This week has been rough. The world is hurting in so many ways. I’ve spent this time making the head space to take on a burden my neighbors have been carrying for far too long on their own. I’ve been trying to listen and learn while this conversation about race, police brutality, white privilege, and repeated trauma has been going on around the world. And can I tell you, I have a shit-ton of learning to do.
We all have our faults. One of mine is the tendency to turn inward, to neglect, to fail to see—sometimes deliberately. It took me days to work up the courage to watch the murder of George Floyd. I knew how painful it would be, that I’d have to carry it with me always, that I’d have to look into Derek Chauvin’s face and be confronted by his unsettling resemblance to my ex-husband, a retired highway patrolman. I thought I didn’t have to watch it, because I was already fully onboard, already mindful, that my heart was in the right place. I considered it somewhat exploitative to watch the end of a person’s life on YouTube or the six o’clock news, and I felt I could take in the reporting on the story without having to see the violence actually play out. But the option itself is an expression of privilege; in a Black home, you don’t get to opt out. You have to confront what’s expressed in that video on a daily basis and process the trauma, over and over and over again. I can’t imagine the strength and the courage it takes to deal with this shit every day.
I’m not strong. Or brave. But eventually I did manage, with some stops and starts, to watch the end of George Floyd’s life. It was what I thought it would be. It did what I thought it would do.
It made me understand that I don’t have any real sense of what it’s like to be afraid, except in the way women are always afraid, which is a different thing altogether. I don’t know what it’s like to fear for my sons and daughter in this specific way, and to have that fear crawl through my brain while I go about my daily life. There’s no mechanism to help me really wrap my head around the experience of this kind of repeated trauma, no way I can truly comprehend. But if people like me don’t find the courage to watch events like this, and think deeply and unpack the details and refuse to turn away, we are never going get to the point of real empathy, the point at which good wishes and kindness are not enough, when what’s so obviously called for is rage.
I don’t have any insight or solution to contribute. I’m only doing the obvious things, the short-term actions that might make a short-term difference. I’m listening more deeply, trying to come to terms with the shame of being the recipient of undeserved privilege, and having those words make themselves at home inside me. I’m trying to learn and find ways to help on a long-term basis.
There are so many lessons I still have to learn, but this one is finally clear: The end of George Floyd’s life will be with me until the end of mine. And that’s a good thing.