Black Lives Matter

(You can listen to me read this post via the embed above, on Anchor, or pretty much anywhere else you source your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Google Podcasts. Please also take action in your local communities.)

So, in terms of the writing I do online, I’ve always been a firm believer in not explaining or even really acknowledging absences or gaps between posts. No “hey guys, I’ve been really busy; sorry it’s been so long since my last entry.” None of that. Beyond the fact that, you know, who cares, it’s not 2003 and this isn’t LiveJournal, I’m also not a professional writer. I don’t ask for Patreon funding and I don’t have an implied contract to uphold with anyone who looks at my social media or listens to my podcast that I’m going to churn out X amount of content with any sort of regularity. I’m grateful that I don’t get e-mails or comments asking me where I’ve been or wondering when I’m going to say something. Which in so many ways is a blessing and a relief—I’m allowed time to formulate my thoughts before airing them publicly.

But anyway. Just to put a frame around things for a minute, I started my podcast at the very end of December 2019 with reckless enthusiasm. Once all the various platforms were carrying my show, I was getting new episodes out on a weekly basis. It was sooo much fun and I was so on fire about it that it didn’t feel like an unsustainable pace. Until suddenly it did—especially given that I’m still employed full time with a day job, which got increasingly complicated once I started working from home due to the coronavirus situation.

So for my mental health and the hopeful longevity of the podcast, I took a few weeks off. Which were glorious. I relaxed really hard on the days when I would normally be doing interviews, editing the audio, and annotating my show notes. My brain started to unbend in a way that I really needed. And again, I felt no need to explain or to apologize, other than to the guests I’d already booked and needed to reschedule.

But then George Floyd was murdered and the world sprang into a very different kind of action. A dear friend who lives in Minneapolis was posting live video footage on Facebook of those early days of protest and civil unrest. And of course being in Chicago, I watched with horror as stories unspooled on social media of protestors getting kettled downtown when Mayor Lori Lightfoot raised all the bridges over the river and imposed a curfew that gave cops more license than they already had to brutalize and penalize the folks who were putting their bodies on the line to protest Floyd’s murder and the ongoing disease of systemic racism.

And, you know, my voice absolutely did not need to be heard in those days.

I didn’t post a black square on social media or anything performative like that. I just stopped posting everywhere entirely so that there was more space open for Black voices, for reports from the front lines of the protests, for folks who could speak to the immediacy of the political and social problems that badly needed to be addressed.

I felt a lot of guilt about not being out at the protests myself, and I don’t mean the peaceful ones where folks marched down the streets in the daylight with hand-painted signs. I mean, I felt guilt about not being downtown those first nights facing the tear gas, facing the police in riot gear. In my mind and heart and imagination, I lust for revolution. I’m always and forever on the side of the oppressed; I always, if covertly, want to smash the system.

But. And it’s a big but. I’m also a 41-year-old white lady who’s personally terrified of conflict and who’s not in the best physical shape right now. I know my actual lived tendency to freeze or fawn in the face of even mild opposition. So I talked myself down from any pangs of guilt by being realistic about the fact that, were I in harm’s way, I would not only be a danger to myself, but I would also be a danger to others, if my reactions were too slow or if I got in the way and needed to be physically assisted rather than being able to effectively assist those around me. I was able to be honest with myself that this is not the time in my life for me to be out on the streets. I bless those who can be and have been.

But then my words also failed me. I started to feel equally enormous guilt for the fact that, for all the revolutionary spirit that lives in my heart, I don’t actually have language to convey it. I realized that I’d allowed myself to be lulled into an inchoate idealism that had absolutely no pragmatic strategies attached to it. And as I watched folks posting fluently about statistics and theory and hardcore demands for specific, systemic, deeply necessary change, I was like, goddamn it, writing is supposed to be my skillset, and yet I’m frozen around that now, too.

So the thing I felt capable of doing was making donations. Like I said before, I’m lucky to still be employed right now, so opening my virtual pockets to various nonprofits and GoFundMe’s specifically supporting Black individuals and organizations felt like the one legitimately good thing I could do while all my other usual personal resources seemed to fail me.

I’m not meaning to center my white-lady feelings here—I’m trying to own up to how easy it can be to remain inactive, even for those of us who actively want to support Black communities, when we allow ourselves to be confused or overwhelmed by how to contribute in any meaningful way. I spent a number of days really aching with worthlessness and frustration, which I realize is a privilege. And also, what’s a little bit of frustration compared to the way that whiteness continually devalues the Black experience with politically sanctioned acts of violence?

And as so many white people are actively reckoning with these factors and forces for perhaps the first time, the sorrow is very thick. As it should be. There have been a lot of people apologizing and promising to “do better.” Which they should. The grief for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and too many others is engulfing. Which is absolutely the right reaction.

But as self-proclaimed white allies, shouldn’t we also be excited to be co-creating a reality where Black lives are deeply valued and whiteness is thoroughly de-centered? Shouldn’t we also be fucking psyched to contribute to the making of a better, more just world? Because, if we’re not, what’s going to give us the continued, sustained motivation to have important but potentially uncomfortable conversations with our white families and coworkers and acquaintances? How are we going to continue to show up in a healthy, balanced way to do the work of racial justice if we’re just grinding it out with a grim sense of duty?

Again, I don’t mean that my white feelings are the important thing here. As Rachel Cargle wrote on Instagram recently, “the work doesn’t end when white people FEEL better about how they’ve shown up.”

I just mean that liberation for our Black comrades relies on us white folks staying healthy and resilient enough to continue the fight, and after the intensity of our currently justified rage dims a little bit, the radical joy of this pursuit is going to be the thing that gives us the fuel to keep moving forward. Even when we’re embarrassed or awkward. Even when we’ve fallen on our faces and said some dumb shit.

Early in 2020, just before shelter-in-place officially began in Chicago, I read Akwaeke Emezi’s YA novel Pet, and honestly it’s the book I’ve been thinking about the most these past few weeks. It’s the perfect medicine for these times. You can listen to the author read a bit from the first chapter over on their Instagram here.

Though there’s some fantastical/magical elements to the plot, the most important thing the story does is to otherwise realistically portray what a completely reconfigured society might look like—joyously Black, without prisons or police, with restitution and rehabilitation as the way to deal with those who have done harm, where all kinds of bodies and genders are valued and visible, where the sorrows of the collective past are honored with genuine reflection and never forgotten.

Doesn’t that sound amazing?! Not just the book, I mean, but the real-life potential for that kind of society to be very tangibly within our grasp?

So yes, we mourn, we make penance and reparations, we rage. But we also fill our bones and our hearts and our vision with the certainty and the thrill that every donation we make, every hard conversation we have, every uncomfortable but morally principled stand that we take is doing the work of weaving that world into reality.

Black lives fucking matter.