This article was originally published on The Manifest-Station
This morning I woke up in the middle of the night to the screams of my daughter crying. I panicked even though this was not a new occurrence to me. We never let her come in our bed anymore but this time I needed to see her. As I snuggled her in bed my anxiety grew and my stomach clenched.
I thought about how this is only the second time I have been truly scared for my life and the life of my loved ones as a result of what was going on in the political world. The first time was I heard the announcement we were going to war in 2003. I was in the car driving from California to Arizona with my dad. I remember asking him, “but what does that mean?” I meant, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for you? What does this mean for America? Will bombs reach our shores? How will our lives change after this?
14 years later I find myself asking the same questions. I understand who won, but what does that mean for me and the ones I love most? What does that mean for our country? I am a black woman who is married to a Jewish man and raising a biracial daughter. I am an ally to the LGBTQ community and many of my dearest friends and family identify as such. When their community bleeds, my heart bleeds too. I have friends whose parents and students and loved ones are immigrants. There are Muslims who are rightfully scared for their lives and have been since September 11. These are the communities I am most scared for.
Over the past year we have seen tensions grow. Black people are being killed and no one is being held accountable. The Orlando shooting at Pulse proved there is still much hatred for the gay community. North Carolina passed a law that stripped transgender people of their right to use the bathroom of their true gender.
In Boulder, a so called progressive town, my husband and I walked down the street with our daughter and saw “nigger” written along our walking path in 2016. We watched as many white people walked by and didn’t even stop or think twice about the words they saw defacing their streets. It was just a normal day for them. One man stopped and said in a shocked tone, “Isn’t that a racial slur,” and then continued with his day. They ignored it because they could. Because it didn’t break their heart to feel like they couldn’t even walk down the street with their family without being harassed. Because they never have to worry about the impact those words will have on their children one day. Because they don’t have to worry about explaining to their children what that means and why people do that and hoping it doesn’t shatter their child’s spirit or take the light from their eyes.
I remember the first time I sensed I wasn’t welcome because of my race. I had a relatively sheltered upbringing growing up in Texas, but there were several instances as a child that shattered my bubble of safety. Back then I lived in a state of denial, stashing each heartbreaking encounter with racism in my “process later” file because I couldn’t fully understand what was happening.
When I was younger my brother, mom, and I used to go on walks around our neighborhood. It was one of our favorite things to do. My brother and I would ride our bikes while our mom walked. One day some white men in a truck threw their trash at us as they drove by while shouting things at us. I remember looking at my mom and seeing her tense up and start walking faster. I kept asking her, what did they say? Why did they do that? Why would someone throw trash at another person? She had no answers for us that day.
Those questions still remain unanswered today. I never believed race relations in America were perfect, but it concerns me when people in power don’t defend communities who have been harassed and degraded and instead join in the hate speech. I am not surprised to see how we got here, but you can’t blame me or others for being scared. I saw someone refer to people posting about their fears on social media as fear mongering. This is not fear mongering. I am not exaggerating or trying to manipulate a situation. This is my truth and many other people’s truths as well.
Every morning when I wake up I have to wonder if that will be the day someone is bold enough to act out their hate on me or my loved ones. I have to worry if my daughter will one day reject her black ancestry because it’s easier and safer for her to pass as white. I have to worry about the hearts of my loved ones being broken over and over because America has shown them their feelings have no value to them. I have to wonder what people mean when they say, “Make America Great Again” because the America I know is not the one who dehumanizes and degrades its people.
In the aftermath of the election I was angry, not because of who people voted for, but because people were quickly trying to discount the very real fears of communities who could not be sure if they were included in this new vision of America. They said things on social media like, if you believe in democracy you should accept the results and stop whining. They said, we should all just focus on being positive and ignore the results of the election.
These comments shook me to my core and in an unusual display of public emotion surrounding politics on social media, I spoke up. I spoke up because I saw the posts of my friends who were truly hurting, a deep pain I could relate to, and I wanted to protect them. I spoke up because I too was in pain but trying to process it privately. How do you explain generations of pain imbedded in your DNA? How could I make these people see that while good intentioned, their comments were dismissive and insensitive?
Being colorblind is not an effective tool to fight racism because in order to fight racism you first need to acknowledge that it exists, which means that you have to see how race matters. It is absolutely true today that even with our checks and balances, a black person may not get a job simply because he or she is black. It is called another thing and may be disguised in statements like, “well he wasn’t really qualified,” but at the root of it all is race.
I used to get annoyed with my parents because everything was reduced to race when I was growing up. If someone wasn’t nice to me, it was because I was black. If a salesperson at the store was rude, it was because we were black. I always rolled my eyes. “But we’ve come so far. Things are better now,” I thought to myself in the 90s. I thought their views were antiquated and pessimistic at best. Today in 2017 I finally understand. They were right. They are right.
As we move forward and embark on these next 4 years, I implore my fellow citizens to step outside of their bubbles and listen to what your fellow humans are saying. Really, truly, deeply listen, without judgement. Try as best as you can not to insert your own story, narrative, or view of the world into your listening. Do not discredit other’s feelings because it makes you more comfortable. Just be still and listen and try to understand.
Offer support even if you don’t understand because the truth of the matter is, whether you agree or not, a lot of people are scared right now. There will be no unity if you refuse to see, acknowledge, and fight against that fear. When people feel heard and seen, they feel loved. You can’t call for one without the other. If we are truly all in this together, reach out your hand and pull someone else up with you. The work of uniting our country begins with you.