“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
– Audre Lorde
Like many people, the end of a year brings with it reflection on the past twelve months and my hopes for the future. Yet in the past several days, as I find myself reflecting on 2015, I find myself feeling heavy with sorrow and a certain sense of resignation that change may never come. We humans are a fickle bunch; we love the idea of change yet when faced the daily hard work of change, we often fall short. It’s why most New Year’s resolutions stall out by the end of January and why diets are often a losing battle. Change is hard. It requires a rebooting and a conscious and intentional effort that frankly is hard.
2015 is the year that racism went mainstream—hardly a week passed without a national story dealing with race. It was a year that saw Black Lives Matter: the slogan, the people, and the movement. It was a year that gave rise to a younger generation of students and activists saying enough is enough. It’s also been a year where the nasty racial undertones that have been woven into the fabric of the nation have risen to the forefront. When Donald Trump announced his bid for president, it was assumed to be a joke, yet it was no joke and somehow along the way, Trump’s dog-whistle politics have unleashed something nasty that has been sitting in the souls of millions of white people who are feeling increasingly disenfranchised and somehow feel that a shifting racial dynamic is at the heart of their economic disenfranchisement.
In a society that was built upon the enslavement and unfair treatment of Black and Brown people, yet has tried to gloss over that savage history, 2015 was the year that our racial skeletons could no longer be contained within our overstuffed closets.
The disparate treatment that disproportionately affects people of color and most specifically Black people is no longer a hushed conversation. It is that festering sore, long ignored, that has now burst. Unpleasant as that analogy (and metaphorical reality) is, it isn’t the stench and pus that is the biggest worry. No, that ugly sore, now revealed…the nasty smell, now overwhelming the room…they are just the sign of something worse that we must now confront. The sore won’t kill us; what will is the tumor underneath that’s responsible for the what’s on the surface. A tumor of racism that has been growing all along, never removed and never truly treated. It infiltrates and infects every system that makes up our society. Education, healthcare, judicial, criminal, economic…the list goes on.
Closer to home, 2015 for us in BGIM land was the year that racism was no longer what we tried to keep away from our youngest child; it became personal. At the tender age of 10, she now knows that when a white person wants to demoralize us, our names become nigger. She learned that good white people freeze up and ignore you when the bad white people decide that your name is nigger. She learned that Mama’s middle-age hormones won’t stuff nigger down ever again and that sometimes Mama’s pain causes pain for the family when our nigger story went viral and friendships were lost. The cost of admission in many primarily white spaces as a person of color is to never remind people that you aren’t white or that you face acts of racism (small or large) nearly every day of your life. Surrender your lived realities as a Black person, never remind anyone of the indignities that come your way, and never get emotional about it. Breaking this rule results in immediate termination of relationships because talking race is uncomfortable…the whitefolk (and even a few of the Black) cry out: Can’t we all just get along?
Race once again killed another relationship as the stress and strain of being a Black woman in a very white space became too much to bear and love could no longer balance out the ignorance and the hate.
I saw my son reach heights with his music that I never dared to dream of. As we close out the year, vaunted publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin magazine have declared his self-produced album one of the best of the year. Yet the joy is short-lived when I hear how many times he endures being called a nigger on the road or stories of cops who pull him over without cause, detain him and dehumanize him for hours on end only to let him go after they realize he told them the truth that he has nothing illegal in his car. His only crime? Daring to be a Black man trying to live this life on his own terms and daring to drive a car.
In 2015, I argued and fought with healthcare professionals to keep my father alive when all they saw was a busted old Black bum. I have felt the weight of Blackness and racism literally weigh my own body down this year, yet every time I see the healthcare professionals, they tell me it’s just “stress.” And, in a sense, they are right, though not specific enough. It’s the stress of being Black, living past 40 and trying the best that I can. And now I live with the chronic pain of muscles that won’t release except under the skilled hands of a massage therapist whose specialty is stressed-out people. Too bad that she can’t soothe the knots of racism that threaten us all.
Racialized realities surrounded me this year, whether in my personal life, professional life or the general world…as it did for millions of others. Yet life is more than race and racism, even for people who live with racism on a nearly daily basis. So even in the midst of the storms, moments of joy were had, and moments that changed my life too. Despite the weight and pain of it all, I witnessed myself giving birth to the self that has long been struggling to be birthed. The labor was long but the wait was worth it. I take this new being into the new year, standing firmly in the knowledge that I am entitled to speak my truth and my pain and that surrendering is never an option.
I look in amazement at the millions of young Black people this year who have learned far earlier than me that they are fully entitled to sit at the table of humanity and it is not their responsibility to soften or to be acceptable under the weight of the white gaze. Many look upon these courageous young people and see a people clinging to victimhood status but frankly, I see the only hope this country has for getting off this racial roller coaster that never ends.
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