I’m a person who suffers from anxiety so extreme that I often wrap myself into a tiny and safe cocoon of my own emotions. I am empathetic to others to the point that it becomes my downfall. It’s not enough for me to feel sad for someone’s despair. I find myself sitting with them in it, and getting sucked into a black hole of negativity. If I’m not careful, this consumes me and I’m unable to accomplish basic tasks for myself and my family. So, I cherry pick what I’m going to consume in order to keep my sanity. Someone posting about their cancer journey? Unfollow. Someone talking about a child dying? Nope, can’t do that. Anyone on my newsfeed who constantly posts about gloom and doom? Hell to the no. I cannot. I bury my head in the sand like an ostrich so I don’t have to feel the feelings unless I get curious enough to open Pandora’s box one day and lose myself in the world’s sadness and problems.
Raising three girls, I feel like I can predict what their future pain will be as women. The #metoo movement, disordered eating, body image, peer pressure, self esteem, depression, toxic friendships, boys, etc. And because that is a whole lot for a highly sensitive person to process, I open a box and tightly pack in all of the present and potential problems that will impact our sweet, caucasian babies. I pack it tightly and I close the lid and tell myself “This is what we will deal with. This and no more. I will not let in any more scary things. This is enough to handle.” And when other bad and scary things happen in the world, I take my invisible mental lightsaber, and I vanquish it from my mind. The world is hard enough, and I already have my box packed.
And then on a day when my anxiety starts to crest beyond what my really good meds can help me with, my curiosity is piqued. My fear and stress is already poking through, so I click on a video that I will never be able to unsee. It’s a black man in Minneapolis, who is laying on the ground with handcuffs, and a cop’s knee is shoved into his neck. He’s pleading for his life and asking for his mama, while three other cops try to calm an angry crowd who is recording the situation and asking the police to stop this injustice. They are begging for this man’s life as the air is being crushed out of his lungs and body by a man who is abusing his power. I feel my pulse rise and I start sweating. I am further down this rabbit hole than I typically allow myself, but I can’t stop. I see another topic trending about a man who is birdwatching in New York. I watch that clip too and I see a woman who is walking her unleashed dog pretending to be fearful in one breath and then getting in the the black man’s face in the next moment, threatening him. I see her call the police and act like she is in despair and desperately cries that she is in imminent danger to the person on the 911 call. I feel sick. I sit with these feelings for a while, and I feel helpless. I’m not sure what to do and I don’t want to say much for fear of saying the wrong thing and hurting already hurting people with the wrong words.
I take my daughter to Target with me. We’re in a pandemic and it’s her last day of “crisis school.” I’ve acted as her teacher for the last couple months and it’s our last day. She wears a makeshift mask and so do I, and it’s the first time she has been on an outing outside of the house since school ended abruptly for her in March. I take a photo of her in the checkout line, looking thrilled to be joining the real world again even if it had to be behind a mask. Later, I wear a mask to pick up a prescription at Walgreens. I take a look in the video monitor at myself at the register wearing a mask, talking to the employee, and I freeze for a moment. How many times have I watched the news and seen this exact type of clip playing. “Have you seen this person? They just held up a store. Help us identify them. Call in if you have more information.” I remember the videos I watched earlier that day of the black people who didn’t deserve the treatment they received at the hands of angry white people. How do black people feel wearing a mask in public right now? I wondered. Are they worried that they will be deemed as a threat when they enter a store? What must that be like? Are they worried about their children wearing a mask when they go out in public? When do black children stop being cute and start looking like a threat? Here I was earlier this day worrying about keeping my family safe in public from COVID19, and black families worry about keeping their children safe in public every single day. Just for being black. I ponder this for the rest of the night.
The next morning I wake up and see the news of Minneapolis being on fire. Angry people putting graffiti on buildings, burning down businesses, and looting and rioting. My heart hurts. I see flames lapping at the sides of burning buildings and when I close my eyes I see the fiery hot tears of anger, fear, and despair burning the cheeks of a black mama somewhere whose baby didn’t deserve to die. I see the angry writing etched on the buildings and when I close my eyes I can see the deep wounds carved into the hearts and souls of people who have been losing their people in hate crimes for centuries, with no end in sight. I see people looting and rioting stores and when I close my eyes I see people who are so desperate to be heard and seen that they’ll do anything for attention. Anything! I feel my mama bear instincts kick in when I realize that in their shoes, I’d be out for blood too. And if my babies were hurt senselessly by people who generationally continue to abuse their privilege and not be penalized for it, I would do anything to make my voice and pain seen and heard. I can’t judge them or blame them.
On social media, I see my black friends respond in angry memes and frustration. I see many of them disconnecting completely from social media. Mostly, I see the mixed range of emotions from people who are equal parts worried and sad. When does this end? Will their baby be the next person we hashtag? Will their child be memorialized as a social movement?
I sit with these questions and I’m not sure what to do. I don’t like how vulnerable this feels. I vow that something like what happened in Minneapolis will NEVER happen in front of me. I realize that if I had been on the scene I would have been tazed or shot as I pushed the power-abusing cop off the man so he could breathe. But I know that that’s not enough. In my head, I mentally find that tightly-packed box labeled “My Problems” and pull it open. What I know I need to do is scary but necessary. I feel fragile but I know that this is the next right thing to do. My daughters deserve a life of living boldly and bravely and standing up for what is right and good for all people, and not shrinking down to fit into this tiny box of what their timid mother once thought were “our problems.” Their mother now realizes that compartmentalizing the scary things simultaneously results in setting the box containing black lives aside. I’ve always cared about equal rights and black lives but I’ve let my fear get in the way of my action.
I won’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I will admit that I am filled with a holy anger for these injustices. I’m ready to rise up and use my voice to loudly declare what I know has been right this whole time. I will stop being afraid of saying the wrong thing, and start being afraid of the silence that has become deafeningly loud. I will seek out books and experiences to educate my kids about other cultures and how this violence is real and terrible and how we will rise up against it. I will listen and not speak when the black community tells us what change needs to happen, because though I have problems in my life that hold me back, the color of my skin isn’t one of them. I will sit and be a witness to the pain with my friends who have black children who are scared for their children’s’ future.
This isn’t black peoples’ problem. It’s everyone’s problem. I will do better.
This is powerfully. We should all be moved to change this, not just watch this.