I finally broke.
Not physically, but mentally and certainly emotionally. The kind of rending that allows years of pent up questions, tears and rage to spill forth – all while feeling there are no answers, and very little hope for healing.
Like much of the world, I’ve absorbed weeks of news, images, memes, conversations, and comments. I’ve also had private talks with family and friends, prompting a deep dive into my own privileges, biases and beliefs.
We all have them, whether we want to admit it or not. They are there, ones to display and hold up as proof of our humanity. And then there are those tucked so far back into the dark corners of our being that we don’t see them. Or worse, we deny their existence.
I am a person of color: black, white, and in true American fashion, countless unknown or forgotten “others.” I grew up with my black father in a white family within a white community, the kind where the slightest brush of melanin and kinky hair ensure that people will either know you or have heard about you.
For the most part, my childhood memories remain unscathed. But there were instances, both innocent and intentional, where my blackness was made uncomfortably obvious. From a young friend’s curiosity over my hair, and the inevitable ask to touch it, to being trailed by a clerk while browsing the local department store.
These experiences were paper cuts, the initial sting and tenderness fading within days. Others were burns, searing, painful and leaving unseen scars to never forget.
Being accused of stealing magazines and subsequently banned from the neighborhood drugstore. A high school peer carelessly shouting “Nigger!” as he and buddies raced by in a truck. Coming home from a weekend stay with my mother to find my father had been brutally beaten by her oldest son when the two clashed while they were out drinking – separately of course. Years later, being hit by that same white son because he thought I had ignored a question from his wife. She came to my defense. He never apologized.
On my father’s part, his guidance to me on all things was “never stoop to their level,” But he said very little about and I remember even less of his actions and experiences, especially for a black man growing up in Mississippi, and later living in a Montana town of a thousand or so. I was either sheltered from it or oblivious to it until I was old enough to hear secondhand stories – and by then I realized the drinking was his way of escape.
I’m embarrassed to say I myself made racial jokes, desperate to fit in, or at times to make others feel, albeit briefly, as uncomfortable as I always felt. I was, and still am adrift, with really nowhere to call home. No safe space.
All of this serves as my platter in the buffet of brutality, hate, fear and ignorance dished up today.
Typically, I’m silent on posts with political, environmental, religious and especially racial ingredients – usually preemptively agreeing to disagree, and then feeding my true thoughts to my husband. Love you, hon.
Now, because I’m unsure of my personal biases, I’m reading everything I can to determine my role here, and what I should and shouldn’t dish up or out.
I’ve slowly started commenting on social media, trying to remain thoughtful and mindful of where others are coming from. Choosing words carefully in hopes that people will one – listen to me, and two – have some understanding of why this is happening. Explaining that not everyone has the luxury to escape hardships, or assume a police officer is safe, because time and again the color of your skin can mean at best, discrimination, and at worst, a death sentence.
The sheer number of family and friends who deny there is a problem, that the scales of equality are broken, is both heartbreaking and frightening. I see what they’re posting and sharing. I see what they “like” and “love.” And now, sadly, I see that they never “saw” me.
If you have ever experienced a day where you were targeted because of your white skin, then please reflect on that. Imagine a life where you have no way of escaping.
Stop being petulant because you also grew up poor, or you didn’t get “any handouts,” or because you too were arrested for no reason. Yes, you had hardships, and no one is denying you that. But they were never made permanent, more difficult, or potentially deadly because of the color of your skin.