but, started another…
This post is days in the making. Words have been rattling around my head, unable to stay still long enough to fall into place. Just when I think I’ve pinned them down, the winds of change blow and they scatter like a pile of loose leaves.
While I find my place in this moment of time, this mind blowing, devastatingly horrific, but in many other ways long overdo moment in time, I pray to express myself as accurately as I possibly can.
I have lived a life. It’s been filled with many experiences. I have seen things both beautiful and ugly. I have felt joy and pain. Comfort and discomfort.
These are broad statements that I believe most anyone can identify with, but my ugly goes deep, my pain has gone deep, and the uncomfortable place I existed in for so long, felt like a prison I’d never escape.
Now if you read my last post it sounds as if I had a childhood of privilege, white or otherwise. In many ways I did, but like I said before, I’ve lived a life. Or maybe what I really meant to say was, I’ve lived many lives. That’s probably more accurate.
This isn’t really a post to talk about my pain though, I’m just attempting to create a window into some of what played a part in creating the perspective I view the world with.
Again such a broad stroke of the brush…I’ve thrown myself into a vast sea of memories, creating ripples in all directions. Let me narrow it down. Let me talk about what’s on all our minds these days. Racism.
When I was 5 years old, in kindergarten, I only had one friend. His name was Louis and we played together during recess every day. One day my great grandmother had to pick me up early from school and walked out to the playground to fetch me. She found me playing on the monkey bars with Louis. I excitedly introduced her to my friend and though I can’t recall anything that may have been said, I somehow sensed her disapproval. I felt like I’d done something wrong. Louis was black. The only black child in our school.
Louis wasn’t there anymore come first grade and I didn’t see another black person in my town until high school. And even then it was only one brother and sister from the only black family in town. I didn’t make another friend who wasn’t white until I was a teenager dating a boy from a neighboring town whose best friend was Puerto Rican. Jose and I became close friends. He was a kind, caring, protective friend. One day he came to my town and my grandmother met him. Again I sensed that unspoken disapproval.
The women who raised me weren’t hateful women, yet they supported systemic racism. I heard the conversations where it was mentioned that the town I lived in was built after World War II for the returning G.I.’s. For the white ones that is, they flat out wouldn’t sell to “blacks”. That was just the facts. I’d also heard it said that the early bridges on the parkways had purposely been built low to prevent the busses coming in from the city. The busses coming from the city would be carrying “blacks”.
These were accepted truths of the seventies, the civil rights movement only the decade before. People of color were still very much being kept separate and so very far from equal.
Even in memories of my young years, something inside me knew to push against that line of thinking. Somewhere other subconscious influences were at work. I’m sure some peace, love, and flower power seeds had been planted in my psyche as well. The sad truth was, I just simply didn’t have much exposure to diversity for many years.
Fortunately for me, I’ve always been a seeker. A seeker of experiences, and that need to experience the world, opened up a world where I met all different kinds of people. Not all the experiences I sought out were good, and not all brought me pleasure. The places I went and people I met have not always been safe or smart choices. I’ve learned from them all though. I never remained in the protective bubble of a hometown where everyone looked like me, and that shaped me in ways and gave me insights in ways nothing else could have.
Fast forward to twenty years ago when I arrived in my current hometown. A special little spot on the end of an island, different from the rest of it. A place I had childhood ties to and somewhere in my heart I always knew I’d return.
I say hometown, but in reality it is a handful of idyllic small towns that together create a unique community. It is largely white, with the exception of one of the small seaside towns being extremely diverse. While it has seen it’s share of strained race relations through the years, struggles with an all white police force, and some stand alone incidents that scream bias, there is also the connections that grow between people who share lifelong experiences together through the years. This town is special, and it’s always been ahead of itself in the learning to live side by side with our fellow humans department. I truly believe this.
Ahh, but as I said this is only one little town amongst the several that make up the area. The rest being as white and privileged as can be. Where all their neighbors look just like them and while they’d never dream of using the “N” word, they sometimes when speaking of racial issues let a “those people” slip out.
Twenty years ago when I moved here I moved smack into one of their lily white neighborhoods. Myself and my three small children were welcomed and embraced. I lived there peacefully for months, I don’t think my neighbors had even noticed I started dating a black man from the town next door. They noticed when I invited his family over for a 4th of July bbq though. They noticed the black children splashing in the waters edge at the dead end private beach we had access to living in that neighborhood. They noticed and they didn’t like it.
These same people that had welcomed me, now held angry secret conversations and pressed the women who had rented to me to get me out. What ensued would become a battle involving the town’s “Anti Bias Task Force” and eventually resulted in the homeowners selling the property they had inherited from their parents, to avoid any further issues.
The long and short of it, I was removed from a neighborhood for unnecessary blackness. My first time being personally, negatively impacted by racism.
Through these last twenty years I have continued to call this place home. I take pride in both the natural beauty of where I live and the strong community ties I have created. This is a good place. People do care about each other and I have witnessed many examples that highlight that good.
Clearly though, it’s not perfect. I also have had further experiences of not just racism, but sexism, and classism as well. Injustice sucks. Feeling oppressed sucks. However the truth of the matter is I don’t have to wear it for the whole world to see. The color of my skin allows me the ability to shake it off and blend in. I also don’t have 400 years of oppression weighing me down as I try to move through this world. So I am aware this is a small comparison.
The weight of what i did carry though was heavy enough to grow tired. Tired enough to take advantage of the privilege my fair skin offered me, especially after a nasty divorce from my black husband. I quietly blended in amongst my neighbors and let go of any fight I had left in me.
I’ve enjoyed the peace that has allowed me. I live a beautiful life today, free to touch and taste all that is good. I do not take this for granted. I moved quietly amongst my neighbors, doing nothing to disrupt the tranquility of this beautiful place.
The women of this community are my peers. They are the mother’s of my children’s friends and schoolmates. They came to know me from meetings, and field trips, and fundraisers, and gatherings out and about town. They have treated me nicely, and it feels good to be accepted and fit in. The majority of these women, like myself, are white.
One summer I was included in a group text of about 15 of these women, meant to be used to let us all know who was at what local beach. The group took on a life of its own. Beyond meeting up for beach days, we began to celebrate birthdays together, and do an annual Christmas party. We shared about things happening in our lives and celebrated the good and showed one another support through the bad.
I became closer to some and some I associated with strictly through the group. Some personalities I found a little jarring, and several had opposing political views, but overall these were good women. They saw the world from their own perspectives, because that’s what we all tend to do.
I don’t regret creating friendships with people who see things differently from me, what I regret is not feeling confident enough to speak my own truths when I vehemently disagreed with turns the conversation would occasionally take.
I began to tell myself that “quietly” stating my own beliefs and living my life “appropriately” was enough. I bought into “live and let live”, which I suppose could be fine if we were all living on an even playing field. We are not. Plain and simple, we are not.
In 8 minutes and 46 seconds I awakened to the realization that silence IS violence. That injustice for one is injustice for all. That I have a need and a desire to be a part of this moment. That this moment can slip away if we don’t fight for change with all we’ve got, and that means not remaining silent as I read the words “thugs” and “animals” being spoken amongst this group of women. Some who can’t help but counter “black lives matter” with “all or blue lives matter”.
These are not my people. And that is not the conversation I want to be a part of. So on Tuesday night, when one shared the information in regard to the local protest scheduled for the following day and some began to express frustration with “those people”, and a couple spoke disparagingly of the young man who organized this call to action, I could not remain a silent observer any longer.
“I will be there” is the last thing I typed before removing myself from the group text I had been a part of for years. “Deanna has left the conversation. Tuesday 10:02“ .
My silence, while remaining in that conversation spoke of who I didn’t want to be. My leaving it screamed loudly of who I hope to become.
I have since protested side by side with my biracial daughter, who struggles to find her place in this world, as people tell her “you’re lucky you look white”. I am watching my adult daughters living in different areas approach this with a fierceness that serves to fuel the fire in my own heart. While one is on top of providing information to change legislation, how to educate yourself on who to vote for if it’s change you want, and grassroot initiatives to begin disassembling systemic racism in America, the other is ready to burn shit down. She has deemed herself a medic, packing supplies and heading to the front lines of large scale protests, ready to help whoever is in need. She also has donated generously to causes that support the movement. Both angry. Both passionate. Both necessary.
No justice. No peace. Change is painful, and this country needs change. I will not speak on condemning protester’s violence or on how pointless looting and rioting is, when the police are responding to protests AGAINST police brutality, by engaging in police brutality. I will not speak on anything but the cause that has set these current events in motion. You don’t like this violence? Let’s stop the violence that is police brutality. Let’s stop seeing the color of someone’s skin as a weapon. When a large black man is seen as a threat before anything has even happened, what chance is there for peace?
When a man can be lynched on a street in broad daylight, by four uniformed officers, as onlookers film it and those who attempt to intervene are threatened with mace, I will not quietly stand by and listen to “well that’s awful but people rioting and looting has to stop”. How about “people rioting and looting is awful, but police killing unarmed black people has to stop”.
George Floyd is only one in a long list of names we should be saying, but it his name that is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is his face, painted in murals around the world, that is sparking a revolution. This can not continue. We must rise together and fight against these killings. This is not black people’s fight. This is humanity’s fight. There is a knee on the neck of humanity and WE CAN’T BREATHE!!!
Yesterday I went to the local market, checking out at the same time as me, was a woman I knew from around town. We are not friends, but our paths have crossed through the years. I knew her daughter was one of the strong, incredibly inspiring speakers at the protest I attended the day before. As we both headed out the door I stopped her to say how proud she should be of the leader her daughter has emerged to be.
She thanked me, and we continued to walk in the same direction. She is a black woman the same age as me. In the span of those few blocks we spoke of our children, some of our hopes and fears for them, and how sick we are of what’s happening in the world. We parted ways with a “stay safe out there” to each other.
It was both a simple, yet profound short walk. I reflected on the “conversation” I had recently left and thought how I didn’t leave that conversation to stay silent. I left it to be a loud unapologetic voice against racism.
I implore you not to let this moment pass. Don’t just repost short clips or quotes, without knowing the whole context. Follow black influencers on social media. Follow accounts that are fighting for change. Read black literature. Learn the history. Black history in America is American history. We need to educate ourselves and we need to vote. Know what your legislators support. Get involved with local politics. Speak up when you witness racism. Walk and talk with people who don’t look like you, and stand beside them and fight for a better world.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.