The Loose Ends of Racism

Two months ago, I stood in my kitchen struggling to find the words to discuss the death of Freddie Gray. Another unarmed black man killed at the hands of the police who, in a perfect society, should have and would have protected him. Baltimore is just 45 minutes from my home in Washington, DC and, on that particular day, I was prepared to question why these moments of aggression towards blacks continue to happen with only a sound bite response from our elected officials. Unfortunately, I wound up sidetracked and didn’t write about the death of Freddie Gray, but I will never forget the fear and sadness I felt when I sighed and noted, “It will happen again…I can wait until the next time.”

Next time, of course, arrived. This time in Charleston, South Carolina.

And I am a black woman struggling with what to say.

People finally seem willing to broach the topic of race. They once stood on the sidelines under the guise of “us v. them,” remaining blissfully colorblind. But now, so many are sidling up, wanting to discuss the issue. Even those who have been steadfast in their ignorance are finally willing to talk about pervasive racism. And you know what? I don’t want to talk. I want to cry. I want to fight back. I want to run away. I am a writer who has time and time and time again opened herself up to discuss race and the criticism that comes in response. I’m no longer done. I am undone.

In this great country of ours, we are told to pursue happiness but…your pursuit comes with a few stipulations. 

Last week, I stared into space as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley patted herself on the back for the grand gesture of agreeing that the Confederate Flag should be removed from the state capitol. I stared into space as she told the millions watching that South Carolina should be lauded for its advancements against racism but that there is still a way to go. I stared into space as tears pricked my eyes because it is 2015 and we live in this country that champions the idea of freedom. We applaud ourselves for being the most powerful nation in the world, and then we impose our ideals on other countries who we deem as lesser than to show them how it’s done.

Meanwhile from Missouri to Baltimore to Texas to Mississippi, 41.7 million African Americans are consistently showered with racist aggressions. We are told that we cannot wear hoodies, buy ice tea and skittles, listen to music in our cars, go to public pools, cheer at graduations.

In this great country of ours, we are told to pursue happiness, but hold up, black people. Not too fast. Your pursuit comes with a few stipulations.

The president is one who has finally found himself taking on the role of Healer in Chief as he attempts to grapple with the issue of race as a black man who has, himself, been the subject of racism. There he stood this past Friday, in the pulpit to deliver the eulogy during the funeral of South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, tired, as if he, like so many of us, could take no more. He finished with Amazing Grace both literally and figuratively.

I would love to come here with a conclusion to wrap up my thoughts, as that is what you are her for – to read something that will settle your anger (or perhaps your guilt). But, as I said, I am undone. I am still staring into space. I am questioning the pursuit of my own happiness and wondering if I am doing the right thing. I remain unsure of what to say. I remain in mourning, wondering what comes next. Mostly, I am tired of the news and of constantly being told that I, as a black person, am not enough. Or that I am to be feared or followed or doing this whole “life” thing wrong simply because of the color of my skin.

So, what comes next? How do we move forward? Are we going to have this conversation once again next week? Next month? And what happens after it has been acknowledged? These are the questions I wish I had answers for, but I do not.

This is where we are – undone.


Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

5 Responses

  1. Monica Dennis
    Monica Dennis (@jigsawverbiage)

    YES! Thank you. I started to read just one of the posts on this topic. I got maybe through the first graph and then I said, sigh. Nope. Can’t read it. Can’t go there. Tired of this whole thing. No slight to anyone coming to a new understanding of race relations and all that. Not trying to belittle anyone whose eyes are newly opened. Not trying to disparage anyone’s writing or thoughts on this important topic. It’s just another day in my life, as far as I am concerned, as a black woman who may not have to openly and daily deal with a lot of these confrontations, yet of course I have to openly and daily deal with teaching my children how to handle all this; chiming in as the usually only, sometimes one of two minorities in a group determined to talk about this; just generally always, always aware of who and what I am whether I want to be aware or not. It’s a tiring topic. Some days you get angry. Some days sad. Some days you want to just ignore it. Some days all three. Deep into Obama’s second term, every time this stuff happens, I shake my head and think back to every person who naively commented in 2008 that surely this proves that racism is a thing of the past. Sigh.

    Thanks for saying what I was just thinking 5 minutes before I decided to at least fully read what you had to say before shaking this topic off entirely for the rest of the day. 🙂

  2. Anita

    Beautifully said, as usual, Heather. Thank you for writing this.

    • Tessa

      I feel so much happier now I unedtsrand all this. Thanks!


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