Why we share, or The value of our stories and the price of silence

These are strange times that we are living in. Technology has allowed us to start having conversations that previously were held behind closed doors…and often in the company of only our nearest and dearest friends and family. No longer do we have to wait until the end of the day to return home to vent about what happened and, for some people, hearing the uncomfortable moments is more than they can bear. Yet our discomfort with reality doesn’t make the need for the conversation any less real. One might argue that the more uncomfortable you are with certain topics, it might be a sign that there is a need for self-examination.

The past week has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride for me as I dealt with the aftermath of deciding to publicly share an uncomfortable private moment. As usual, the cowardly keyboard brigade came out to play with someone (or someones) deciding to attack me on Twitter.  I shouldn’t let such people get to me but the truth is, I am very much a human and not a machine and when my integrity or character are attacked by those who hide behind fake names and pictures, it pisses me off. I speak my truth and I don’t hide and neither should you.

That said, it has been a week where I have been heartened to see others speaking up about their uncomfortable moments. A local Black pastor in Maine wrote about an encounter his adult daughter had with a white man and how uncomfortable it left her feeling. I read about yet another Black middle-aged woman who had a “dining while Black” moment. I have heard from more than a few people of color in Maine who are admitting that they don’t feel safe here right now.  For some of us, the uncomfortable moments are a daily occurrence and in the current climate, we are already simmering pots of anxiety, anger, frustration and/or fear that then have the heat turned up on us and threaten to make us boil over because we have to deal with a steady stream of microaggressions, often by people who refuse to understand that racism and hate are more than burning crosses on the lawn and white men hiding under white sheets.

To further complicate matters, there is this current drive towards false equivalencies. It’s why some hear Black Lives Matter as an erasure of all other humans instead of recognizing that historically Black Lives have not mattered to most of American society and, therefore, all that Black Lives Matter is meant to express is, “Black lives matter just as much as the other lives and you need to stop treating them as if they don’t.” The fact is that across just about every indicator, Black life is not afforded equivalency to white life, Furthermore, this is not the result of Black inferiority but instead an intentional design (and constant unconscious reinforcement of that design as well) in society and in systems and in daily behaviors that has given white folks a leg up while continuing to tie 50-pound weights around the legs of Black people while telling them they should run harder to catch up.

Our insistence on avoiding the uncomfortable is why we have a man running to become President of the United States who is openly embraced by white nationalists and whose “dog whistle” style of racism is barely disguised. Yet if you call Trump or his supporters racist xenophobes, people will tell you that you are wrong. Those of us whom Trump and his supporters see as broken, weak, useless or problematic know that “Make America Great Again” means makes make America great again for beleaguered white America (and really, the fact that white Americans think Trump wants to do anything to truly empower them or life them up materially is ridiculous in itself). But still, our media continues to hem and haw on naming that uncomfortable reality and keeps using the same standards for Trump that it does for entertainers, instead of the standards it uses for politicians.

A few nights ago as I was on the train heading back to Maine, I found myself engaged in a conversation about racism with a white man who told me that he just didn’t understand all the race talk that is going on. He told me how growing up in Boston, his father had been a cop with a Black partner and how his dad’s partner was like an uncle to him and as a result he just didn’t grasp all the “hate.”  It was the type of conversation where there could be no resolution because to talk about systemic racism requires more than 45 minutes. But in that time, I shared a story, more of a “day in the life of BGIM” moment and the other Black woman in the cafe car with us just nodded along as I detailed how racism affects me and most Black people. Is it the totality of our being as people? Hell no! But does it impact us? Is it tiring? Does it make ya wanna holler as Marvin Gaye once sang? Hell yeah.

These are strange times and no mere conversation (or even several) can erase 400 -years of intentional, systemic denial of a group of people. Yet by telling our stories and asserting ourselves and our humanity in the face of hostility and denial, we start the process of chipping away at the silos that keep us apart as individual groups and threaten us all as a collective society. Talk is cheap sometimes; but at the same time, we can choose to let it be the start and not the end, and thus make it worth something again.
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