I Must Speak

“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living.”

Audre Lorde

This had been an incredibly emotional week for me as a Black woman in America. My anxiety, already at a high point thanks to the months of coronavirus social distancing is now reaching newer, higher levels in the midst of the current situation in our country and in my community.

So the post this week is going to be a raw one. It may not be polished, I may ramble, I may lose my point entirely but I wanted to speak and share where I am in all of this. The one thing I know in my heart is that I must speak.

Photo by Evelyn

Growing up in a Black family, conversations about race and inequality were just a normal part of my childhood experience. I grew up on a predominately white suburb of Cleveland and generally, I was fortunate to not experience much racial discrimination in my daily life as a child. There was some discrimination and prejudice – mostly from silly, ignorant bullies – but I always had friends and adults who would quickly call out kids for racist behavior.

My two older brothers weren’t as lucky. Growing up, there were many times when they were pulled over for no reason or hassled by people who just assumed they were in the “wrong” neighborhood. A family friend shared a heartbreaking story recently about a time when my brother called her, in tears, after a woman at a gas station mocked him with thinly veiled racial insults. This was just how life worked for my brothers as two Black men. It didn’t matter if they were successful and college educated, they were still seen as being a threat, even in our own neighborhood at times.

Even so, my parents made sure that I knew we were the lucky ones, living in our suburban home. “Privilege” wasn’t a word we used growing up in the ‘90s but that’s what we had and my parents never let us forget it. They never let me forget about the injustices that our relatives and ancestors endured in the South or even closer to home growing up in northeastern Ohio. I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned about slavery and Jim Crow and segregation. It was just part of my culture and heritage, something I learned about the same way others might learn about their ancestral village back in Europe or Asia. I have a cousin who traced our family history back to the Cash Plantation in South Carolina but, like most African Americans, our family tree gets murky when you try to look back before emancipation. Growing up, my parents instilled in me a deep appreciation of history in general and Black history in particular. Learning about the history of injustice in this country was just a part of my upbringing and I could see in the news and in the personal stories of my own family that racism is still alive and well in America. Electing Barack Obama didn’t mean that the racial tensions in America were gone or healed. Injustice is not just a historical relic, it continues every single day – whether the news outlets cover it or not.

So I knew why Colin Kaepernick was kneeling and I knew why “Black Lives Matter” became more than a slogan in the later years of the Obama administration. In recent years, with a smart phone camera in everyone’s pocket, I’ve seen more and more disturbing videos surface but three really stick in my psyche: Philando Castile bleeding and dying after being shot by a cop while his four year daughter sat in the back seat, Ahmaud Arbery being chased down and shot in the street and of course George Floyd. I saw the Philando Castile video in 2016, when my daughter was just two years old and I remember breaking down in tears when I heard that little four year old say: “it’s okay mommy” and hearing that small, precious voice trying to comfort a woman in open and raw grief. I watched it again as I drafted this post and the tears and pain are just as fresh as they were then. As a mother of small children, I know all too well the depths of caring a baby can have for their hurt and grieving mother. It broke my heart to see and hear that. No one should have to go through what that poor child went through at age four.

And now it’s 2020 and my country is on fire. After months of pent up anxiety and frustration from the COVID-19 pandemic, after the video of Ahmaud Arbery surfaced and drew outrage, we all saw the video of George Floyd’s death and many of us… snapped. Some of us snapped quietly in our homes, some snapped and took to the streets. Protests have turned violent, curfews have been enacted all over the country and answers are unclear. I’m angry and frustrated that the battles my parents fought in the ‘60s and ‘70s have just led us to the present day in 2020 where the same injustices and battles are still being fought today. Many of us are raw, we are emotional, we are frustrated, we are grieving and we are tired. I am tired.

I’ve been an emotional wreck this week for many reasons. Some personal reasons and some shared, community reasons. Old wounds are being picked open while I’m feeling like I’m living in a pressure cooker with no end in sight.

I do what I can for self-care but it can be hard for me to fully unwind and let go. I listen to music, I escape into the fantasy world of video games, I exercise and I go for walks and runs in my neighborhood, hoping that I’ll be safe. I’ve been talking to my family more, our conversations feel more like group therapy these days but I need it, we all do. I have a support network I can call on to vent out my frustrations and – thank you for reading this now – I write. I write in my own journals and I write these blogs. I don’t have answers to the problems in the world, I have no words of comfort or hope anymore even. All I have is my own experiences and that is what I offer in the hopes of connecting with someone else who may be feeling like me. At least that person will know they aren’t alone. At least I know that even in this hard and trying times, I did speak.

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