It all matters

To say that there’s a lot going on in the world these days is an understatement.  I wrote earlier that I had to take a few days off of Facebook since the shootings of not only Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  I wrote a short note saying how I just wanted to lay down and cry but I knew more violence was coming.  And unsurprisingly, it did.  Policemen were now dying and people started tearing each others throats out on the media  The Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter debate ensued as if short catchy hashtags would make a bloody difference in all of it.  Them vs. Us.  I read a lot of opinion posts and videos and did not make comments on Facebook, just shared some stuff I thought was interesting and should be read by those I’m acquainted with.  At least people were talking and thinking.

I had a Chinese Canadian friend of mine call me up to ask if I was okay.  As I listened to her message, she sounded like she was in tears.  She is one of my closest friends and she’s also the most politically correct woman I know.  I called her back to let her know that yes, indeed, we were all fine, just sad.  I spoke to my sister in Toronto (briefly) and she was just beside herself, upset and angry.

The silver lining in all of this was that I had some great conversations with my husband.  My white husband.  The father of a black son.  I like to joke that my husband is a bit of redneck cause he’s from Edmonton.  He hates pretty much everyone.  If you’re in his inner circle, you’re good and if you’re not, you’re suspect.  His best friend and business partner is black.  We’ve been together for about 20 years and we’ve travelled quite a bit.  Even he concedes that it is only me that gets pulled over at airports, not him.  Ever.   At American customs, I was told to stand behind the line when we approached the counter, and we had to explain that we were together. No matter what country I’m in, I’m usually the one who gets the extra pat down and double check for ID.  Sad to say, I’m used to it.  One time, I get pulled over by a black security officer and I actually said out loud, “Really, dude?  Random?  Why am I always the random search?”.  I’m the one who stopped my husband from going after a street person for making a racial slur (Native guy actually; apparently they don’t like us either?), I’m the one who doesn’t blink while heads swivel as while we walk through a Denny’s in Montana.  I just pretend people are awed by our striking good looks.  One time we were pulled over for speeding late at night on a lonely stretch of highway by a state trooper.  I tried not to be afraid and hoped fervently that the cop  was not a racist when he peered into the car.  Cause if he was, hubby would not put up with it and then who knows?  You see that’s just it.  I’ve been raised to keep my mouth shut and avoid conflict.  Whether that’s because I’m female or because I’m a black female, it doesn’t matter.  Dress nice, speak nicely and  keep money in your pocket or otherwise they will think you’re stealing.  That’s what my mother taught me.  And unconsciously, I’ve been training my son to do the same.

It’s not like there’s no racism in Canada.  Getting pulled over for a DWB (driving while black) is a saying for a reason.  Even one parent at our school has told me that they were afraid of me at first.  Why?  Is my size or demeanor intimidating?  I’ve even trained myself to smile when my face is in repose.   We all make assumptions based on appearances, I’m no different.   It’s just a matter of perspective and so what frames that perspective is important.  Most people think that if there’s no burning crosses in their neighbourhood then racism doesn’t really exist anymore. That’s just not the case. I’ve had apartments and job suddenly disappear when I show up, been followed in retail stores, been ignored and disregarded by service people because of my colour. We’re just more polite and sneaky about it in Canada. We leave the vitriolic name calling to the drunk and disorderly.

I certainly felt grateful for the umpteenth time I don’t reside in America.  And it’s not cause I don’t like Americans, I really do.  Generally speaking, they are the most generous and friendly people I’ve ever known.  But fear does things to people whether it’s justified or not.  My sister used to live in Georgia and she used to say that even when you’d like to give assholes a piece of your mind, you’re very careful because people there carry guns in theirs cars. A Confederate flag is not a benign sign of Southern hospitality and pride. To us, you might as well be flying a swastika.   I remember that feeling of unease, a type of fear that exists between white and black people that keeps you feeling on edge.  Hubby and I went to Georgia when my nephew was a baby.  We went to her Baptist church.  He was the only white person there (among other places).   I have to admit, I loved it.  How does it feel, honey?  To be the only one and have eyes pass over you?  What do you perceive?  Warmth?  Curiousity?  Indifference?  Or something else?  To never know how you are going to be perceived or treated when you walk into an store, a gas station,  a neighbourhood is incredibly exhausting and demoralizing.  When you’re very being is perceived as a potential threat, it’s kind of hard to relax.

More times than I care to recall,  I’ve met white people (both Canadian and Americans but Americans do it way more) who feel the need to tell me within 10 minutes of meeting me that they know a black friend or have you seen that Morgan Freeman film about civil rights?  Or they take up some version of “black lingo” to chum up with me.  I’m not sure if they’re trying to reassure me or themselves that they’re not afraid of me. I’m always amazed that people haven’t figured out what to say, they should just talk about the weather.  That’s always good.  Or how great I look.  I don’t want to be questioned about my hair or answer questions about it unless you want to book an appointment with my hairdresser, and if I see your hand coming to touch it, I pull my head back. Maybe I will explain, maybe I won’t cause I’m tired of explaining.

The same way I’m tired of explaining why black people take it personally and get angry and protest when they are killed for traffic violations by police instead of getting a ticket. Or even shot while laying down on the ground with their hands in the air.  Retaliatory violence in the name of justice or bad mental health is not the answer.  It’s a deadly symptom of dire illness.  I don’t condone innocent men or women (uniformed or not) being killed.

My son is getting taller and is going out into the world without me by his side for the better part of the day.  He’s only 6 and I’m already thinking about his safety if he gets pulled over by the cops when he starts to drive.   I want what every mother out there in the world wants for their son :  to have him come back home, safe and sound.

I could go on and on, but I have a life to live and a kid to pick up.  Life just keeps on.  Let’s just keep talking people with an open heart.  Let’s not wait for aliens to attack us so we can unite.



13 thoughts on “It all matters

  1. There are no words to say how awful it is that you have to live with these experiences and fears. It’s not right.

  2. I do not, nor will I ever understand how Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter seem to be in direct opposition to Black Lives Matter. Lives matter. Period. I’m so sorry you have had these experiences and have to think about them with regards to your precious, innocent child that will be out in the world someday. I know Canada is not perfect, but right now the US is in some major turmoil and I don’t know when it will get better. As you said, hopefully before the Aliens attack.

  3. Recently I was at a diversity forum at work and noticed that white people struggling with the knowledge that they have inherent biases to work through were emotional. White who offhandedly say that everyone is too sensitive and just treat everyone like you want to be treated were not emotional. Black, Asian,Latino were matter of fact about their experiences didn’t show a lot of emotion. Because you live through this everyday, I think. I’m angry/scared about the fact that I have to teach my kid about racism and how to interact with the police so that he stays safe. At the same time, now that I’m learning about systemic racism in my country and how pervasive it is (and we have the most racist presidential candidate at the moment) I wonder why I’m so upset? Its a pretty universal reaction for white people who are waking up, but it’s quite interesting.

    • what I mean by being upset is that I get so emotional, I guess it’s shame? when facing the fact that I haven’t done much of my life to understand the breadth and depth of racism. It’s hard to articulate.

      • Becoming conscious to the hard truths we learn about ourselves IS painful. It’s hard to change, but without enlightenment of the mind and then actual ACTION, there is no change. Unless you have actually walked in someone else’s shoes, it’s hard to imagine how tight they are. Having the experience of being infertile opened up eyes to the impact that it can have on a woman. My life was forever changed. And I certainly understood how uncomfortable it made OTHER people for me to talk about my suffering.

  4. I want more people to talk with each other, to begin to approach each other with open minds and open hearts, but I worry that conversation isn’t enough at this point. And yet, what else do we do? Any meaningful change takes too freaking long. We have such a racist presidential candidate, and there are clearly people–a LOT of people–who support him. I am heartsick at the conversations that my friends have with their young black sons, and I hope that whatever we do, it will happen soon enough to protect them. Thank you for this powerful post.

  5. Great post! I want to try to build a non-fiction unit around this issue in my high school class (we read To Kill a Mockingbird, and it seems there’s no better way to illustrate relevancy) but there is so much heat and defensiveness that I’m not sure it’s wise. I just know it’s vitally important for people to talk to each other about it.

      • Lol, their parents…post-telephone game. I will probably tackle it, but it’s going to mean a lot of work on my part to assemble the right collection of articles and to force perspective-taking.

  6. Thank you so much for all your thoughts on your experiences and what’s happening out in the world. I wish more people, instead of automatically dismissing the black experience in America (or Canada) as “overreacting” or being “too sensitive” or saying it can’t possibly be that bad, would just LISTEN to people who LIVE IT and read your post. I wish there was more empathy in this world. It bothers me that you aren’t allowed to have resting bitch face because you’re black and so you have to paste a smile on so you’re “less scary” to others. That makes me very angry… I could have resting bitch face all day long and no one would consider me “aggressive” or whatever. I loved imagining your husband’s experience in Georgia where things were flipped and suddenly he was in the minority. I do not love that your experiences in security lines are so different.

    I just read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-nehisi Coates, basically a letter to his son about growing up black in America and his perspectives on that experience. It was heavy, but like your post, so important to read to get outside my own privileged space. I teach 8th grade, and a large percentage of my students are of color (a phrase that makes me think after reading “Between the World and Me” — so are white people without color? Am I clear somehow? Aren’t we all “of color?” It’s easier than listing out all the variations of heritages and backgrounds and mixings, but then it does that whole lumping of “color” and “white.” Arghhhhhh), and we do a lot of current events. Which gets tricky, because my TA’s husband and son are police officers and she immediately gets her hackles up. I don’t know why you can’t seem to put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s been killed and how that would make children who look like that person feel (SCARED! ANGRY!) and have it always seem like being anti-police, instead of a discussion on what happened and how it feels for my students. I have to address that (again) with her because they have the right to discuss their experiences in the context of current events, and we can’t just sweep it under the rug because it makes white people feel uncomfortable.

    Anyway, horrifically long comment for a brilliant post. I hope it doesn’t take aliens coming to unite everyone to the human cause. (Loved that, by the way.)

  7. Dear Deathstar, on one level, I kind of knew this was all stuff that you have to deal with, but having you lay it out there like this was pretty powerful reading. And you are very right that Canadians shouldn’t get too smug, because it happens here too. Where I grew up, it was more about the natives (not many black people in smalltown Prairie Canada…!), but, same old same old.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope things start to change soon, even just a little bit. Your beautiful little boy should be able to grow up feeling safe and that the police are there to help him, not to hurt.

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