I Thought I Knew Her

I thought that I knew who Grief was. She and I have spent so much time with each other. I’ve been intimate with her cousin Death for over a decade now. I know how they look and sound. I know what they’re like when you love them right and I thought that I knew the levels of distruction that they were capable of.

But she’s been sneaky this last visit. I’m not sure I know her as well as I thought I did. I didn’t realize how many faces she has. I didn’t know how far she could reach or how loud her voice was. She’s become a bit of a leach and I wasn’t prepared for her wrapping herself around my people for so long. She seems stronger this time. I’m pretty sure she’s been doping in the offseason.

I’m serious when I tell you this bitch refuses to sleep. She just paces and waits… With this look on her face that I can’t quite figure out. I watch her walk the floors at night and I wonder what happened to her cousin in my absence… I’ve seen Death be so gentle. I’ve watched her lay down and like soft sand, caress the skin of those she loved. If we’re being honest, then yes I knew she had daddy issues. They both do. I’ve watched her be spiteful and vindictive and I’ve seen how quickly her anger can blanket a room. But since when did she start hating people that looked like me??  When did she start allowing herself to be used by people who hate me? When did these two get so mad?

I used to be able to explain my relationship to them to other people. It’s not like I was the only one who knew them. They could be A LOT to handle and you had to be crafty to manage them sometimes. They were exhausting and usually too chatty for me but some days, strangely enough,  I really loved them. I had learned a lot from those two. Our history has been complicated but something about them changed me and I actually liked who I became after getting to know them. 

In the old days, when they became too much, I could vent to my other friends about them and they understood. I’m not sure when that ended. But I can tell that things are different now. They act like these two are my problem. When I tell them that Death has become truly nuts and that Grief won’t stop following me around, they roll their eyes and tell me I’m exaggerating. When I tell them that I don’t think my people can handle much more of Death’s nasty attitude and that we’re thinking about burning down her house, they look at me like I’m crazy and tell me to calm down. I don’t get it. Why don’t they see what I see?

Yesterday was bad. Grief and Death have been on a bender and while Death was sleeping one off Grief went nuts and now everyone who looks like me is trying to figure out how to clean up her mess. Why won’t someone come get these two? We keep trying with them but enough is enough already. 

I thought that I knew who Grief was. But today feels different. I think Death went too far this time.

Dear White People

I’ve sat down at my keyboard a hundred times by now. I’ve sat, staring at my phone, wondering if I should post about life these days in St Louis and then feeling frozen because my heart was too heavy to be trivial. I’ve thought about my white friends, and my white clients and hesitated because this moment feels like a line in the sand and I don’t know yet whose gonna wind up with me on the other side. I’ve thought about being quiet, but then I remembered the words I wrote in another post about no longer playing small. I considered keeping my head down, and then I thought about my mother having to keep her head up when she rushed past boys and girls and parents yelling Nigger at her as she desegregated her Queens. NY school. I thought about that and I said Nahhhhh. I, WE, need to be heard.

2 weeks ago, John and I spent time in Moab, Utah. On a rainy Saturday, and in need of WIFI, we pulled into an open parking lot, with no No Parking signs, and parked for the evening. Around 11:00pm police lights surrounded our bus and we heard them knocking on our door. Ana- Mae, our dog, was barking and getting anxious so I took her in the back and asked John to go outside. I saw a look cross his face, and it was too late before I realized what it was. It was fear. 

I listened to their questions. I heard their tone. I felt their ignorance. And then they requested an ID. And I knew in that moment, that I had made a mistake. I had forgotten what country I was in. I had forgotten for a brief moment that we are black and as black people we are not afforded the same rights. There was no reason to ask for an ID. To tell John that the sheriff had been watching us. To ask if we “had the means” to drive out of town. I had forgotten, and we are never allowed to forget what color we are in America.

Realizing that things were going left, I called outside and asked for John to watch the dog. I yelled out to the cops that he would be switching places with me. (Lest he move too quickly and they get “nervous”)  And I walked outside barefoot and prepared. I had flashed on a conversation a black cop in Chappaqua NY told me once. We were, safe to say, the ONLY black people in that town and in high school I was good for winding up at whatever party was getting busted. One night, he pulled me to the side and told me to “cut it the fuck out”. That I was not my white friends and that it would serve me to be clear on that. “You can’t do what they do and you’re gonna get yourself killed thinking you can. These white cops don’t care about your black life.”  

I’m grateful but sad when I think about that conversation. These are the lessons our elders are forced to teach us.

When I walked out of the bus, to see two cop cars and 3 cops and flashing lights, I heard that cop’s words and so I smiled and tap danced and shucked and jived to make them feel comfortable so that they wouldn’t kill us in the middle of that Utah desert. I preened and rambled and kissed their ass until I could see that I had convinced them that we were an acceptable fit for their empty parking lot and they finally left us alone. It took an hour. We were making no noise and breaking no law. We were just black, after dark, in their town.

Afterwards John took a shot of tequila to calm his nerves and I sat and cried. I cried because I saw in that moment that I was no longer that high school girl. I wasn’t rolling with rich white girls whose very presence prevented me from winding up in a jail cell. I am black and 40 years old and rolling with a KING whose very color makes lesser men nervous and trigger happy. I cried because I recognized my new role as his shield and that’s really scary. But necessary.

I’ve cried every day this week. I cry for my black women who are also acutely aware that on top of life  and it’s heaviness they must also be their man’s protection. I cry for my black men who have to wake up every day to be told they don’t matter here. I cry for my community who are scared to run, walk, drive, or sit at home on the fucking couch for fear of being murdered. And I cry for YOU white people, because you still haven’t figured out how valuable you are to the discussion. 

Let’s be real REAL for a minute. This country is racist as hell. Our government is racist as hell. There aren’t enough fireworks on the planet to ring in Independence for people of color in America. WE are not heard. WE are not considered. YOU are. So help. 

Help by asking us if we are okay. Have the conversation. Be uncomfortable. If you are my friend, and we aren’t talking about this then we are acquaintances. If you’re not able to have an honest conversation about what’s happening right now then why are you friends with black people in the first place? It’s a lie that you don’t see color. Stop saying that to yourself and to us. You do. You ignore color when it gets uncomfortable. 

Your silence in your home says that this is okay. Imagine, if when growing up, Black cops were killing Jews? And getting away with it. What if Black men, in charge of their neighborhood task forces, were shooting little white kids in hoodies? Now, what if my mother didn’t talk to me about it? What if my father never said a word? When I become the 40 year old woman I am now, what do I think about the value of Jews in this world if I’m never taught how wrong those cops were and what racism really is?

Start stepping into your privilege. As a woman don’t we know ours? I know I’m a beautiful woman. I know I have big boobs and a cute butt and that I can get away with a lot when necessary. And when necessary, I’ve used it all to my advantage. White folks? Use your skin color to your advantage. 

It was a white teacher who walked my mother into that school in Queens that day and yelled back at those heathens who threw things. It took the courage of white people, who sat next to us at Jim Crow counters, and protested with us on the front lines, to propel the Civil Rights Movement forward. And it’s taken the actions of our white comrades today to have these cops arrested, let along tried and sentenced. 

I am asking you…Stand with us. Speak up for us. SEE US. Or miss us with the bullshit. I hope as the black community, we all draw a line in the sand. I hope all of us require that our friends and tribes have our back. I hope that we didn’t just come together to sing and pray when Covid hit. That we weren’t just seen as part of your community because people are sick and maybe your people die too and now you too are scared. I hope that if nothing else, you’ve read this and sat back to wonder where you fall in all of this. THIS requires work. Self work and that sucks but you are a mandatory ingredient in our survival. 

Black people… You are so beautiful. So magical. And so valuable.  I love you. I love you. I love you. Hold yourself tight and your families tight. We always rise.