Between being stared down aggressively during my daily subway commute by soldiers carrying machine guns, having my work bag searched frequently (when I’m not accompanied by my blonde husband, because, see, then I’m accounted for), being ignored, then followed around to make sure I’m not stealing and then being scoffed at (“I don’t know what your budget is, but I think I should tell you that these aren’t cheap.”) in stores where I’m looking to buy some FW16 clothing designed by my faves. Between being spoken to like a 5 year-old by a well-meaning (oh, how they always mean well) white mom at my kid’s school asking if I’d care to attend Dutch speaking-classes (which has been my mother tongue since I could form words, so certainly these past 9 years my child has been attending this school). Sometimes they add patronisingly that I might be eligible for discounts or courses for unemployed parents (I’ve had my own company and people on my payroll for the past 10 years).
Between all of that, I feel like I need relief. Relief from the ignorance, prejudice and micro- and full-on aggressions. Relief from seeing snuff videos on my social timelines of black people being killed by the people who should be protecting them. Seeing people who look like me saying “Sir” to the person who is about to gun them down in front of their beloved. In front of their babies. Relief from seeing babies who have just witnessed a killing uttering the words “Don’t cry mommy. I’m still here.” Relief from worrying about my own brother who has been trying -partly because all of the above- to live his life as inconspicuously as possible. Relief from seeing “friends of friends” trying to justify or make excuses for all day and everyday racism.
I noticed my anxiety and anger was getting really bad a couple of months ago when I almost had my first panic attack when the police were called on our crew during a quiet and non-disturbing night shoot in a public space. When they showed up they started barking questions at me like “Do you have a container of gasoline with you?”. When I tried to answer them (What?! (It was so outrageous I thought I misheard) “DO YOU HAVE A CONTAINER OF GASOLINE WITH YOU?” No! Not at all, Sir. – Always say “Sir”.), they ignored me and changed demeanour when our caucasian photographer came in sight. When we had to shoot the last ten minutes at a slightly more “risky” location (meaning production didn’t have the right permits), I couldn’t do it. I sat it out in the crew car and kept thinking about my daughter and how this wasn’t worth getting hurt or worse over. I still have so many things to tell and teach her.
But I used to always try and do everything to get the shot.
After every aggression towards you that you didn’t react to, a pang of self-hatred follows.
If you do react, a pang of self-hatred follows. Because it got to you. You were taught to not let it get to you.
Some days and actions are worse than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. During outside work meetings, someone frequently has to remind you that you are black. Or other. Sometimes just by saying the word “black” or the n-word. It sounds crazy -there is a comedy skit about this- but it actually happened to me more than once. It never stops.
So I get Solange when she was heartbroken over taking her child to a Kraftwerk concert only to be assaulted and insulted for doing what you do at a dance music concert. You dance. But she was black and needed to sit down. Solo has been pretty vocal about having a black body in an increasingly openly racist world and it looks like she dedicated a full album including artwork to just that.
This poem is my life. Was my life. Some things, like drinking, I was able to quit a couple of years ago.
I’m happily married.
I still try to buy the pain away from time to time. Only to feel disgusted with myself for handing over my hard-earned coin to people who treat me like I shouldn’t be able to afford to be shopping in their stores in the first place.
The anger and fear is getting worse. But you can’t show it. You can’t react. The price to pay is too high. I can’t get arrested over some bullshit. I love being with my family. They are my safe place and I’m theirs.
I hate seeing outlets I work or care for put racist acts between air quotes.
Or put the word racist between air quotes.
I hate being able to travel to places but not enjoy them because people think I’m the help.
My family and I are moving to a bigger place soon and I should be happy, but I feel these lyrics.
But I also deeply know I have to do this.