NOTE: This was written a few days ago, when the situation was more heated than it is now. For a few days, I was scared of saying the wrong thing, of writing the wrong word, of offending those I am trying to support. Then, I wasn’t able to write anything at all because it felt wrong to talk about food, or parks, or kids, or even pandemics without addressing the most important thing happening right now. Then, I realized that not saying anything is worse than saying the wrong thing. Maybe I read that on some meme. So, I decided to share it today. Better late.
Last night, I crashed in my couch at 10 pm. The night before, we had stayed up until 4 am. Since the pandemic started, or in person school stopped, however you like to see it, we have been steadily staying up working until 2 or 3 am, because, at what other time are you going to work with four kids in the house? At least with our four kids…
But on Sunday night, as we were going to bed at 2 am, sirens started blaring in our street. Suddenly, a good bunch of police cars and fire trucks, along with an ambulance, made their way to our street.
You may remember from old posts that I am a scaredy-cat. And scaredy-cat I am, there we stayed until 4 am, watching the crews work to put out a fire. Eventually we would find out that it was a little charming house half a block from us, that caught fire after someone lit the trash cans on the back.
To say that it was unsettling is an understatement. As we sat by the window, I went through the list of things we should get if we were to evacuate the house: passports, glasses, laptops, Pablo’s CIs. The kids.
I spent the whole next day hearing helicopters and sirens, and after one hour too many of news, Facebook, Twitter and police scanner I decided to put everything out and sit on the patio. In silence. Well, with helicopters on the background, and focusing on the trees that were whispering over me. If you don’t know that trees whisper, it is time for you to sit down and listen to them.
The plan was to stay up as usual, working and watching CNN, a couple of episodes of some new series, and a couple of episodes of Cheers.
Instead, as I sat to watch the nightly news, I fell asleep. At 10 pm. I woke up at 5 am, contact lenses still on, and moved to the bed to sleep some more and breastfeed the baby. Not feeling well for a few days, and worrying too much about the violence going around in the city had left me completely spent and exhausted.
This morning I woke up energized, planning to do a million things, and then I realized.
Black mothers don’t get to do this.
Black people don’t get to do this.
They don’t get to wake up after oversleeping and realize that they had also overreacted and worried too much.
Because their concern is not ephemerous, like mine. Their preoccupation doesn’t go away when the sirens leave. Their worry never leaves them. It is constant, it is chilling, and it is justified. Their house is constantly on fire.
The question is not why people are out on the streets protesting now. The question is how the hell they have been so patient for so long.
I still remember been surprised when I arrived to Chicago for the first time by how segregated the city looked. My knowledge of US politics back then wasn’t wide, or deep, and certainly not local. It was young, naive and European.
My second shock came when I arrived to the building where my then boyfriend lived and a doorman greeted us in the lobby. His name was James, and with the years I would get to know that he loved to run, had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, and a contagious smile that wouldn’t allow anyone to leave the building in a bad mood. I would also learn that he was pretty much the only black person in a 300 apartment building. And even back then, freshly arrived to this country, I felt that it was wrong with the lack of demographic balance.
Two years after that first arrival, when I moved to Chicago for good, I had to attend a one week orientation before becoming a Teaching Assistant at the University. What I recall the most of that week is how we, the international students, were told that under no circumstances we should use the word black. Only African American was acceptable, and not following this rule could get us in big trouble.
That may have been in part why I have shied away from ever writing about race, and about racism, because as a foreigner I have always been scared of saying the wrong thing, using the wrong word, offending someone.
I realize now, after observing attentively for the last two weeks, that the only offensive thing was to not say anything. In the last couple of years, after I became a US citizen, I had grown more conscious and more concerned about my lack of knowledge about US history, specifically Black history. Because of that, I have been intentional in trying to widen my reading list to include more diverse writers. I have done the same thing with my social media, TV, movies… According to bestseller lists, the whole country is doing right now a crash version of that process. Good for us. It was about time.
This, of course, is not enough. If anything, it is only a first step. As the protests calm down, and start occupying less air time, we need to take the second step, and keep up raising funds, listening, sharing, supporting, educating our kids and putting pressure on our representatives, spreading the words of those who have been living in constant worry for their safety for centuries. Putting our funds, our support and our effort where our thumbs have been these last two weeks. Asking what we can do to help, and then listening, and actually doing it. Right now, our opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is saving black lives.
If you are interested on donating time or money, one organization that I have been following, admiring and donating to for years is My Block, My Hood, My city. They do it all, from supporting youth, putting up Christmas decorations or shoveling snow, to now supporting the recovery of small businesses.
And, in case you are trying to further your education on these topics, like I am doing, I am also going to share an initiative of Rachel Cargle, Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Center.
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