we usually don’t. On its own, this understanding of how the world works is heavy to bear and it is even more so when you have things to do. So when I can afford it and it’s accessible to me, I work through the effects of racism with a therapist. In the meantime I chant affirmations to let myself know regardless of how worthless racists try to make me believe I am, I have value and I matter. When I’m in that moment when I get bitch-slapped with unwarranted stigma, hate, or closed doors and theft of opportunities because of how I show up in the world, I don’t succumb to the gut punch. First of all, I’m not built that way. Secondly, I don’t have the time. I have things to do. And a social handicap to overcome.
All this to say, other than the collective general feeling of pain and malaise, emotional exhaustion, and moments of overwhelm, I don’t allow myself to feel much of it all. Because I wouldn’t stop at the George Floyds or Breonna Taylors or Stephon Clarkes; I would overheat by chronologically going over the unfairness of the many ways anti-black racism has reared its head from the beginning of time -- slavery, lies and propaganda and the murders of black leaders, apartheid, redlining, Jim Crow. All of it until today. And I would feel dispirited. I would think of the archetypes of the “successful” white men and women I’ve seen represented in politics, pop-culture, and in film and television and my heart would sink further as I realize this is the condition of some white people. It’s how the world works for them. So I can’t get mad and I can’t dwell on the pain, old wounds or new; how I feel about any of it doesn’t get to linger. What can stay is the understanding that I can and must do my part to be the change I want to see in this world with respect to how I treat and care for others. Especially when it’s hard. That right there requires focused thoughtful action. And an immense amount of energy to educate others or choose to let their bullshit slide and turn potential sideways situations around without jeopardizing my safety, goals, or position.
Second. I’m seriously struck by just how many legitimate protesters there are out there, committed and vocal, who understand that this world does in fact have a significant racism problem and it’s well past time to fix it. The Maori, Koreans, Amish, Jewish, Kiwi’s, Brits, Germans, French, and more renewed my hope in our flawed and faltering society. In every country where there are black people who for decades have been publicly and privately recounting their experiences with virulent racism, there are non-black people who are standing, sitting, and marching in solidarity with black citizens, listening to and believing them, throwing their full support behind and even encouraging their cause. They recognize that they may never have lived it, but the high probability of being targeted, misjudged, or mistreated to an extent where there is the potential for loss of life because of skin colour is a very real one for their black friends, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances, students, grocers, taxi drivers, transit operators, doctors and patients, clients, sports icons, celebrities, and politicians, etc. Now that they have joined in the protest, the intimidation and abuse, profiling and mistreatment has finally become real for some white people. And for some cultures, like those of the Indigenous nations, that experience was always a reality. They, like us black people, have been aware for hundreds of years of the double standard of how certain people are treated in this world, and they, also like us, have had to learn to adapt.
The tragic murder of George Floyd has brought receipts, acknowledgment, and a worldwide eye-opening of the injustices a lot of us have lived under for so long. His death spawned a global movement calling for equality and change, and acts of racism, injustice, and police brutality are being recorded and streamed, examined, and most importantly called out for the evils they are actually the symptoms of. Ignorance. Abuse of power. Contrived economic depression. Malfeasance. Lack of empathy. Toxic masculinity. Insecurity. Racial bias. Hatred, for self and others.
We definitely have some healing to do. The goal is to continue pulling back the veil to expose the truth of the tale of the two worlds - the one for whites and the one for the rest - and all of the inequality that the construct represents, to enough people who are in positions of authority and influence to do something, or simply to enough of the masses who are willing to raise hell about it, in order to create systemic, sustained worldwide change. There is so much work to do. I presume a lot of it will be hard as this change requires each and every one of us to take a long look at ourselves to figure out what we personally can do in both our inner and outer lives to make this world a better, safer, more equitable place. We're humans. And we are never going to get it perfect. But for once, right now, at this moment in time, we have the chance to finally get it right.