I’ve been watching many of my peers take to the streets and as a result, I’ve been mulling over my role in the movement. I also have wondered a lot about what my peers expect of me, both my non-Black peers and my Black peers. I’ve felt a lot of guilt for staying at home. “It’s okay, because rest is reparations” I might hear from a tired Black colleague of mine organizing grieving space for my people. “This isn’t your job, it’s our job”, I might hear from a sleepy and anxious white friend who has attended demonstrations all week. Or “I’ve been feeling guilt, too for staying at home” – another friend, any race, really.
A lot of my non-Black peers have reached out to me, given me money, an experience that a lot of my Black peers may have shared over the past week since protests in George Floyd’s name begun. The degree to which this flood of “are you okays” and “here $15” are welcome and non-violating for me and my peers varies. In my own life, I’ve experienced it to be mostly supportive. Just one of two “thank you for speaking out”s — which I took as condescending, knowing the deliverers of these words were those who I knew wouldn’t speak out about those issues which affect my quality of life.
Most of these messages have been “tame” or “contained” in the sense that they come from friends – people who I know genuinely love and delight in me. People who have loved me before this current-not-new-at-all flare of hyper visible state violence against Black people. It doesn’t bother me much.
But this isn’t what I’m writing about. This is about that wrestling with role… or maybe where one belongs.
I notice these pestering thoughts over “role” rising up whenever I start to feel lonely and unseen… like now even. The most recent trigger for these thoughts: when I watch someone complete or announce another project on race (or queerness or gender) social media… I wonder if being recognized for my work would make the uncomfortable emptiness go away? It’s an interesting thought; as if more work will ease the lonely. Our society seems to know Black people for how much we can talk and teach about racism and not as much for what we delight in, whether we are writers, chefs, skateboarders or whether we love our friends well. But when we write and make careers about our suffering, our books sell out and we get chosen to be keynote speakers at conferences. Nevermind our love of birds or climbing mountains. Nevermind our love of poetry.
I realize that the loneliness in part is living in a world like this: where you are invisible to much of the world for minding your Black business and loving what your Black flesh loves. A violence happens to your Black self, disturbing your ability to live in relative peace and you are rightly furious. But then your public anger throws you into hypervisibilty when the oppressor classes discover that they can use your anger for another project or self-improvement opportunity. This is how white folks fail me and undoubtably many of the Black folk that say they love: they relate to us as if the force that is diminishing our lives—racism—is the only reason to remember us. This is the way straight folks and cis folk fail me, too.
A white friend texted me a few days ago, offering meal support, and I texted them after hesitating with the truth, that I just wanted to talk… That I didn’t know that many restaurants in Atlanta anyway; that my stove broke; meals were both the first and the last thing on my mind right now. We talked the sadness, the grief, the rage, and the awkwardness of this moment. But also about the rabbit chewing weeds in my front yard, and the deer hiding in their backyard. And that nourished me: the opportunity to be plain and ordinary and boring and delighted, even when my DMs are filling with messages from white folks that arouses my hyper-vigilance.
I was heartened by a recent conversation on Twitch with Black musicians and writers within punk and alternative music genres. It gave me so much life to be able to hear from them and to remember my inner child who loves rock music. It brought a sense of aliveness in me, to see men talk about Little Richard, our musical history, how punk we are as Black people. I could hear their anger, which is love. Anger and frustration for being alienated by a community that loves the music they love.
I recognize that anger and frustration. I speak out against racism because I desperately want to live and be free to love what I love in peace. I want to go to a mosh pit and know that my peers will protect me from being hyper-sexualized. I wanted to have grown up believing that I could be a photographer for a punk band without having to worry about being harmed by my peers, being friendless because of the gaslighting of white boys who dominate and erase my people’s contribution to the music scene.
I want to be safe and supported doing and loving what I love. I want to be able to trust the world and be loved for what I love. I would like the world to love and cherish my freedom to dream, to love my people, to love the diaspora. I want the world to love my freedom to rock music and love birds. So much so that the world weaves us in into their lives, recognizing we are the siblings they are called to keep.
I speak out against racism because I am tired of worrying. I am tired of people who look like me worrying about our place in the world. It wears on you to not be able to trust the world you live in, the world you love. But, even when we speak out about racism in the alternative music scene or in the outdoor recreation world or the everywhere world, we, as Black folks, are often only turned to when our Black sibling dies at the hands of police. Then we exist, though we were there all along. As if we were not available for connection this whole time. As if racism… the thing that pins down my dreams, my ambitions and my body is the only thing to talk about with someone who looks like me. Forget my dreams, my ambitions, my body.
I sometimes think that if I got the leadership role… one where I got to talk and teach about racism and homophobia and all of that, I would feel whole. But the more time I give to this delusion, the more I lose sight of what I love. Everyday, I go through a few minutes, maybe a few hours of believing that I would be whole if I was recognized for what I know about my oppression. But many days I post on Facebook some analysis having to do with my oppression and my life does not change. I do get some kind of small recognition in my modest circle. But I do not feel anymore whole.
But for those short moments where I got to speak with a friend of both my joy and my fears, of how that small rabbit ignites something tender inside me (and to know that they trusted me with their little backyard fawn), the longing for wholeness did not haunt me.