The Traumas of Being Non-White in the United States: My Perspective
US-Mexico Border, San Diego, California
This past couple of weeks has been a series of emotional hits...not that the past few months haven't been. My grandmother passed just over a week ago. Someone murdered George Floyd. A friend's grandmother passed over the weekend. Peaceful protests and violent behaviors have been witnessed across the world.
Yesterday was my birthday, and I chose to spend it in a state of peace, love and joy. I needed that, and I am grateful if my day gave others a chance to feel that way, too. I had planned my party before any of the aforementioned circumstances existed. I don't think I realized how much I needed to dance until I did it.
Finding the beauty in life is so important, especially during times when we see so much ugliness. I have seen posts from White people seeking to understand how those who have felt othered experience the murder of George Floyd. I cannot fully understand what it is to be a Black male in this country when such things occur. I am a multi-ethnic, "racially ambiguous," light-skinned woman of color. I can only offer my own perspective.
Those who attended my virtual party might have noticed that I have a diverse family, including men of ostensible African descent...men to whom society would assign the racialized identity of Black. When I see news about the George Floyds, I think of those men. I imagine them dying. The pain of just considering that possibility can be crushing. When I see news about the Sandra Blands of the world, I imagine my cousins who could have been in her position. The worry from that can be immobilizing.
My most recent traffic stop happened a few years ago, when a White cop approached my vehicle in an area in which the speed limit had decreased by approximately 20 mph in very quick succession. I barely had the chance to register the sign when I heard the dreaded sound of a police car siren. I immediately had a stress response, my hands shaking as I fumbled with my wallet to extract my pertinent information. Just the sight of the officer didn't just introduce a healthy respect for the fact that he could kill me if I were seen as a threat, but that even if I hadn't been, my life was in his hands. I remember thinking about my hair on that day, in all it's very curly glory. Too curly? Too Black? Too not-my-mother's-straight-hair? My hair, I think, tends to be the deciding factor in whether people assign me a racialized category of (never White) Black or Mexican or Puerto Rican or some other not-White category. My body's reaction that day was to the question of whether I was expressing too much of my African-ness or Puerto Rican-ness and not enough of my Irish-German-ness. The officer came over to my rolled-down window and began to ask me for my information. Then he stopped, and asked me why I was shaking. I sputtered, I...I...," but couldn't say anything. How could I express in that moment that I was afraid he would shoot me or rough me up, possibly undoing the benefits of my relatively recent brain surgery? How could I tell him that my status as a person of color in this country makes me feel like I have a target on my back? How could I tell him that my body's response was a silent scream: PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!!!? Please don't kill me.
That officer did not kill me. He didn't even render a ticket. To this day, I have no idea what he thought was happening to me. Did he think I was on drugs I shouldn't have been on? ...off drugs I should have taken? ...crazy? ...hoping he wasn't one of "those cops?" I am not someone who thinks all members of the police force are racist, but they do work within a racist system. And they need to be part of the solution to correct that system. I am glad that there are members of the force who speak out; especially those of ostensible European descent. I am heartened to see that in a number of places police are joining in the protests and speaking with people who are feeling the recent murder very deeply. I hope that the trend continues and reaches a crescendo of justice that rocks the world.
And I am tired. I am tired of knowing that women of color have been systematically deprived of their right to determine their reproductive options, through rape and forced sterilizations. I am tired of knowing that the differences between a guilty and a not guilty verdict, and between a prison sentence and none, are not functions of actual guilt but of the availability of financial resources. I am tired of knowing that the already marginalized in this country are pushed even further to the fringes by pandemic disease. I am tired of worrying about my brother, uncles, cousins, and friends possibly not coming home after traffic stops. I am tired of reviewing history, seeing the same patterns, and wondering when we will learn from the mistakes of our forebears. I am tired of asking myself, "were they really mistakes, though? Or were they calculated actions?" I am tired of being verbally attacked when I speak the truth about inequality and inequity in this country and the world. I am tired of being tired.
People who are fed up with having to stay home or protect themselves due to the pandemic, the three months of social distancing we have had: I implore you to consider the extent to which people of color in this society have had to do that since we were too little to understand why. Many are required to wear invisible masks every day to keep themselves safe from harm, and those who refuse to comply often suffer for it. Many are required to make sure they are home before it gets too dark, though broad daylight is clearly not a good time either. Many make sure to maintain a certain distance from others, particularly White others, in order to avoid being perceived as aggressive. Just like you, they are behaving in these and other ways in the hope of preserving their lives. Perhaps unlike you, they have had to do these things for 20, 30, 50 years. Magnify your current trauma by that amount of time, and you might begin to grasp how they feel.
To my friends and family protesting, I love and appreciate you. I am lighting candles for your safety and for these demonstrations to remain peaceful and productive. To my friends and family who have raised your own voices in pursuit of justice, I love and appreciate you. To the people who are suffering through multiple traumas, I pray that you are able to see an end to this painful journey, and that you might find peace and joy during and after.
Laugh, cry, air-hug, blow bubbles. Meditate, dance, Zoom, walk. Self-care is always necessary; it is absolutely essential right now. Love and hugs to all.