Black bodies in white spaces during times of Black crisis

Note: This is a deeply personal post and as a result it’s written in a stream of consciousness to say what I need to say, there is no point other than to give words to my truth.

“If you’re white you don’t have to live in our world. You can if you choose to. You can choose to visit. You can choose to completely ignore it and us. You have a choice. We do not. We do not have any choice over where we live. We, paradoxically, have to live in your world.”– A Black Bluesman in Maine

It was over 100 years ago when W.E.B. DuBois coined the phrase double consciousness, the state that the average Black American lives in. This past week I have never more been aware of the dual nature of the Black experience in America. A state that leads to what at times can best be described as a half lived life, a life where Black bodies are always aware of the space they exist in and how at times we wear the mask to conceal the depth of our sorrows and our pain, knowing that no matter how well we perform by the standards of whiteness we are never fully viewed as human.

 

Years ago when the decision was made to move to Maine, I knew there would be hard days, days when for my own safety and protection I must stay barricaded in my house.  Because the depth of my emotions would not allow me to wear the mask that is common amongst Black people who inhabit white spaces. How can we ever take our masks off when the very experiences of life in America are so very different! White lives and bodies exist in the silo of privilege where one can trust in the goodness of the world around them. Black bodies learn early on that the goodness that is part of the white experience in America  does not necessarily cross racial boundaries. Our worthiness as humans is measured against the white experience and if we fall short we are deemed to be very bad.

Over a week ago, a young Black man in Ferguson, MO was gunned down by a local police officer.  The town of Ferguson itself erupted under the weight of decades of mistreatment and systematic oppression yet in the mainstream narrative that is framed by non Black people the inhabitants of Ferguson are deemed dangerous and unruly. I have lost sleep and cried many tears not just because my heart goes out to Ferguson (it does) but in knowing that for my Black body and the bodies of my kids, at any time we can meet this fate. Blackness in America is knowing that our lives at any time can be snuffed out. Yet in more diverse spaces in America, one can find comfort in communion with other Blacks but when living in a predominantly white space, we are denied the fellowship of others like us. This hit home for me a few days ago when a young Black person reached out to me on how to navigate life in this very white state.

To be brutally honest the past few days have been hard; hard conversations have been had as my very white husband and I admitted to each other that if we knew almost 20 years ago what we know now, we would not be. Not because of a lack of love but because life is hard enough when living as Black, and to bring children into the world who while technically biracial will be viewed as Black will test the boundaries of love. These children have to navigate a world where in many ways there is no place for them. To love and live across racial lines is harder than anyone can ever know. To live in a space where few can understand is hard under the best of conditions but to add active situations with strong racial overtones is to be a person who goes above and beyond and sadly I am not that person.

My heart is broken and my anger is quick, I am tired, I no longer want to be a sideshow attraction for well meaning whites. I no longer believe that justice is available to others freely because as Frederick Douglass said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Yet in these tender moments when I see faces that look just like mine fighting to be treated like humans, I am tired. I finally understand why Blacks on average have shorter life expectancies than whites, our hearts and souls give up the good fight. Today I sit unable to go outside because to know that at best I am a curiosity is too much,even in writing this I wonder if I should hit delete. Yet after a week of being teased, taunted and ridiculed for my belief that Black bodies are worthy of inclusion into the human family, I write this to show that we are capable of the full range of human expression. To inhabit a Black body in America is hard and to inhabit it in a space where there are few people who look like you is hard and a continual journey where you hope and pray that you don’t step on the landmine.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Black bodies in white spaces during times of Black crisis

  1. This is very sad. It’s an anachronistic narrative that must be updated if the state of so called “Black America” is ever to improve and it is not the responsibility of so called “White America” to cause or provoke that improvement. It is our own.

    The piece portrays a sort of racial/cultural psychosis that does not reflect the truth of being black in America, it is more of a template, one size fits all, political identity. It is a racial PROFILE that far to many of us are resigned to accepting for reasons I cannot fathom.

    I believe that as black people, we must not follow the script as laid out by well meaning but misguided whites, suffering from white guilt. We must not follow the program as designed by political opportunists, race baiters, provocateurs, and instigators. They seek only to perpetuate their own relevance and wealth.

    WE must decide who and what we are. We are not just one big morass of black, we are individuals each with unique gifts and sensitivities. We must concentrate on our individuality, not the collective descriptions placed on us by others.

    Black society / culture is WILLFULLY separatist, anti-American, violent and degenerative. We must end this. We are in charge of our own destiny now, not white people, and we are largely choosing to wallow in self pity rather than rise and take control of the incomprehensible opportunities before us.

    We must choose the path to excellence and success. We cannot go back in time and change how we were mistreated by people. We must recognize that those people are not America anymore than a driver and passengers are a car. America is an incredibly well designed country, and for once, we have an opportunity to take advantage of that design.

    I have chosen to live in the 21st century. I will respect but not live in the early 20th century with Du Bois. The space I occupy is neither black nor white. It is simply mine and I will do with it as I choose because my body is free and more importantly my mind is not shackled.

    Remember, our only limits are the size of our ideas and the degree of our dedication. If the size of our ideas dose not extend past race, that is where we will remain, until we simply vanish.

  2. I go through similar problems a time. I remember when both U.S spy plane incident at Hainan Dao and the SARs outbreak in China in the early 2000’s. Living as an one of the very few Asian-American in Augusta, Maine (the state capital) I was very fearful to go out in public. My older brother was out-of-town and is a very intense person, my parents who speak english as a second language are essentric people who only make my anxiety worse due the cultural clash, all the asians who worked at my parents resturant were immigrants who didnt speak english very well. I was pretty much left alone to deal with the problems myself.

  3. I’m genuinely confused by what you mean as to
    “….a sideshow attraction for well meaning whites.” Can you explain what you mean?

  4. Shay never responds to questions, or even thanks people for commenting. I guess that it’s beneath her. She can complain all she wants, but at the end of the day it’s all about “race card.”

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