I have a rule to not talk about race with certain people. It is an act of grace on my part, as I know that if we do, our relationship will most likely not survive it. As they will always have a rationale for why ‘it is not racism’. Always have a counter narrative for my lived experience, or the lived experiences of those who look like me. It is also an act of self-care and self-preservation. As any conversation with them about race/racism will mean: at best some re-living of my experience; at worst pimping my pain in order to justify and validate what I am saying to the satisfaction of the hearer.
Occasionally, this rule has been broken. Either because I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. Having listened and listened to the liberal sharing of their opinion, till I could listen no more. Or because I subconsciously deluded myself that this time it may turn out differently. I can’t recall an occasion when it has turned out differently. Yet as recently as this week, I broke this rule; not once, but twice. I responded to a facebook comment querying the racism of the ‘how dark?’ question mentioned in the Harry and Meghan interview. It did not turn out differently.
Every conversation of this nature contributes to another hairline (stress) fracture. My 2020 analogy for articulating our lived reality and experience of racism.
A stress fracture is a type of bone break or crack in the bone. Stress fractures occur when a small or moderate amount of force is applied to a bone repeatedly and over time…
The forces that cause a stress fracture in the foot or ankle are similar to those when you bend a paper clip. If you gently bend a paper clip once, it will not break. But if you continue to bend it back and forth multiple times, the metal becomes weakened (or “fatigued”) and eventually breaks.HSS
2020 feels like the year when the paper clip was bent back and forth that one time too many. As I said in the post What Has Race Got to Do With It? , as a Black woman in this country I am born into the reality of race. I live in the awareness of being under threat, and that like an evil invisible friend, that threat is within only a few degrees of separation from myself. This is not, however, constantly at the forefront of my mind; I mean who could live like that? But it is imperative for me to know this threat exists.
I believe a lot of people of Black heritage develop strategies and coping mechanisms in order to navigate, and when necessary circumnavigate this reality. One might say, our firewalls are installed and kept up-to-date. This isn’t about going through life suppressing our experiences, rather holding the tension between accepting that’s just the way it is, and endeavouring to resist it defining and swallowing us.
The killing of George Floyd on the 25th of May 2020, abruptly and violently forced this reality past every firewall that had previously been a reliable first line of defence. His murder brought us face-to-face with the fact that we were even more disregarded and despised than we already knew we were.
I remember my first attempt to articulate a response. It was very inarticulate. Calls with some of my Tribe were inarticulate. Neither of us really able to collate our thoughts or curate our words; yet we understood each other perfectly. I knew that around the world, other people of Black heritage were experiencing something similar.- Compounded by the fact that we were experiencing this during a global pandemic, and all that came with it.
It prompted a collective grief, and a shared trauma. It was visceral. Bringing back to mind instances that we had forgotten, and ones we’d never even shared with some of those closest to us. It caused us to remember the everyday racism that we’d been experiencing our whole lives. The multiple microaggressions of a look, a comment, a tone etc. things that you know in your gut are because of race, but sometimes–due to the veneer–you can’t quite call them out. The exhaustion of constantly being expected to adapt yourself to the white spaces you enter, to not be seen as a threat, know your place etc. Stress fracture, after stress fracture…
“We navigate all of these things in our lives,” Nadal says. “For many of us on a daily, hourly basis. And for some of us where we might not even recognize that we are navigating them or even perpetrating them.”
To be clear, the “micro” in microaggression doesn’t mean that these acts can’t have big, life-changing impacts. They can, which is all the more reason to address them when you see them. If you can, that is.Kevin Nadal/Andrew Limbong | Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How To Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away
Run Out of Words
‘I don’t have to do nothing but eat, drink, stay black, and die.’From the poem, Necessity by Langston Hughes
As the global spotlight and outcry around George Floyd’s murdered continued to grow, White friends began contacting me, apologising and wanting to know how I felt; to talk; to know what they could be doing, reading etc. I had neither the emotional energy, capacity, or frankly the desire to engage in these conversations. – And honestly, in the age of the internet, some of the answers could have been sought out independently of me.
I could not yet even process what had happened, and the multi-layered pain it was evoking in my being. Also, I’d had these types of conversation before. The awakenings and realisations that some of those who wanted to talk were having, were around things–at cost to myself–I’d already pointed out years ago. I’d even been dressed down and ‘put in my place’ in certain arenas, when I’d raised my voice about things. So I was all talked out.
For a select few, however,—based on our level of relationship and my knowledge of their heart and character—I did choose to send bits of information/resources that I felt would connect with them. This was the extent to which I was willing (and able) to engage, and in later months replicated this on social media.
Additionally, I also had managers from an organisation I have links with ask for my input. Stating their intention to look at their institution in the light of George Floyd. I chose to respond; giving it time and consideration, plus emotional energy. I have yet, almost a year on, to see these intentions translated into something tangible.
Should I? Shouldn’t I?
So why should I break my rule? Why use up my precious breath to seemingly no avail? Honestly, I’m not completely certain there is enough of a reason to. Though it’s probably more accurate to say, I’m not confident–based on history and my own experience–that anything much has changed, or will change enough to make it worth the cost. Although I concur with what a cousin of mine said this week,
“things are better, not saying they are good, but better.”
I’ve been known to say, “all I have to do is stay Black and die.”, which since beginning this post, I now know came from a poem by Langston Hughes. There is a part of me that will always stand by those words. Interconnected with this, it resonated with me when I heard Daniel Kaluuya say, “I engage with my world, not the world”. This was how he concluded his response when asked what the state of the world, lockdown, George Floyd, Politics (US and UK) had taught him about himself.
It resonated as what I heard in it wasn’t a lack of concern for global matters or things outside of himself, rather, being cognisant of where one should spend the majority of one’s focus and capacity; cognisant of your primary sphere of influence and impact.
Stay Black and Die
Interestingly, the last few lines of the Langston Hughes poem, can speak to why being open to breaking my rule, should always remain a consideration. For as I said in a facebook post I found from August 2020, and many have similarly articulated before me,“The work remains unfinished. The need to address injustice and inequality remains necessary. Whatever part you have to play, in whichever way you are able and wired to contribute, do it. We all need to #dowhatwecan and #dothework“
- WE ARE ALL GEORGE FLOYD; black people can’t breathe!!!!!|Yinka Oyekan, June 2020
- Zooming through White Guilt.|Joel Edwards CBE, June 2020
- Why Black People Should Stop Telling Personal Stories to Explain Racism – Keysha Jordan
- If you’re looking for ways in which to do the work, these could be options to consider
- ‘I don’t have to do nothing but eat, drink, stay black, and die.’ —Langston Hughes (A blog post from 16th May, 2020, – 9 days before George Floyd was murdered.)