Never before have so many eyes been on us.
After months of deserted streets and dormant communities, cities across this nation and the world have begun to march for life - Black life. Perhaps for the first time in American history, Black life is the central topic of discussion in major cities across the globe. Certainly, this phenomenon is the culmination of many factors. This is the cumulative effect of generations of Black antiracists who have advocated for our people. This is the repercussion of yet another publication of statistics that expose racial health disparities1. This is the result of fewer distractions, as so many of us find ourselves at home with fewer reasons to compartmentalize the inequities we see both first-hand and through social media.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, grief and rage within women erupted in response to the unceasing brutality forced upon our Black body. We endure violence at the hands of law enforcement, are ensnared by a prejudicial prison system, and are bound by a wickedness that impedes our access to basic needs and provisions. However, our anger is not unruly. On the contrary, Black and Brown women in America spend themselves managing anger brought on by the injustices we face every day.
“My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life.
Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing.
Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also.”
– Audre Lorde, The Use of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (1981)
In contrast, many non-Black bodies which were at once gleefully oblivious to the realities of racism are now interrupted from their slumber. To be white in America is to benefit from the assumption that Black lives are tangential. Yet, the tactful use of Black anger and the cumulative effect of the aforementioned factors have forced the consideration of Black life upon the world. This has caused an internal discord within many non-Black bodies.
Synchronized in perfect alignment with the unconscious perception of Black women as work mules, the societal expectation is that white discomfort must be relieved and that the responsibility to do so is pressed upon Black women.
In an era of urbanization and the reverse of white flight, white neighbors and friends can no longer live a comfortable distance from the suffering of Black folks. Here in the city of Minneapolis, white folks are forced by proximity to face the racist systems that led to the death of George Floyd. Beyond these city limits, white citizens have witnessed these injustices through the social media of other white people who have utilized their position to tell our stories. We delight in the solidarity of those non-Black brothers and sisters who possess the decency to simply believe Black people. That belief can immediately be leveraged into action – joining organizers at a protest, funding Black owned businesses, studying, listening to and amplifying Black voices.
Yet, instead many well-intentioned white folks have chosen to withhold their trust and turn to their Black friends, neighbors, colleagues and associates for answers. As of late, Black women have been battered with phone calls, emails, text messages and requests to show up and explain ourselves.
Black sisters, we implore you
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES.
There are many people among us who have just woken from their slumber, who teeter on the edge of inaction, startled by guilt, fragility, and discomfort, who now look to Black women and unconsciously press upon us costly expectations. Holdfast, brown girl! Though you may long for their consciousness, to ease their discomfort, to care for them in their confusion, to say the “right words” that might lead to their understanding, these are not your responsibilities to bear.
Truthfully, for those who withhold belief, introspection is required. That is, to look within one’s self and recount the ways one has unknowingly benefited from, been complicit in and unintentionally contributed to the human hierarchy of white supremacy. Fear of lost privilege and lost comfort must be confronted. This is inner work that cannot be done by others.
With mercy, you may still choose to show up for your non-Black friends. You may utilize your power, your voice, to uplift the experiences of our people and to bring insight to those who do not understand how we got here. If you do, resist the temptations to silence your body. Instead, be very attentive to your own needs, even as you care for others. The desire others express to hear from you is no more important than the effect fulfilling that desire has on your body.
What you feel is equally as important as what others feel,
if not more-so, in this time of grief among the Black community.
Remember, you have a choice. You do not exist to serve others. This is a lie instituted by American chattel slavery that still lives on within so many of us today. Live in the freedom of any obligation to succumb to this falsehood. Your value is not depended upon your ability to care for others. You have inherent worth.
It is gracious, too, to create clear boundaries with those you love. It is love, to communicate your needs and limitations, to invite others to love you well. Never before have so many eyes been on us. To be Black in this time is to be hyper-visible, which requires of us the constant management of our anger, our fear and our grief for our survival. What great fatigue we face.
Name these within yourself. Rather than moving so quickly to holding space for others, instead offer yourself room to feel, to rest, and to balance these emotions with joy. Be gentle with yourself, dear one.
To set healthy boundaries, to care for oneself in the face of a commonly held expectation – that it is the feeling of white folks that matter most – is resistance. To be Black in America today and to practice self-love is to set the precedence: that Black lives matter.