People, places, odors, phrases can hit me in a visceral way. Dying autumn leaves, for instance, take me right back to the time my mother was fighting cancer. Phrases like No offense, BUT… shoots a reflexive, defensive clench from my jaw to spine. Whatever comes after BUT is never good and always offensive.
In the past week, the infamous Spring Valley High School video was the visceral gut punch to me, and I just carried it around inside. I swallowed back tears seeing that girl tossed around like a rag doll. I stifled back the anger and exhaustion at history’s echoes of rationalizing abuse of brown and black bodies.
I got quiet and relegated the incident and my feelings about it to another place within myself that was far enough to be safe and out of reach to write about in a post.
I’m guessing that any time I write about race or my feelings about injustice or structures that uphold the unevenness of it all, one of the five people reading my words will roll their eyes and say with a sigh There she goes again. Another one will ask Why does she always have to bring up race?
So I asked myself the same question. Why do I talk about race when it can be such a lightning rod? I came up with 3 reasons. There are way more than three, but I think these ought to suffice for now.
1.) Because I have friends. And their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds vary wildly. Yes, we’re all human and not one of us is getting out of here alive, but in the meantime our paths through this life are different based upon our differences. I want to hear points of view that I’m unable to see. And, if I can shine a light on the path I’m walking on as a black woman who’s married to a white guy and mother to a child who is both black and white, then I’ll bring up race.
2.) Because I can’t ‘get over it.’ The ‘it’ being race. Just because I can’t get over it, doesn’t mean I angry about it nor does it mean I’m looking for pity about ‘it.’ It just means there are few parts of my life where I’m not expending a little extra energy on shoring up loose ends of others’ perception of my race.
It could be simple as calling a salon ahead of time to make sure they know how to do black people’s hair. Or, making sure my GPS is working when I venture out into the burbs so I don’t get lost and then stopped for looking like I don’t belong there. (That’s happened at least twice). Or, it could be explaining my side of my daughter’s ancestry to her and why, even though we’re African, we also have forced Irish blood running through our veins.
3.) Because I have a daughter. She understands about the racial legacy the US has inherited more than I’d like her to understand at this young age. When Rachel Dolezal was outed as white, my daughter looked at me with furrowed brows and asked Why would someone want to pretend to be black? I babbled on about mental illness and confusion, while my internal dialogue was screaming OHMYGOSH EVEN A 12 YEAR OLD KNOWS THAT BEING BLACK IN THE US IS HARD AND WHY WOULD ANYONE CHOOSE THAT!
But I want her to understand that being black is deeper than being hard.
Historical structures and implicit bias result in black folks spending extra energy to get through daily life, yes. And it’s true my daughter might even have to spend a little more of her own energy for the same reason, despite her being both white and black.
But I want her to know that slavery, rape, lynching (that also happened in my family at least five times) is no source of shame for the people who went through it. I want her to know it shows black folks – her folks – are survivors.
I guess until we’re all alike, untouched by race in our daily walk through this life and until we can acknowledge the ripples oppression has left on not only black and brown people , I’m going to keep bringing up race instead of swallowing the pain of racial injustice down.