“Black people share the truth of their lives, and white people treat those truths as intellectual exercises.”Roxane Gay
“White people can’t face the moral trauma of how we collude with and have benefited from your oppression. We spend a lot of time avoiding it. We have to get in touch with that grief.”Robin DiAngelo
Today I got an email from a sister-friend. She wrote to tell me how she and the other Black people she works with, lives with, prays with are not OK. “We are NOT OK.” It was just the understatement I could hear, the words that finally broke through the wall of protection and cultivated numbness that got me through this last week.
We are NOT OK.
National Guard was outside Hutzel Hospital’s state ward where my mother gave birth to me in a room filled with other moms, Black moms, also on assistance. Detroit 1967: I was born the last time 160 cities burned as the unhealed rage of racism swept the US. And the restimulation of this moment and its aftermath that is my childhood gripped me this past week. Five-year-old me chased by a be-freckled neighbor boy screaming the n-word at me all the way home. Burned out structures left rotting for us to remember. “Punishment,” my dad used to say, “for Black People daring to rage.” I couldn’t even tell, speak, acknowledge:
I am NOT OK.
I could recite the litany, almost a prayer, of the names of the unarmed Black women and men who have been murdered by state-sanctioned violence in the last year or two. Or five, ten, fifty? How far back to go? Yet there are so many, too many, whose names we will never know. On purpose. Covered up. Erased. Denied. Tortured. Lynched. Shot. Dead.
The unhealed rage of 400 years of racism burns like a super wildfire, taking out everything in its path. I can’t help but remember Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who found a path out of harassment and humiliation through self-immolation. It sparked the Arab Spring but it was the end of his life. He couldn’t bear the feelings, couldn’t see a way out except through flames.
He was NOT OK.
The feelings of rage are on full display. In the streets. Around the world. They are also quietly having one-too-many drinks or smokes at home. They are overly enjoying that ice cream or pie. They are restlessly not sleeping or sleeping the sleep of the drugged. They are simultaneously over-exercising and couch-sitting, screen-numbing and comfort-seeking, isolating and violently acting out.
We need places to heal. We need practices that do not pathologize or diagnose the rage. We need to acknowledge that blaming people for acting out the results of their oppression, is an act of oppression. And we need to couple that acknowledgment with a commitment to stop blaming. We need ways to come together, listen, and understand that when you oppress people, we feel, we hurt, we are NOT OK.
Notes and References
Roxane Gay, “Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us,” The New York Times, May 30, 2020.
Resmaa Menakem and Robin DiAngelo,”Covid19 and Racial Embodiment: A Conversation with Resmaa Menakem & Robin DiAngelo, Moderated by Erin Trent-Johnson,” Education for Racial Equity, April 30, 2020.