Saturday, July 16, 2016

By No Means: Avoiding Insidious Racism





Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 3 seconds.

•••

My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about race and how it affects us both. He, a haitian american and visibly black. I, a white-passing woman from ten minutes outside of Ferguson, MO.

When it first happened- when the media and white America first decided it happened- I was already living in Boston, watching wide eyed as news reports and tweets and status updates flooded my timelines and my thoughts with stories of the injustice.

An armed cop, an unarmed, black, young man. Six bullets, and more than four hours on the scalding asphalt of the road underneath them.

When I say I watched everything, I do mean that literally.
I was in-between jobs at the time, and had taken two weeks off to "relax, reset, recharge". I had no idea I'd spend my free time during that period scrutinizing every news report I could find for inconsistencies and prejudicial language, for character assassination peppering each broadcast. I even recorded some of the more important broadcasts on my phone so that if Facebook deleted it, I could repost and ensure the truth was known. 
I was monitoring TV like the FCC and I frequently stayed awake for hours into the night because I wanted to be sure I was up to date on all the newest information. Since I couldn't march with my friends and community in Ferguson, I took this on as my "work" to make sure the truth could be told, even if it was horrific.

I ache to be there and I fear for the people who are.


•••

Dousing myself in gruesome information and others' emotions, I am able to avoid processing much of the shock, helplessness, anxiety, and confusion I feel. Survival; whatever works.
I watch helplessly as my already racially segregated city has its frail bonds torn apart by ideology and tear gas. Stores are (infamously) looted. A QuickTrip gas station associated with the event in August is completely torched.
My white cousin posts messages via Facebook confirming that her husband (who works at QuickTrip) is safe and has made it home unscathed by the chaos from those protests.

The police respond by bringing in forces decked in riot gear and line local streets with armored cars.
My friends post Black Lives Matter articles and upcoming events with calls to action and opportunities for peaceful resistance. They post pictures of themselves with their hands up, shouting "Don't shoot!"
The same day, another white cousin posts a picture of a sign on a browning Missouri lawn saying "You Loot; I shoot!". They don't realize they are talking to me.

Growing up, my father was obsessed with history, especially the civil war. In all of the many documentaries I sat through with him, distinctly I remember each made note of how the war pitted brother against brother as one would choose the Confederacy over the Union or vice versa. I always wondered how that could be, how values could vary so wildly within one home. Unfortunately, I became intimately aware of this process of division after it smothered my once-close relationship with my white sister.


•••  

I start my new job where I am one of two "people of color", and one could argue we are both white-passing. Apparently I don't pass as well as I think because my boss and then-CEO seems to be on a personal witch hunt to figure out "what" I am, as he asks me about this on multiple occasions.

I walk past one of the three T.V.'s in the lobby, all vividly flashing with images and scrolling banners regarding a potential indictment, over to my desk where one of the senior partners is speaking with aforementioned CEO about the case: "What was he supposed to do? I mean, he charged at him like some kind of monster."
I clack away on my keyboard pretending not to hear them, an eyebrow raise sneaking its way onto my face.

After work, I facilitate weekly meetings for women of color in Boston. I also spend about seven hours a week reading for and facilitating a three hour class for women called "Femsex". The long hours start to wear on me and my partner expresses concern about me taking on too much

Months later, after we all realized the indictment had never had any potential at all, protesters flood the streets, cardboard signs the only things discernable in the sea of people visible from the TV station helicopters.
Another secretary ponders loudly to us all: "Why are they even protesting?"
"I think they're protesting about the police" another replies.
"Well, I think it's dumb. I just don't see why they need to protest."
I look at my computer screen and try to unforrow my brow and unpurse my lips- let my mouth be as loose and careless as that of my colleague.

I quit.
Everything.

I pull out of all activities, even the ones I care about. I quit facilitating first, then quit my job, then Femsex ends (as it's 16 weeks long).

I take nearly three weeks off this time, so fatigued from the long work days and the silent, but mutual disdain that had hung between myself and the other secretaries by the end of my tenure there.
This time happens to fall over Christmas break and I spend most it trying to quiet my guilt about my new inability to peel myself out of my bed, or even leave my apartment.


•••

Two months after the non-indictment, protesters chained themselves to concrete barrels spanning across a major highway in Boston, blocking traffic for miles.
I'm sitting in a work-related onboarding meeting and my new supervisor is late.
The administrator facilitating the meeting asks us to forgive the lateness of our boss as she's stuck in traffic due to "the protest".
Another new employee asks quizzically, "What are they protesting?". 
It is nearly six months since the demonstrations first started.

Countless videos and news of further police injustice have surfaced during this time as well. Men who can't breathe, men shopping at Walmart, boys with toy guns, women with broken tail lights. They all have two things in common: they are black and they are dead.

The thought that Bryant is vulnerable to these same types of injustices lies as quietly as alligator eyes, just under the surface of my reality. So to combat the threat of a nervous breakdown, I love him even more fiercely, more publicly. 
"He is loved and he is a person!"
Yet the fact remains: his personhood could be violated in public and by a public servant at any time, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

The only thing dangerous about my husband is that killer smile. 



How could anyone see him as a legitimate threat? 
Powerful, yes, but dangerous?
But powerful black men have always been marked "dangerous".


•••

My mother (who is white) called me last night to apologize. She was sorry that as a white-passing black woman, I have to carry this weight- the grief for those we had lost, the anxiety and fear for those still alive in our community.
She apologized for not calling sooner because she didn’t know what to say.
And then she apologized because I look so much like her.

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