Heading into work yesterday, I reached up to adjust my glasses and my fingertips came away wet. I hadn’t noticed until then that tears were spilling out of my eyes. Hours before that, I had posted an article and photograph to my Facebook wall showing Eric Garner in a chokehold.
I cried as I wrote the image description to provide access to my blind friends. Writing the description somehow made it seem even more heartwrenching, as if that were possible.
I cried as I shampooed my hair during my morning shower.
I skipped putting on my cruelty-free mascara for the third day in a row. (I knew it would be washed away before noon, as it had earlier in the week when I did apply it.)
I cried as I drove to the Metro parking garage, and surreptitiously wiped my eyes while seated on the subway train.
It’s been that kind of week — a week starting with numbness, moving into sadness, and coalescing into rage: carefully calibrated, righteously indignant rage.
I’ve been watching friends and colleagues articulate their shock and anger about the recent grand jury decisions on Facebook and Twitter, and noticing something I cannot yet name unfold as friends and family who are politically to the right of me expressed their outrage about Eric Garner’s death. It is too early to say, but I wonder if this is the beginning of a sea change in awareness taking place.
I am cautiously hopeful. But I am also realistic about the glacial pace of real social change.
I’m composing this in the Starbucks café at the corner of H Street and 7th Street in Washington DC; this intersection has been the site of protests for the past few days. When I arrived at dusk, there were a few police cars and several uniformed officers strategically placed on street corners.
I walked here in the rain from Union Station, where a staged die-in took place in the lobby earlier today.
For days I have been trying to figure out what I want to say, and not succeeding at putting together anything more than a fragmented series of thoughts from the past week.
I am not alone. I have noticed the absence of social commentary from others who live with the daily reality of the impact of racial profiling on themselves and their family members. I have wondered if the reason for their silence mirrors my own.
I did find some words as I lectured to my students in their final class of the term about the role of the state and death (this has been a theme throughout the course), pulling together bits about the bystander effect, Elizabeth Anderson’s The Imperative of Integration, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and Amadou Diallo. My students responded vividly and with passion. I’m so grateful for them.
That night I walked to the Metro with a colleague. As we walked, we spoke (in ASL) about the events of the past weeks, including local protests by DC area students and the silence about this issue on our campus, which we both agreed was not a silence borne of apathy, but of pain. That recognition helped me to understand why I was having such a difficult time putting words together.
Acknowledging this issue publicly means facing something that I normally keep locked away: the pain of watching people you love be racially profiled and the fear of the consequences that might follow.
When you are part of a racially and ethnically diverse family this becomes part of the fabric of your everyday life. Compartmentalization helps you function.
But I still haven’t figured out how to respond.
What does one say in response to watching people you love experience humiliation and frustration and fear as the police aggressively question them in front of your children?
How can one ever be prepared to explain to your children that the reason you were pulled over at police gunpoint one night during your family summer vacation by more than half a dozen police officers was because of race and ethnicity?
What is the right way to respond when the police separate parents from their light-skinned child to question him in the small town restaurant where you are dining with your family, just to be sure you are not kidnapping him?
How does one describe, let alone live with, the visceral fear of worrying that the much delayed return home from work of your family member – who is so prompt you could set your clock by him – could mean that he is never ever coming home?
I still don’t know what to say or how to say it, but I do know that I start with this:
Black lives matter.