A human ally and former inner city kid shares her dream of a world where we all belong. To each other.
We need to talk about race. It’s out there. Growing larger, undeniable. We need to lubricate the conversation, our words landing safely between whites and blacks, between all people. We need to confess, to hear each other and discover resolution. All I can do is imagine.
I am a human ally. I have attended schools with “diverse” student populations, have been out of place with the rest of my classmates, hovering on the fringe as the poor, white kid. I admired the black families I saw, envied their solidarity, the truth in their relationships playing out at school, at work, at my best friend’s house. I longed to have as large and intact of a family as she did, instead of my broken one.
A pulsing vein of love snaked through the family of my friend. She and her Nonnie taught me to use a hot water bottle for cramps, fed me collard greens and fatback — nirvana on my tongue over food shelf government cheese. Warm and cozy in my friend’s home, we received care. I strove to forget my life.
I simply wanted to belong. As black people belonged. To each other. All I can do is imagine.
I thought the only thing separating me from wondrous, expressive black people was my pasty skin. Black teens were some of the kindest and least judgmental people I had ever met. Maybe they were surprised at the acceptance and admiration by a person from another race, maybe they were baffled by the odd white girl, or maybe they were nice to me because they were nice people from nice families. No matter how hard I tried to understand, I couldn’t. No white person can understand. A few brave souls have admitted this fact, broaching the conversation begging to be held since the strangulation of Eric Garner. An overdue conversation, brewing in me, I became overwhelmed writing this article, words pouring forth in an illegible rush, words, I would sift through multiple times to create a volatile, careful piece.
When I became a parent, my heart exploded, carried away on the tiny feet of my new infants, people I had made. Love deepened, broadened. I trusted in the unconditional, codependent ardor coming from my children, and I thanked God they had become an anchor for me. In this phase of life, I have survived readying my young adults to enter the world, knowing they might not return to me if a car swerved into their lane, or a driver fell asleep at the wheel; it’s the range of my terror. Oh, the rage black parents must feel when they wave their children out the door. How it intensifies at the unease directed toward their children, their race, two elements which cannot be denied out of existence. All I can do is imagine.
I am unable to wrap my mind around the agony of preparing my child for the ceremony of adulthood, knowing I could be setting them up for physical pain, or worse, knowing their tears and frustration are imminent. If I were a black parent, fretting over my child’s return, I would live the torture that any resolution, any healing I could set upon their tender hearts would be forever frozen and unreachable because I could not fix the world. All I can do is imagine.
Even if my children didn’t portray me as a failure, I would feel it inside. As I regard my sweet and frail youngsters with doting, protective eyes today, I wonder how in the hell do black parents survive such a looming threat? How does one love an extension of oneself when danger comes around like a carousel? All I can do is imagine.
I recall the stark panic of watching the clock after my sons got their licenses, the minutes turned to hours. Time stands still when fear keeps it from advancing. Praying they’d walk in the door, anxious to yell at them because they’d been a few minutes late, yelling meant they’d survived.
I would cry with my relatives and friends, if I were a black parent. I would mourn children who didn’t survive their trip into the night, into the day. I would suffer exhaustion at continually dredging up courage and positivity, and feel weary hiding my anguished tears.
In mourning, I would learn to swallow my rage at the process, suspecting no justice would ever come. So I would hold my living children and cry, unable to answer why black lives don’t matter. And again I would pray. Yes, I would pray a lot.
My heart would beat heavy and slow, hesitating drumbeats inside me as my kids walked out the door, and I would wish them immunity from the usual dumb shit kids do. If they got busted their outcome might go sour quickly, might spiral into an outcome, different and permanent. All I can do is imagine.
Peace and acceptance require children to experience diverse delight they will pass out to everyone they meet, forming a fresh history.
If I were a black person I would place my hope in the future of the next generation. I would try not to hate, not to turn outward treatment of myself into an inward poison I carried with me. It would be hard. Harder than Graphene, the strongest substance known to earth. I would be gripped by such untenable emotions each living day, wanting to feel miserable, to attain society’s expectation because misery resembles home.
Have you ever been so angry you destroyed property you valued? Once, I’d burned my finger then threw a dish into the sink where it cracked. I remember the satisfaction of knowing I’d broken it and I’d screamed when it hit the side of the basin. Yet I can’t step into the body of the black person looting, filled with so much outrage and frustration at never feeling vital, at confirming perceived progress has been a lie. I do not advocate the looting, but would a quieter action get swept up into a mass of racial outcry, one action indistinguishable from the next? What do we notice if our life remains unchanged? All I can do is imagine.
Amid the recent racial fallout, I read two pebbles of insight. With a degree of artistic license, I’ll summarize: our system has been built around racism people don’t even see because it has been accepted as common practice for so long.
When you feel low enough you don’t believe you deserve better, you don’t believe people care. All you know is you want your life to change. You no longer want your history, or the facts you’ve learned about yourself: you are disposable, you can be forgotten, people will walk away and never miss you for a minute. Who you are may be unforgivable. It is this knowledge of yourself that turns unforgettable. All I can do is imagine.
As a white person, I used to think we didn’t owe an apology for slavery, and then I marinated in the stew of racism and its ingredients: oppression, ownership of a human being, shame, ownership of a human being, fear, ownership of a human being, resentment, confusion, ownership of a human being. The stew is multi-flavored, acrid. How does one expect the history of a great people to go forth when a legacy precedes them everywhere; it’s pervasive, defining; it is history and fact. I want to say, “Raise your heads and hearts, please. It feels good to shake off victimization. Realize you can do what you want without apology, explanation, anger, or dread.” I want the words to have meaning. All I can do is imagine.
Extrapolate such a disheartening state by a million, trillion, zillion. Now we’re getting it, majority. Pain. Suffering. Poor perception. Weak future prospects. A stone weighs you down, an albatross your entire life.
The black population’s voice has been systematically disproved and silenced on the basis of racial assumption. Our pride, preserving our dignity, our station in life, it doesn’t matter, fellow Caucasians. I will put those flimsy elements aside for the greater fight.
What would it mean to confess a wound you’d do anything to heal, only to have your voice shouted down?
It is a shame that I feel courageous as I type each word for this article, that I worry about backlash and those who will question the need to talk exists. I hope for peace to overtake us and lead the charge to acceptance, but my words and intention may get twisted. If we can start the conversation, we can affect change. If the belief is white people inflicted the hurt, then it is the white population who must extend the olive branch. To salve the hurt, we have to know unease, we have to take aim at our commonalities and cling tight, we have to pad the place of forgiveness and hope, we must generously excuse the fumbling and inevitable errors igniting such a talk guarantees. We have to spend more time admitting and exposing our fears to the light. What if we discovered these fears could be released as a body, one great, vivid weight off the shoulders of humanity?
All I can do is imagine.
Photo: Flickr/Vox Efx