I’ve been staying away from social media for some weeks — actually, months — now. Days will go by and I don’t click on Instagram or post on Twitter beyond my business accounts. It’s too disturbing. It’s one thing to know how screwed up the world can be on issues like racism and human dignity for Black bodies. To realize how little has changed, and how long we’ve been fighting this fight. It’s something else to be confronted with it in incident after increasingly disturbing, technicolor, live audio incident.
But I came across this woman. This white woman, a part of what’s been called Portland’s Wall of Moms, a few days ago, and she made me cry for the first time in weeks. I don’t feel bad about it. I certainly didn’t need the reminder of what’s at stake, or how hard things are. Seeing her didn’t make me feel understood, or believed, or justified either. I just felt sad.
I looked at her, heard the tears in her voice, felt her anguish and exhaustion, and thought. “Yes. Now you’ve had a taste.”
Now, you understand a little, a very little, of the stress and the suffering and the continuous struggle. The exhaustion, the wasted energy spent, the constant cuts and slices to dignity and life and self-respect and autonomy. The endless extra fees required to exist in a space where you are not always welcome, but where you are still required to attend.
Now, I thought, now you understand the enormity of the fight that black people have been waging for hundreds of years simply to be allowed to live in peace. See, her peace has been fundamentally disrupted. Her conscience has been pricked. Her awareness has been peaked, and she is acting accordingly.
Her reaction has gone viral. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. There’s so much work to be done. It’s like the diversity cha cha these days, one step forward, two back. People are still saying things like “I had no idea,” and now I think I’m starting to truly believe it.
I’ve ruminated long and hard on how easy it is to be ignorant of the suffering of others. I count myself in that bucket of low key oblivion about my own people, black men specifically. And it took a black male friend of more than 20 years sharing his experiences to open my eyes wider, to make me more empathetic and understanding, to understand better why black men do and say certain things.
But I’ll go with good. The sad/mad Portland mom going viral, I mean. It’s heartbreaking to see her break down, but it’s good to see this white woman willing to sacrifice on a Black woman, man or child’s behalf. It was good to hear from her own mouth that she understood it’s not about her, that she was unafraid or unable to prevent her passion for this cause from escaping.
She did something significant. She humanized George Floyd and all those like him in a way that almost every woman can relate to — he had a mom. He called out for her as he was killed, and that is what prompted this woman to act in much the same way she might react to her own children in danger. Only now, she’s acting on behalf of every Black child and every Black mother who’s suffered what Floyd’s family has.
My hat’s off to her, to all of the people, men and women, Black, White and everything in between who are putting their bodies on the line to advocate for people who look like me. I hope she’s able to go home to her children soon. I just hope that when she does, it’s not because she’s given up and has retreated back to where is some comfort, some built in security in her pale skin. No, I hope that when she does go home to her family it’s because she feels able to rest, knowing that she is contributing as much as she is able to a battle worth fighting on increasingly dangerous front lines.