Today is June 2, 2020. I’m angry, saddened and generally overwhelmed with emotion just like millions of others around the world. I hesitated to write about what’s transpiring in the United States right now. What to say? Where to begin? Will my sentiments sound tone deaf? What do my 2 cents matter? But then, that’s part of the problem. So many of us are sitting on the sidelines horrified and outraged by what is happening, yet sitting frozen on our couches and recliners. It’s not enough to vehemently disagree with what you’re witnessing on the news. It’s time to come out of the shadows and cast your light—in whatever way you can.
As someone born into privilege, I was blind to what was happening outside the cozy bubble of my town. While in grade school I studied history and social studies, never thinking that I wasn’t getting the whole story, let alone revisionist history. When I got to my junior year of high school, I became more curious. I widened my social circles, became friends with people outside my race (although I had to go 2 towns over to do so). This was the mid-80s and where I lived, kids of all ethnicities were being brought together through music and dance. It was fun, it was innocent and in my memory everyone “got along.”
It wasn’t until I entered college that my eyes were opened. When I met my roommate for the first time, everything seemed fine. But as soon as she found out I was dating a Puerto Rican boy back home, she stopped speaking to me. She and a friend started bullying me. One day she intercepted a letter from one of my best friends. Enclosed were pictures from the previous summer, including pictures of me and my boyfriend. My roommate and her friend opened the letter and tore the pictures up, scattering them in the hallway. They called me names and my boyfriend worse names. I was shocked and enraged and I couldn’t understand why anyone would do something like that. That was my first real taste of indirectly experiencing overt racism.
I transferred schools the following year and decided to minor in cultural anthropology. That first year I took an African-American History class as well as an African-American culture class. It was the first time I had been taught by black professors. I’ll never forget them. Dr. Toney and Dr. Mwaria—two powerhouse women who taught me more about African-American history and culture in one semester than I had learned in 12 years of grade school. They exposed me to Maya Angelou, Malcom X, W.E.B. DuBois, among others—people I had never heard of in grade school. The more I tried to educate myself the more I realized how much I had to learn.
The summer after my sophomore year of college, my boyfriend picked me up in a classic red Corvette. He was working part time in a body shop specifically for Corvettes and because he was doing excellent work, his boss surprised him one day by letting him take one of the cars for the night. We thought we were pretty cool, tooling down Route 9, that is until we were pulled over by 3 cruisers. “What did I do?” my boyfriend kept repeating as they dragged him out of the Corvette and into a cruiser. I started to cry. They ordered me to get into driver’s seat and follow the cruiser to the police station.
They ended up letting him go, having had no real reason for bringing him in. They had suspected the car was stolen. He drove me back to my house in silence. I didn’t know what to say. I knew he was embarrassed but I also knew there was rage right under the surface. I felt it for him. I’d like to say that was the only time something like that happened, but over the years I witnessed similar incidents over and over. Yet, I could never REALLY put myself in his shoes. Almost 35 year later, I still can’t and I never will.
So, now what? What do we do as we watch things go from bad to worse? We each have to figure that out for ourselves. But since I’m giving my 2 cents, I’ll say this: Continue the conversations, continue to protest, continue to vote, continue to stand up for equality, continue to educate yourself and educate others. We are all one. That is something I know in my bones. We can’t give up until everyone sees this and they’ll only see when they come out of the dark.