Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it (like I normally do) contemplating how I had spent the past year, what I’d like to improve on, and what I’d like to do differently or drop off altogether.
For some reason, none of that lingered long enough. My mind kept going to the image of Amy Cooper threatening Christopher Cooper over being asked to put a leash on her dog.
It was surreal. I mean I am not totally clueless that there are White people that are aware of their privilege and use it, it just never occurred to me that any civilized person will (even in their weakest moment) think being that vile and throwing that callous a threat in one’s face was OK. It made me see in a very different light, how very fragile the life of a POC is, and how very insignificant it is to a privileged white person, especially one holding unto that privilege and waiting for a chance to milk it. And somehow George Floyd happened and it brought back memories of the countless others, too often, too many…
I was not born in the USA and a lot of the things I learned about racism was in Europe, but even there, for the most part, my initial experience of it was my late (white) husband getting overly protective because he felt a certain way about people’s gestures, words or acts towards me (none of it violent or even that blatant to be quite honest). I come from Africa, and that meant being a majority and therefore having an inherent sense of dignity. It took me some time to realize that indeed that shallow mindedness I was occasionally stumble upon in Europe was racist and intended to trivialize my person, but even so, I don’t know that I can point to any one incident that I was made to feel as though I had no worth or dignity. I’ve lived in Europe most of my adult life and although there are racists even there, I have never (NEVER) been made to feel insecure or fear for my life because of the colour of my skin.
The situation there may not have been as bad as I find it here, or I may have been in a privileged setting and therefore never had to encounter any of it to the extent I find it here, and it’s one of the first things I noticed about being black in the USA; that I was insignificant and my life not as worthy as I thought it to be. And it was disturbing too, to have to deal with that in close quarters…
I have always had a strong sense of self, and actually love being black. It’s all I know how to be, and for the most part, it’s been a pleasant experience to be black. But being black in the USA…yes, my melanin overload bothers some people and therefore that makes me, and my kind insignificant. That is so disturbing on so many levels. I have learned that the lives of people of colour counted less, and worse so the boys and men, I am not talking about beeing striped of one’s dignity alone, I am talking about the ease at which lives are lost and nothing is done about it. When I hear my fellow POC talk about having ‘the talk’ with their sons about how to stay safe out there, I find that my talk is with my daughter who is a Tom boy and has until very recently been mistaken for a boy.
And so I have feared for her getting in trouble by simply being. She has never felt safe here and I don’t blame her because I am all the protection she knows, and I am a person of colour and equally endangered. Heck! I have never felt safe here!! We have been followed around in stores, have had our cash payments checked with fraud makers, requested to provide ID for paying with credit card when a non-POC paying before us didn’t go through the same security check. Been stopped and asked to show ID because I drove a car that had an out of state plate number (my MIL’s car).
Been stopped for ‘routine’ check and no other reason besides. We have been followed from store to store in the same mall by cops, asked for receipts of purchases made, followed till we arrived at destination, and my only explanation to those encounters was that my tomboy had a hoody on, and she would not take it off, and had shuffled about, reading labels on cans and packages and putting them back on the shelves (did we look like we were trying to steal or simply trying to buy the right products for us by reading the ingredients to decide?)
We have been dismissed for requesting extra precaution taken regarding our safety at home too, because we know of the imminent danger we are in just by being POC and female…and foreigners, dismissed by the privileged…Sometimes, you let that slide and remind yourself that you just need to stop expecting or depending on someone else to care for your safety; you do it yourself. Still…
I think what I am trying to understand is what are we doing wrong as a society? Educating each other about what is, is not taking care of the injustice. Voicing our disdain and disagreement to it all is not taking care of it. Protesting is not taking care of it. Peaceful demonstrations are not taking care of it. Sadly even in instances where POC and non-POC share living spaces, there is still that disturbing disconnect and lack of acknowledgement to the difference in treatments based on skin colour…
WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG??
There has to be something we can do TOGETHER (both POC and non-POC) to fix this. The rot is great and its roots are very deep but it can be uprooted, we just need to know how…
My heart hurts deeply right now, so I’m going to bed; tomorrow is another day. And while we are at it, let’s consider that we may need to revisit how we are handling all of this because clearly, how we have handled it thus far is not working. More importantly, let’s aim at remaining dignified in our treatment of each other while we find a solution. This needs to stop.
If you are a non-POC and care, I’ll highly recommend the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo It is a difficult book to read but it will open the door for conversation and we need to start those conversations in order to arrive at a solution.
Peace begins with me.
©Naan Pocen 2020
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