Accountability and owning your words and your actions is something I think I learned early in life from my father. It’s hard to go through life never offending or hurting someone; frankly, it’s impossible. The key is to mediate on your words, before you write that Facebook post, Tweet or blog post, before you do something to purposely or unintentionally hurt someone. And then, when you do (because, hey, we are human), to own that. Commit yourself to that.
Everyone wants to be liked. (Yes, even the introverted seek the solace of others from time to time.) So when someone puts themselves out there, in a place of true discomfort for themselves and those around them, you best believe it’s probably for something pretty important. Thus, today’s post. (Note: This is a blog post that has been in the making for sometime, one that I’ve ruminated on for a very long time. I feel like until I set it forth and unleash it, I can’t move this blog — and my thoughts — forward.)
Since November 9th, I have to say I’ve been feeling very much like Hamlet, trapped in the dream of a hellish reality. The election of 2016 was not like Gore vs. Bush, where when the dust finally settled, post recount, we all felt like we could get on with the business of raising our families, even in a Republican held presidency. No, since that morning I have watched a man who I will NEVER use the word “president” before his name usher in Steve Bannon in to his cabinet, who up until this election was called a neo-nazi, White supremacist but has now been cleaned-up, or perhaps as he would prefer “white-washed” as an Alt-Right leader. Honey, you can put lipstick on a pig, dress it up in high heels, and call it your girlfriend, but it’s still pork. From the Muslim ban to the assault on healthcare, reproductive rights, journalism, science, and facts themselves, it is as if “Groundhog Day” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” made a sequel together.
So some of you have mentioned in passing or via Facebook your “concern” about my prevalence for talking about race and politics these days. I thank you sincerely for your concern but please… Allow me to explain why the need to communicate and discuss these topics “trumps” (pun fully intended) your comfort about it and/or me:
#1: I’m Black. Yes, I know for some of you this is actually news of a sort. Up until perhaps my days at the University of New Hampshire, race was something I never really felt the need to confront openly, except for talking about it at an after school group or every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (Seriously, was it just me or were kids of color like the most popular people in our classroom in January?).
Race has always been there, like a shadow, ever present and ever constant. I didn’t feel the need to always raise attention to it, even when it blinded me from someone’s intentionally or unintentional prejudice or bigotry. But now, I feel like the “turning of the cheek” and letting a casual slur or act go by has ramifications, if not for me, than for someone else. There’s a lot to be said for the unsaid. Silence can be deafening, and it can also be defining. I don’t want to ever again let silence define me. There’s a saying, “Speak truth to power.” And that’s a motto and a creed I live by.
#2. I’m raising a child who is biracial/half-black/of color and most definitely female. The moment my child was placed in my hands, wet and warm from bathing in my own blood, I felt the weight of the responsibility of being her mother. And then (with no surprise) I realized she was brown. Lighter than me, but brown. I never thought she wouldn’t look like me (a part of me always worried she might take more after her father than me), but I’ll say it I was both reassured, happy and anxious all at the same time when I saw her.
See, like all parents, I have and continue to look forward to all the “firsts” she will experience: the first words, the first steps, the first time she asks for the car keys, the first heartbreak (which will be promptly followed-up with romantic comedies and bonding over hot chocolate.) But there are some firsts, that I’m sure my parents would say they too never wanted me to experience but knew probably would come to pass (and did.) These “firsts” I feel like I will never truly be ready for either: the first time she experiences blatant racism (the casual hurl of the n-word from someone who was suppose to be a friend, the laying of hands on your hair and body because someone sees you not as a person with rights and agency to your OWN body, to the “you can’t [play or date] my child” because… and either they tell you outright or find every other word in the book to excuse themselves from what they really want to say.)
She is just a child exploring and learning about the world, but sadly, as I have already seen since her birth, the world has already set preconceived notions about who she is and will be. My goal, as it has been for my own identity, is to raise a child knowledgeable about herself, her heritage, and can think for herself and set her own perimeters for what that ultimately means to her, in a realistic way, without the “illusion” that the world is “color-blind” and won’t ever consider her race.
#3. Because I (and those around me) don’t get a “day” or “month” off (let alone an hour) to not think about these things: I’ve heard it said, “if racism was seasonal, I’d move to the desert or the Arctic. Just let me know which one has the never-ending days of “no racism” and that’s where I’ll be.” We live in a world where words, facts, and videotape mean nothing. Where we continue to espouse how “great” we are or “were” while people of color in this country can not even be afforded the basic tenets of citizenry and expect that they will not be subjected to law, judge, jury and executioner when they are involved with police.
#4. Because I’m no longer interested in engaging “friends” who really need to be “unfriended.”
Life is too short for bullshit. And that includes people who show themselves to be lacking the character and values that I deem important in relationships.
So perhaps you are one of those “friends” who recently got “de-friended” (online and off, as I don’t see the difference) by me. Sure, some of those are just relationships that were artificial, superficial, and detrimental to me and just needed to end, but some of those were from other considerations:
A. You showed your true colors, and I learned you were a racist, a bigot, a homophone, a misogynist. And perhaps most importantly, you showed you PREFERRED to stay ignorant, even when confronted with truth. To that, I so wholeheartedly say,
B. You forgot what being a FRIEND means. One of the hardest things I did this election was let go of some very close relationships that were once dear to me. Some, because of reason #1. But one, in particular, because the golden rule of being a friend, or just being a friend to ME, was lost upon them..
You see, when a friend is in pain, you provide compassion and empathy. When a friend confides in you about something, ANYTHING, you don’t dismiss, deny or invalidate what they say at the outset (if you do at all). I had such a friend dismiss me quickly by saying something that had happened to me wasn’t racist, without EVEN ASKING ME why I would deem it so. This “friend” who had known me almost for a decade, did not know me enough to know that I don’t throw “race” or “racism” around the way a teenager uses the word “like” or “c’mon”. There is no “race card” and when I use the word, I actually DO know the definition and I can accurately point to the reason I use it. (I live and breathe “communications” and words “matter” a great deal to me so I use them rightfully and truthfully, always.)
This person, who up to then had been what I had hoped to be a true friend, did what people do to people of color every time they experience racism (even when they have videotape and documentation): they quickly work to find ways to invalidate your experience. It’s suddenly everything BUT racism.
Listen, if I tell you the sky is blue, you don’t go outside and look at the sky or check Weather.com, you believe me. You take my word for it. Why can’t you afford me the same benefit of the doubt, here? I will never forget when one of my “friends” asked me to “prove” someone has been racist to me online. When I showed him a screenshot, all he could say was, “oh, sorry.” I actually have to say, the online taunt didn’t hurt half as bad as having to sit there and prove it happened to someone who supposedly cared for me.
To rub more salt in the wounds, the day after the election, another “friend” commenced with the idea that many of us were being “hysterical”, that we were not going to enter into some Nazi state. I wonder if that “friend” has been watching the news for the past few months, I wonder if that former “friend” cares about the fact that his friends of color are being called every dirty name in the book, that I’ve had my Facebook inbox hacked by Stormfront, that a profile pic with my child in it made someone on Facebook call her a “half-breed” and me and my husband “race-traitors”. Yes, all of this happened. Not to that random Black person down the street. Me. You know…your “friend?”
I think many will read this blog post and think that I’ve gone too far and said too much. Here’s my thought to that: If me “talking” about racism is painful for you to hear, via this blog post or in person, how do you think I feel about living in it?
Unlike Justin Bieber, I won’t be providing a mea culpa here.
Sorry not sorry. EVER.