No Air

Living as a Black woman in America means rarely breathing freely.

My struggle to breathe has nothing to do with COVID-19. This lack of air is a result of a different illness, one that has lingered in the air since the beginning of America. This illness ruined families, ruined health, ruined lives. This illness has changed forms through the years, but is just as prevalent and deadly today as it it was when it started.

My breath catches when I see a police officer, even if I’m doing nothing wrong.

Air leaves my lungs in a sick rush at the sight of a confederate flag.

At each microaggression, dog whistle, and ignorant comment I heave a hefty sigh of exasperation.

Racism is a disease infecting every area of this country. Sadly, too many among us don’t recognize how sick this country is. We need to open the windows and release the stale, sour air of this country’s racist past and present if we ever want to eliminate the disease in the future.

Acknowledge the original sin of slavery and its negative impact on Black Americans, then and now.

Apologize through words and actions. Try to right the egregious wrongs. Nothing can ever truly pay what is owed to those who worked this land for nothing, those who were seen and treated as nothing.

But we can try.

As I wait to see the results of this presidential election, I hold my breath. With each passing day I pray we are closing in on the final days of this disease. I hope I live long enough to see racism draw its final breath so we can all breathe freely.

Disappear

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I made our weekly sojourn to the grocery store. (Even Pre-COVID, we shopped weekly to save time, energy, and money.) We slowly wound our way through the store we simultaneously loved and hated—large selection and great prices, narrow aisles and never enough cashiers.

A woman’s cart stood between us and the almond milk, one of the last items on our list. Eager to get this trip over with, my boyfriend moved her cart a few inches so I could push ours past. The movement must have caught her eye, and she turned to look at me.

“You’re so beautiful!” she exclaimed.

I thanked her, secretly wondering how she could think such a thing given the cloth mask covering half my face. Without missing a beat, she continued.

“Where are you from?”

That was the first of many microaggressions to come.

I quickly replied, “Kentucky,” and pushed my cart closer to the dairy case in an effort to end the conversation. But she inched closer, maskless (!) and babbling.

“Your hair is lovely. What do you do to your hair to get it like that?”

The answer? Literally nothing. (The few sprays of water I applied before the trip didn’t count—I didn’t even put any product in it!) I shrugged and responded, “It just grows this way,” struggling mightily to keep myself from rolling my eyes. I was brought up to respect my elders, and even though the gray-haired woman in front of me was trying my patience, my mama raised me to be polite.

I tried to leave but the woman continued, following one awful comment with a string of several more.

“African women are so elegant, very regal and classy. You know, I could tell you weren’t from around here. You don’t act like the Black people in Wisconsin. I work with them and they have such an attitude. They wear their hair in the braids and it just comes out. I’m from India and I help them, boil the coconut oil and castor oil to make something to help it grow back. Your hair is beautiful and healthy, and you wear it just as it is! They should be more like you.”

Racism, wrapped in compliments. From another woman of color, at that! I wanted to disappear.

As she turned and walked away, she noticed the large ginger root in our cart.

“Healthy too! You are so good. May God bless you.”

My boyfriend, having ventured to get the almond milk himself, returned to find me standing next to our cart. Seething, I recounted the interaction. We headed toward the checkout line, watching carefully to avoid seeing her again.

Usually, I leave that grocery store anxious and frustrated because of the crowded aisles and lengthy checkout lines. Today, anxiety and frustration were replaced with anger and sadness.

You cannot uplift one Black woman and simultaneously put others down.

You cannot talk badly about Black people in Wisconsin while ignoring the fact that it is one of the worst states in America for Black people.

You cannot celebrate Black hair in its natural state while trashing the protective styles many of us (including myself) wear regularly.

You can, though, be racist and a person of color at the same damn time.

Starving

It’s been over two weeks since my last post, and hopefully this one will explain why that is.

These past few weeks have been…a lot. America is a country built on stolen land by stolen people. The racial injustices experienced by Black people since we got here were put on full display in a viral video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer.

Now, this video was shocking to a lot of people. But Black folks have seen this show before—multiple times. This ain’t nothin’ new to us. What really surprised me, though, is how many people lack empathy for others.

Real talk, I’ve always been the “sensitive” one. An empath, I guess? My own emotions hit me hard, and I tend to feel others’ emotions strongly too. Considering others’ feelings, perspectives, and experiences is something I was taught at a very young age.

Apparently some people’s parents skipped this life lesson, because I’ve seen wayyyyyyyy too many people lacking empathy here lately!

I wish I had the privilege to be that person who gives 0 fucks. That person who says and does whatever they please, other people’s feelings be damned! I wish “If it doesn’t impact me personally I don’t care,” could be my life’s motto.

But that just seems…wrong.

It might be easier to live life that way, but that doesn’t make it right.

Throughout life, I was taught to not be selfish. “Share! Listen! Give! Always!” (I grew up as an only child, so I feel like I got this lesson more than most people.)

But there is a difference between self-advocacy and selfishness.

When is it okay to ask for something back, or keep something for yourself, or require people to treat you a certain way? When does advocating for yourself become caring ONLY about yourself? Where’s the line?

I wish I knew. I feel like that line is in a different spot for Black people than it is for anyone else. We’ve had to spend our whole lives worrying about what other people think, how they see us. Maybe that isn’t “empathy” in the traditional sense, but that heightened awareness is necessary. Honestly, our survival depends on it.

Which is better–to be full of empathy, or starved of it?

Personally, I’d rather be caring than careless. But no lie, it’s EXHAUSTING. I’m so tired, y’all. That’s why this post took so long—all my energy has gone toward surviving lately.

Y’all have no idea how much effort it takes to be professional at work when your employer is doing the bare minimum regarding diversity. It’s so hard to take care of my home when all I can think about is how I’ve only ever seen one other Black person in my neighborhood. It’s tough to be a loving partner when my partner has a lot of the privilege I lack.

But sometimes the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.

Rest In Peace to George Floyd and all my Black sisters and brothers dead at the hands of racism. We will never forget you. We will avenge you, by any means necessary. Black Lives Matter.

The Weight

I pulled in to Nazareth, I was feelin’ ’bout a half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey mister, can you tell me where a girl might find a bed (can you tell me)
He just grinned and shook my hand, no was all he said

-Aretha Franklin, ‘The Weight’

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately, it’s because I’ve been feeling the weight.

An unarmed Black man was murdered by a police officer in his own apartment.

Brett Kavanaugh will likely become part of the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin, where I live, is slowly recovering from historic flooding that destroyed many structures and even killed someone.

The White House is in chaos.

As a Black woman in America, getting through each day lately has been utterly exhausting.  Watching the news makes me so anxious, but I can’t not watch–I need to know how close to oblivion we are getting.  Unfortunately, we are inching closer and closer every day.

The weight is bearing down on me.  It’s bearing down on a lot of us.

But I can’t let it take me out.  We can’t let it bring us down.

We have to continue to help and love each other, regardless of what we look like or how much money we have or where we’re from.

We have to fight back against those trying to tear apart our country with racism and discrimination.

We have to keep moving forward.

Yes, I’m still feeling the weight.  The struggle to make it through each day is still very real.  But I like to think that my muscles are getting stronger.  I’m trying to find something positive in each day to keep me moving forward.

I hope you are too.