Racism strikes, my blood pressure spikes

There was a time that pretty much whenever I had a racist encounter, I would write about it. Over the years though, as I have gotten older, I made the conscious choice to not always write about them—unless they were particularly egregious.

My personal pain, humiliation, and rage don’t always need to be witnessed and personally, for the sake of my own sanity, there are times when I just have to let things go. The uncomfortable truth is, for the majority of white-bodied people—unless they are intentional about confronting their internalized white supremacy—they will engage in racist behavior whether intentionally or not. Unless they are personally driven or directed otherwise, white superiority is the milk upon which they were raised and it lives in their bones. 

This morning, a white lady and her almost certainly unintentional racism ruined my day and literally spiked my blood pressure. The thing is, whatever her intentions, the impact was harmful to me. 

I have been dealing with a low-grade bout of depression. The past several months have been uncomfortably hellish as I navigate professional change and chaos, which has included losing staff members to more lucrative opportunities than my little organization can offer and being critically short staffed at a very busy time of year.

At the same time, we are coming out of a grueling two-year internal process between the board and myself that revealed that even an anti-racism organization has to confront the deep tentacles of racism within its own ranks and processes.

There have been changes in my family that have resulted in new additions. As a friend recently said, I am officially really a Grammy now. Indeed, I am. 

My romantic relationship of the past year has taken some unexpected turns due to life, and despite the love between us, we are currently taking a break. It has been hard.

My youngest child will be turning 18 soon, and after 31 years of parenting straight since I turned 19, this is a huge milestone for me.

Oh, and there is the general stress of life and my aging perimenopausal body. On top of worrying about keeping BGIM Media going as I navigate life. It has been a lot, and I recently hit a huge wall. My depression is most likely situational, but I am scheduled to see my doctor in a few weeks and I will be scheduling some sessions again with my therapist. Damn, I thought after five years, I had graduated from therapy! It is hard for me to admit this, especially as a Black woman, where our depression often goes unrecognized because we still appear very okay and in charge. 

I have no doubt that I appear fine on the surface, because I am trained to suppress my feelings and my tears—to hold it together until it threatens my life. Hello, blood pressure spikes of late! Some of those spikes are hormonal; some are me barely hanging on but going through the motions. Masking as a Black woman is so easy to do and few even recognize it is happening—or what it costs us. 

After a few weeks of vacillating between rage and nothingness, I had a breakthrough a few days ago and was starting to feel more like myself. Turns out, it is okay to ask for help, people will help. I made some professional decisions to lighten my workload and my kinda-ex and I had a heart-to-heart talk, and while this pause is still necessary, I feel a lot more clear about our future. All this to say that I am coming out of a dark place—a place that is not my norm—and after several weeks of limiting my contact with the outside world, I was looking forward to this morning and getting back into my nourishing routines that ground me. 

My plans for the day were simple: early breakfast on the mainland and going to get an IV vitamin treatment. If you follow me on social media, you probably noticed that I am a big fan of IV vitamin treatments. I leave feeling amazing and well, and the extra vitamins are a boost to the immune system. 

I took an early boat to the mainland, then made my way to the vitamin treatment spot. I was checked in and waiting to be seen when a white lady thoughtlessly decided to ruin my day. She was checking out and I was sitting in the reception area, mindlessly scrolling on my phone as we do these days in waiting situations. This white woman noticed my nails and called over to me that she liked them—they looked good. I looked up, said “thank you” and went back to scrolling.

She then asked if my nails were real. I immediately tensed, because that is an intrusive question and what difference did it matter? I tersely answered that they were my nails and that the procedure was gel with chrome on my nails. The woman stepped away from the counter, moved into my personal space and before I knew what was happening, she grabbed my right hand and started fondling my fingers asking again, “Are these real?”

It happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I honestly went on autopilot. I snatched my hand back and told her not to touch me. She backed up and seemed startled by my reaction and issued a hasty “I’m sorry,” looking at me as if I were an alien. 

The total exchange was less than a minute, but I felt the shift in my body. Muscles tense, nerves on edge. Fight or flight fully locked and loaded. At that moment, the nurse called me in for my service, but before drip services can be administered, vitals must be checked. 

Due to the precarious state of my blood pressure, I have to do daily BP checks for my healthcare provider to get a better picture of my blood pressure woes, to determine if my blood pressure truly needs to be treated with medication or is it just occasional blips that are causing the shifts. In the month since my last trip to the ER, most days my pressure has been holding steady at the high end of normal, rarely above 130 over 90.

This morning when I checked, my pressure was 121 over 85, which given my lack of sleep this week isn’t bad. It has been holding pretty steady, despite canceling most of my exercise training sessions in the last few weeks. 

Well, the nurse takes me back, and at this point, my heart is beating rapidly and to be blunt, I am pissed the fuck off. The nurse takes my pressure and it is 175 over 97—too high to receive a drip today. She gave me a few minutes to calm down, but it remained elevated. In the end, I ended up talking with the owner of the facility, who witnessed the exchange, and I explained how it was a microaggression. She apologized for the woman, but really, the damage was done. 

Living on a barrier island, and dealing with low-grade depression meant that getting up and getting to this appointment took time and intention. Especially as I am a weirdo who chooses not to own a car and this visit is a car-driving destination, which meant I wasted time and money on a transportation service only to not get the service I wanted. Sigh.

I came back home and have been reflecting on the insidious and unseen nature of racism and how it dehumanizes. I am a 50-year-old mother and grandmother, and yet that white woman felt entitled to reach out and touch me, because she thought I didn’t know if my own nails were real? Or that I was lying to her, a stranger. 

My 17-year-old daughter really summed it up: White people often ask to pet unknown dogs before petting them. Yes, they do. I see it all the time. Yet a fully-grown Black woman ranks lower than a dog on bodily autonomy. You don’t get to be a middle-aged Black woman in America without having at least one white-bodied person attempt to touch you without your permission. To handle your hair or fiddle with your nails because they are exotic or they don’t think they actually grew from your skin. 

I imagine that woman went about her day, not giving our exchange a second thought past being startled that I would react badly to being handled without permission. Meanwhile my day—a day where I mustered all I had to get back to some semblance of normal—was ruined by her. Now I have to rearrange my schedule next week to go back and try it again. 

Racism is the fucking cockroach you can never get rid of, without herculean effort. Sadly, our societal efforts to rid ourselves of this are moving far too slowly, and in the meantime, how many Black people just minding their business and living their lives will be impacted in their bodies by racism. Or actually have their lives ended over racism?  Days like today, I wonder if I should carry a sign that says “Please don’t touch the nigger. She might bite.”

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Image by Yoad Shejtman via Unsplash

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