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I saw a woman harassed and frightened by a man. I was too far away to do anything about it. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing until it was almost over. It was a crowded A train during morning rush hour. I had only just managed to squeeze myself onto the car. I wasn’t looking at people around me, was mostly thinking ahead to the meeting I was headed for. As we pulled into Hoyt-Schermerhorn, I focused. I’d been kind of staring off ahead, not really looking at anything.

At that moment I focused and saw a man, maybe close to my height (5’10”), stocky, doing some kind of bob-and-weave movement. He was about a third of the length of the train car away from where I was sandwiched in, but I could clearly see his weird bob and weave. I looked closer. He was bobbing and weaving into and away from the face of a woman. She was small, maybe five-foot-two or three. She was slight, not waif-slight, but very slender.

I stared at them for a few seconds, trying to tell if they were together. Had I seen the man’s face, I would have known they were definitely not together because when he turned around as the train pulled out of the station, the man’s face gave him away — he looked unstable, looked unkempt … not like a homeless person but like a madman who didn’t waste time pulling his look together.

But I hadn’t seen his face yet. I just saw him diving in and out of the woman’s face. I watched him for several seconds that felt a lot longer. By the time I registered that something was deeply wrong with what was happening, the woman had removed herself from the space, had ducked under the arm of the person on her other side and moved down the car. She was so small, I lost sight of her immediately in the crowded space. That was when her harasser turned around, when I saw that, whatever he’d been doing, it couldn’t have been pleasant for that woman. I would never want that man’s face anywhere near mine.

He turned and started talking to the people around him. Not like excusing his actions, but like bragging. He looked quite proud and pleased with himself, as if scaring that woman was a kind of triumph for him, and I guess it was. I couldn’t hear anything he said. It was loud on the train, and he was quiet, talking for the people directly near him, not for all of us. The train pulled into Jay Street, he took a seat and that was that.

But that wasn’t that. Couldn’t possibly ever really be that.

I was so angry. Angry at him, sure. Of course. More, I was angry at all of the people in that section of the train. I’ll grant that the man’s appearance was unsettling. I wouldn’t have considered it a small thing to confront him. But he was menacing someone. He was all up in that woman’s face, up in the face of a person who was small both in height and size. He was taking pleasure in frightening her — because that was the first thing I saw when he turned around, his big, I’m-the-man smile. He was having a great time ruining that woman’s commute, and maybe her whole day, maybe her week — who knows what that incident may have triggered for her? He was having a great time … and not one person thought of a way to do anything to stop him, to shield her, to defuse the situation.

Everyone stayed in their books and newspapers, stayed on their phones. Everyone chose to ignore what was happening right beside them. When the woman saw her chance to squeeze through the crowd to get free, she moved past the man standing beside her. He was tall and had one arm stretched out to hold the overhead rail. She ducked under his arm, and he bowed his body to make a little more room for her to pass … and then he held that position a moment longer, as if giving the harasser a chance to pass, too. He was prepared to facilitate the woman’s continued abuse by making way for her abuser. WTF? True, he hadn’t tried to help the woman at all, but simply straightening his body, putting a barrier between the woman and the man, would have at least been a protective gesture. Nope. No protection there.

I don’t know what I want from people, what I expect. I’ve had my own experiences with people on the street or the train not coming to my aid. I know it’s easier and certainly feels safer to stay out of a charged and troubling situation. But seeing this moment on the train really upset me. How can you stand next to someone who is being terrorized and do nothing? I was too far away and too tightly packed against other riders to do more than witness. I have no idea what I would have done if I’d been standing closer, but I would have done something. Some thing.

That’s easy to say, of course. But I have receipts. I’ve intervened between abusive men and their partners in the past. I’ve called out harassers on the train, even used some low-grade violence once, though I don’t recommend that. Confrontation isn’t a thing I make a habit of, but it has happened. There seemed to be something wrong with that man, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been stopped, couldn’t have been made to back off.

Full disclosure: a big part of my surprise is because the woman was white, and the man harassing her was Black. Our raison d’etre as a country is to stand up for the safety and honot of white women … especially in the face of a threat from a Black man. And yet no one stepped up for this woman.

But just on the level of basic human decency, I don’t understand what I saw on that train. Do not understand.

This morning I was at a conference and heard NYC Public Advocate Letitia James reframe Michelle Obama’s line, saying: “When they go low, we need to get loud.” She was talking about the opposition (the Resistance) being big enough, forceful enough to “drown out the noise” of harmful policies and ill-conceived decisions (hey, I’m trying to be generous).

I get what she’s saying. It makes perfect sense. But how does that happen, exactly? Where is this solidarity and readiness for the fight supposed to come from when we don’t care enough about one another as individuals to step up when the person next to us is in danger?

People knitted pink hats and came out in the hundreds of thousands for the Women’s March. They felt like, and were, a giant mass of “No!” directed at THOTUS¹. And yet, for all that sisterhood and comradery, there was also silencing, erasure, and exclusion.

Am I wrong to see a connection here? Empathy is going to be central to the success of whatever fightback is strong enough to carry us forward. If we can’t care enough for the woman standing beside us, how are we supposed to be standard-bearers for refugees we’ll never see, Palestinians losing their land in a place we’ll never visit, women denied reproductive care in nations we erase when we think of their continent as a country, Black bodies left in the street for hours?

But then I think about the people who came out for Muslims travelers over the weekend. They put out calls for lawyers, brought supplies, came out and stayed out. They stepped up. They gave me some hope.

I still don’t understand what I saw on the train. It’s just not okay to ignore someone in distress. Not okay.

And I can’t help but believe it’s these small acts of brave kindness and compassion that will help us feel strong enough, able enough to step up in bigger ways. Because we’re going to need to do that. We’re going to have to take risks, put ourselves in harm’s way. We’re going to have to stop pretending not to see what’s right in front of us.

We have to do that for strangers on the train, and we have to do it for this nation of strangers that has never needed us more than it does now.

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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

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¹ Titular Head oThese United States


original-slicer-girlgriot

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I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.

Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.

I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.

Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.

I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.

So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.

Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.

I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.

I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?

Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.

And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.

No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.

And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?

Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?

When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water? 

Or a back rub?

Or someone to talk to?

Why weren’t you standing with me?

Where the hell were you?

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?

When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?

When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?

When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee

Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten? 

Where were you?

If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?

Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.

But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.

Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.

Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.

A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤

Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.

When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.

Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.

griotgrind_logo

In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States


original-slicer-girlgriot

Click on the badge to visit Two Writing Teachers and see what the other slicers are writing today!

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And so, Dylan Roof is guilty. On all 33 charges against him. Guilty.

And I’m glad of that. Of course I am.

When I shared the news, a friend commented that he wouldn’t be happy until Roof got the death penalty.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Is it wrong that I want worse than death for him? I don’t know what that means, but that’s what my heart said when I saw the headline. He is clearly incapable of remorse, and I don’t believe in the death penalty … but in his case I want something visceral and inhumane and deep enough to reach whatever shred of humanity is still left in him.  And then I want it to go further.

That was my response to my friend’s comment. Is this who I’ve become? I think it is.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Would there ever be a punishment that could fit Roof’s crime? I can’t imagine what it would be. Nothing anyone would or could do to him would ever erase what he has done, would ever make him understand that what he did was wrong, would ever bring anyone peace. So my wish for something “visceral and inhumane” doesn’t serve me or anyone else.

What, then?

Maybe a guilty verdict for Michael Slager. Maybe for Daniel Pantaleo. For Timothy Loehmann. For Joseph Weekley. For Stephen Stem. For Jeronimo Yanez. For Darren Wilson …

Maybe a country in which I wouldn’t need to write this.

Maybe.

I always wanted to believe we would grow up to be that country. Of course I did.

But …

At least today Dylan Roof is guilty. At least there is that.

It isn’t enough.

Of course it’s not.

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#If IDieInPoliceCustody, I was murdered. I didn’t fight, didn’t grab for a weapon, didn’t mysteriously pass in my sleep, didn’t kill myself. I may have said, “Hey,” when the violence started, surprised that someone was brutalizing me. I may have said, “Hey,” again, more quietly, when I felt my life leaching out of me, surprised that it was really coming to that. I say “Hey” when something’s going on, going wrong. I don’t shout it, just say it with honest surprise. It’s not the best last word to be remembered for, but it will be mine, I am sure.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, know that whatever story the police tell you is a lie. Know that because you know me. Say, “Hey, that’s not what Stacie would do,” then go out in the street and say my name, ask for answers, find the truth.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, it is because an officer — probably white, surely male — saw my big blackness and decided my life didn’t matter. He maybe didn’t see me as human but instead as animal, as chaff, as supernatural demon, as worthy only of his violence. He saw my beautiful kinky hair as scruff, my soft, full body as too much, my big, long-fingered hands as wrong. And he crushed them, crushed everything he could out of me. Then turned and told you I did it to myself, that I was the one full of hate, that I was the one who didn’t see my life as worth living. He is lying. You must know that he is lying.

And you do know he is lying. You knew it after Sandra Bland. You know it today after Gynnya McMillen. You know.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember how I sound when I say “Hey.” Remember the look of puzzlement that creased my face when you heard me say it. Was it that time I was standing in Arstel Fabrics on 39th Street and a shelf of bolted wool was about to collapse on me? Was it six a.m. in Ljubljana as I stood outside a bland Soviet apartment block watching a man walk away with my suitcase? Was it on the 3 train at Kingston when I asked the conductor a question and he closed the doors and drove off, leaving me behind?

The “Hey” is real. Always. When I said it to the police officer, did he ignore my tone, ignore the confusion on my face and hear challenge, hear resistance? I don’t care. Don’t forgive him. I did not deserve death.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, I was murdered. Know that. remember me, go into the street and raise your voice, say my name, show my killers that you saw me, knew me, loved me, that my life mattered, that you will hold them accountable, that you will fight for justice.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember me. Know that what I always said is still true — that I wasn’t Trayvon, not Tamir, but Eleanor, as in Bumpurs. Know that it didn’t matter who I was, that my height, my size, this soft, warm brown of my skin were a fatal equation, adding up to one more body, one more hashtag. Say my name.

#If IDieInPoliceCustody, reject the narrative you’re given, don’t let Fox news get away with describing me as angry and combative, use my list of grievances as the “proof” to shore up their story. Force them to see me, to admit that I was full of love, that even as I cried and called out and couldn’t process the fact of my dying, I was still holding hope, still imagining salvation, a Deus ex Machina jailhouse rescue. #If IDieInPoliceCustody, remember me.

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My mind and heart are struggling with this 30-year anniversary. With the fact of the 11 lives lost on May 13th, with the fact of what happened to the people of the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in Philadelphia, but also with the clear connection to the ways we see police departments interact with — and act on — communities of color today. And Black communities in particular.

When the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house on May 13th 1985, I was more than 3,600 miles away, at the start of a months-long hitch through Europe. I had just left Paris, after a couple of weeks of reconnecting with teachers and friends I’d met during my junior year abroad. I’d had a good day of hitching and was settling into Bordeaux. With no radio or television, I didn’t know about the bombing until the next day when I grabbed a copy of the International Herald Tribune and an Orangina and went to find a sunny spot to enjoy both.

Sitting in a pretty park under cool springtime sun, a photo and news story tilted my entire world.

I don’t remember how many times I read that article. I don’t know how long I sat staring blankly trying and failing to process what I’d read. I sat there long enough and looked lost and distraught enough that a man approached to ask if I was okay, to ask if I was injured in some way. Eventually I clipped the article from the paper and kept it in my journal. A place marker: this is your country, this is the state of things in 1985 in your country, this is a way a local police force in your country chooses to deal with a group of Black people it doesn’t like.

Because that was the horror, that was the reason I read the article over and over. How could it be happening in 1985 in my country? I remember repeating again and again, “But it’s 1985. It’s 1985.”

And now it’s 2015. It’s 30 years later, and we see municipal police departments describing the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve as “enemies,” we see police departments armed with military equipment and perfectly comfortable using those weapons and tools on civilians, we see more and more and more Black bodies, and we see the ones we’ve lost accused of orchestrating their own deaths. Every piece of this echoes what we saw in 1985 at 6221 Osage Avenue.

In 1985, firefighters were told to “let the fire burn,” to allow the fire caused by the police bombing to burn until it spread and destroyed almost two city blocks. Today, we see police officers shoot unarmed Black people and leave them where they fall while they call their union reps or alter crime scene evidence, or just walk away. In 1985, a residential neighborhood was bombed by the police. In 2015 — perhaps in an effort to protect property and serve landlords — police gun us down in the street.

_____

White Supremacy, always the hardest worker in any room, has been busy — up from slavery, out through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, five steps ahead of the Civil Rights Movement, exploding over 6221 Osage, down through to today. White Supremacy doesn’t sleep, keeps its eyes wide open at all times. We get angry, White Supremacy takes three steps forward. We get comfortable, White Supremacy takes five. Bombing the MOVE house was horrific, but it wasn’t enough. White Supremacy needed those snipers firing on folks trying to escape the inferno, needed to let the fire rage and take down 59 other houses to prove a point, make an example,  needed to leave that neighborhood in limbo and decay for 30 years to be sure we got the message.

I’m not saying this fight isn’t winnable. No. I’m saying we can’t get comfortable, we have to be as vigilant as White Supremacy, keep our eyes wide open, keep watch on all the doors and windows.

White Supremacy wanted the Philadelphia Bombing to teach us a lesson. Thirty years later, we are making clear that we’ve learned a lesson. Not the one implicit bias, internalized racial hatred, and White Supremacy would have had us learn, however. Thirty years later, we are calling bullshit on the lies and the violence. We are creating  a Movement for Black Lives, and we aren’t sitting down and shutting up when white people get their feelings hurt or are forced to examine their motives, their privilege, their dismissal of our deaths.

In 1985, I didn’t know what to do with the pain of the Philadelphia Bombing other than grieve in silence. In 2015, my pen is firmly in my hand. I grieve, but I am no longer silent.

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* I suppose it is too much to expect Google’s doodle for this day to be #BlackLivesMatter. But perhaps it’s fitting that the doodle honors the woman who discovered the earth’s core. The issue of state violence against Black bodies is definitely at the core of who we are as a nation.

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Yes, still reporting from the heart of my anger, the anger in my heart. This is a difficult challenge for me, allowing myself to stay present in my fury. Staying present in my sadness and bewilderment has been easy. I have far more experience with that.

I have a long and troubled history with accessing and accepting my anger. This is a legacy of solid, good-girl training, a set of lessons that were reinforced by nice-black-woman training. While both courses of study have surely been extremely helpful to people with whom I’ve had to interact, neither has been particularly useful to me. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and my head down. I’ve learned to smile when I’d rather be doling out dope slaps. I’ve learned how to keep conversations well-oiled so that we’re able to move smoothly (ish) from safe ground to politically incorrect racist/sexist/heteronormative gaffe to safe ground. I’ve learned how to get along. Often at the expense of my heart and soul.

“Getting along” seems like a worthy enough goal, doesn’t it? If everyone could just make nice, wouldn’t the world would be a better place? I’m actually not so sure. In my life, “getting along” often means breaking my own heart over casual ugliness that I let slide simply to avoid conflict. Casual ugliness, the kind born out of and supporting a system built on my othering, on the assumption of my lesser status. Alone at home after these moments, they bubble up, replaying again and again as if some irksome sportscaster in the back of my head keeps saying, “Let’s go to the video tape!”

Maybe you’re thinking this is my problem, that I just have to stop dwelling on these things. Okay. How good are you at that? Let’s try some role-playing. In this scenario, you’re Italian.

You’re having a discussion about developing programming for young people to help prepare them for college and work. The conversation has been interesting and productive. And then someone says, “All this sounds great, but we’ll have to do something different for the Italian kids. You know how they are. There’s no way we can get them ready for college!” And then that person looks at you and says, “You know I’m not talking about you, but you know I’m right.”

You might brush it off in the moment so as not to derail the working session. But would you forget it entirely? Would you put it out of your mind only to find yourself ambushed by it as you’re about to make an important presentation? Do people really think Italians are troublesome or unteachable? Do people think I’m difficult, I have trouble learning? Do they think I can’t do this job well, that I was hired as a token or to meet a quota? What does my supervisor really think of me, of my capabilities?

Let’s regroup. How did that feel? Were you surprised that someone would say something so foolish and cruel about Italians? Could you see how a comment like that might bother you beyond the instant of hearing it? Can you imagine finding yourself getting angry about it at odd moments of the day? And can you imagine getting angry with yourself when you caught yourself wondering if some aspect of it might be true even when you know perfectly well that it isn’t true?

Sometimes, it’s really challenging to swallow the casual ugliness, to set it aside and keep things moving. Sometimes the casual ugliness has amazing dig-in-and-stay power. And maybe that’s because the ugliness is particularly ugly. And maybe it’s because I’ve heard these things so many times that I’m full, don’t have room for one more, so they keep hovering around my brain, keep poking at me.

And all that poking makes me angry. Leaves me with a simmering-under-the-surface anger that is almost constant, always one microaggression away from tipping me into the hot zone.

So, how to deal with this anger. I’ve never known. There has been so much pressure not to deal with it, to stuff it down, to ignore it, that I’ve never learned what a healthy response might be. Early in this blog’s life, I wrote about two instances from middle school in which that angry-making ugliness pushed me to violence. But here’s the problem: neither at the time of those incidents nor now do I  think my response was inappropriate. Yes, I said that. Slamming John in the head with my book not only felt good in the moment, I was good forever after that moment — he never spoke to me again — and it still feels good now, almost 40 years later, to know that I shut him down so effectively. The same is true for my present-day feelings about Michael. Although I would probably respond differently today if the same situation were to arise (probably), I cannot find any fault in those long-ago responses.

But that kind of lashing out can’t be the all-the-time answer. Not just because I am a peaceful person at heart but also because a) eventually a violent response is going to get me into real trouble and b) violence doesn’t leave room for conversation, for change, and that’s what I want. Yes, hitting John meant that John stopped talking to me, and that was a change that worked just fine for seventh-grade me. But hitting John didn’t magically make him understand what was wrong with anything he was saying, didn’t make him change how he thought or felt about black people. More likely, it confirmed some other things he thought and felt about black people.

I don’t think it’s my job to change the minds of racists, but not all people who say racist things are racists, and lashing out closes the door on them looking honestly at their words and actions. My support for non-violent action isn’t as much about the fact that I’m a “nice” person as it is about my desire for real dialogue. So, violence. Not always the best answer.

And aside from being taught that my anger is “bad,” or “dangerous,” or “unladylike,” there is the fact that anger makes me a stereotype. Here I am, yet another Angry Black Woman. And my nice-black-woman training means I’ve tried to avoid seeming angry, being angry, precisely to avoid fitting and feeding that stereotype.

But there’s still my anger. I have a LOT of it. It’s here and it’s real. And avoidance doesn’t do anything for me. Except make me more angry.

The world is harder now. Cracking some wannabe bully in the face with my out-of-date history book worked in middle school, but there are no handy villains to slap around today.  New times call for new tactics. Using my words instead of my hands has sparked some conversations, has felt right even if it hasn’t felt like enough. Staying public with this anger has shown me that I can be furious, that I can give voice to this fury … and the world continues to turn, nothing bursts into flame, no one drops dead. And that’s good. It’s at least a start.

My anger and I are on a first name basis today — finally, after all these years — and this feels like the start of a long relationship. I’ll have to keep my eye on my anger. She’s far more beautiful than I am and is incredibly seductive. But as much as she needs watching, I have no interest just now in reining her in. I’m getting comfortable with Angry Stacie. I suggest you do the same.

__________

* Once again mining Rage Against the Machine lyrics for my titles. This one is from “Wake Up” … which is exactly what I’ve been doing these last weeks, rousing the sleeping giant of my fury.

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Last night I locked my front door.

If you’ve read this blog for a minute, you know that I don’t lock my door. I do lock the big iron gate in front of my door, but not the door itself. This is part laziness, part habit from when the lock wasn’t working properly, part foolish, Pollyanna-ish insistence that I don’t need to lock it.

But then sometimes I do.

A few years ago I was reading Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder, and it was killing me. I was terrified all the time, most especially so when I entered my house at night because that was when Bishop Gerardi was murdered. I wrote about my fear here, and Fox — my intelligent and often-snarky younger sister — responded that I might feel safer in my home if I locked my front door.

(Yes, my family — as may be true for some of you reading this — are horrified by my crazy, not-door-locking behavior.)

Fox was right. I locked my door, and I immediately felt safer in my house, slept more easily. When I recovered from reading Goldman’s book, I stopped locking my door.

Since then, door-locking has been the barometer of my feeling of security and comfort.

So let’s start again: last night I locked my front door.

There could be any number of reasons for that. I’ve been binge-listening to “Serial,” and have definitely felt whispers of fear running along my spine. I hadn’t thought it was too serious, but I could be wrong. So it could be Adnan Sayed … but maybe it’s something more.

I am feeling decidedly exposed and vulnerable, which makes sense, given how public I’ve been in the expression of my anger and sadness and frustration. Is that scary? I guess it is scary. Is it lock-the-door scary? I wouldn’t have thought so, but it could be.

There were a few moments last night — as I fixed dinner, as I twisted my hair — when I could feel unease rising in my chest, that I had to remind myself that I had locked the door, when the knowledge of the locked door dissolved the fear and enabled me to carry on calmly with my night.

And if this fear is about my feeling exposed and vulnerable, that actually seems like a good thing. Opening myself like this has been very powerful for me, has helped me see that I can be angry — ragingly angry — and the world doesn’t crumble, no mountains fall into the sea.

Of course, it could also be just plain, straight-up #AliveWhileBlack fear. I’ve been so focused lately on all the times and all the ways I have felt unsafe on the street. I’ve been thinking about Aiyanna Stanley Jones who should have been perfectly safe — asleep in her home being a regular seven-year-old child — and yet wasn’t safe. And maybe weeks and weeks of acknowledging and giving voice to this painful truth that I don’t control is finally manifesting, channeling through my fingers, turning that cylinder, sliding that bolt.

I’m curious to see what will happen tonight. Sometimes, just acknowledging my fear is enough to dispel it, enough to let me return to my unlocked life. And if the fear persists, it makes me more glad than usual that I’ll be heading home for Christmas. In that house full of family and dogs — to say nothing of locked doors and an activated alarm system — I will sleep soundly every night.

But whether in my family’s home or in my home, I know that — fear or no fear — I’m going to keep writing, keep posting.

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