I didn’t want today’s post to be…this.
I was actually drafting up a cutesy lil’ retelling about my last week at home, but…well, I can’t escape this Charlottesville stuff, and I’m not coping well with it. I’ve been in denial about the past year or so, and it’s all happening in a crucial time in my life. I’m just now developing my political identity at my age and figuring out how I want to participate. The first time I voted was for Barack Obama’s second election, and I was elated and hopeful that we had made it this far in race relations to do something so significant – twice.
But I wasn’t naive. I’m from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, my sister and I have been called niggers on the school bus as children by white kids multiple times. This open-faced racism isn’t new to me. But still, I know that sometimes changes are symbolic, rather than literal, and Obama’s second win was extremely affirming as a black woman, and I was excited for the future.
That brings us to the past few years.
Police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police-involved murder. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police shooting. After police-involved death. After police-involved death. After police shooting….
I had a job in Downtown Baltimore during the Freddie Gray unrest, and had to walk by broken windows and National Guard humvees on my way to work for a week.
Feeling like a criminal in your city. Nobody respecting your grief and treating it like an abnormality. A defect. A blemish on an otherwise perfect American unity.
I was watching the news coverage up and through last year’s election cycle, wondering how in the hell did Donald Trump get so far? Were people seriously craving something so craven and disgusting in their politics? Did they really hate people like me and others as much as it felt like they did?
Watching the results come in later that night before dozing off, I realized that they did indeed. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I went to sleep and went to work. I was working in international development, an industry that you usually get into when you really want to “help people around the world.” I was hosting a wine-down party that afternoon for my coworkers. I made a mixed drink called the “Republican Razzle Dazzle,” and while the night was supposed to end around 5 or 6, by the time I left at 7 everyone was sitting on the ground, drinking, still trying to figure out what the hell just happened and what it meant for the industry. It was a bad night, and the nightmare only has continued at a pace that everyone expected.
That being said, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll respond to questions about all of this abroad. The school shootings. The police shootings. The shootings shootings. Ye Olde Fashioned American Racism. The complex (but not really) concept of the word nigger. The fact that Donald Trump won the election but not the popular vote. Why many people of color are poor, and why they can’t just elevate themselves in society.
And now the events in Charlottesville.
My first time abroad, I went to Japan was called a negro by a young student. It wasn’t malicious or anything. She was demonstrating to me her English skills, and apparently her textbooks hadn’t been updated since 1970s, because she said, “I am learning a lot about America. I know that you are negro.”
I say that to say, I’m used to awkward territory.
I’ve been to meetings where white men have approached me and asked, “Why is that it’s racist to have pride about my white heritage, but not racist for Black Lives Matter to be yelling about black pride?”
I say that to say, as a black woman, I’m used to being the lone representative of my race and on some rare occasions, gender.
In all of my experiences though, I’m not sure I’m prepared to answer all these questions about Trump. Questions I haven’t been able to face myself. As I’ve said before, my basic instinct is to deny, not accept things as they are, and just keep calm and carry on. But also as I’ve said before, things like this will gnaw at me. I’ve been coping with black art, for example, listening to good music. Music that was always made in a time when my people were under duress, and music that nevertheless, inspired us to move forward.
I’ve been absorbing messages in museums, like the National Museum of African American History and Culture or the Newseum. I’ve been doing my best to keep abreast of the news while also not allowing myself to drown in it.
I really don’t wanna think about Nazis right now. I don’t wanna think about how unsafe I feel. I don’t wanna think about how exhausted I am just trying to exist with all of this racial/financial/environmental anxiety. I just don’t.
But I have to. It’s right in my face.
My last week here in America for a while isn’t over yet, but I feel like I have a lot more baggage than I planned to take with me to Spain.
I’ve got a few days left, so I’ll try to come up with answers to some of these questions while also making space in my heart for my friends, family, and fond memories of home. If I can’t have the America I want now, I’ll just have to embody that America wherever I go.