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For Trayvon

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He’s standing in the street, gesturing wildly; his voice is raised loud enough that I can hear him a block away. Ice cold tendrils of fear work their way through my stomach. I’m alone and it’s getting dark. I have my baby in the carrier on my back, and my three year old is trying to pry his fingers out of my hand so that he can chase pigeons (why are there always pigeons, everywhere I go?). The man is yelling at a bicyclist who is waiting for the signal to turn.

The bicyclist is white. The other man is black. And I’m a little scared of him.

Am I safe? Should I proceed, or pick a different path to my car? What is going on?

I replay the situation in my head. I try to erase the colors and accompanying prejudices from my mind. What I see is a man, speaking loudly, moving energetically. I see another man standing not two feet away from him, not reacting to the outburst in any visible way. I know that if I were standing that close to an unstable, potentially violent person, I’d be doing whatever I could to extricate myself from the situation. This guy is sitting still. He doesn’t appear to feel threatened. We’re on a main road. I have my phone in my hand if I need to call 911. I am hardly defenseless on my own, either. I have martial arts training, a strong set of lungs and a great big ugly temper. I know that I can trust myself to take care of myself. I choose to continue, but cautiously.

The light changes as we approach, and the cyclist slaps the black man on the back.

“I’ve gotta run,” he says, smiling, “but it was great to run into you again! I’ll give you a call soon!”

“Just drop by whenever! Right over there,” the black man points to a high rise building that dominates the block next to us. “I’m in the penthouse, you can’t miss it!”

He turns away from the road, grinning broadly, and sees me watching him. I know I probably look surprised.

“Man,” he smiles, dropping to a normal speaking tone, “I haven’t seen that guy since grad school! I thought he’d moved away. What are the odds?”

He saunters off in the direction of his million-dollar penthouse dwelling, still smiling and shaking his head at intervals, galvanizing the pigeons into flight as he departs. My son sighs in exasperation and quickly begins seeking out a new group of winged targets.

I’m alone again. My hands are shaking. I feel sick. A sudden rush of tears sting my eyes, triggered by overwhelming waves of relief? Frustration? Guilt? Some combination of the three. My baby is beginning to whimper for another snack. My son is still jerking against my firm grip on his sleeve.

“Let go! I need to chase that bird over there!” he wails, arms flailing blindly as his prey disappears into the dusk at a tantalizing waddle. I realize that, while I have been lost in this internal battle against my own prejudice and bigotry, my son has remained completely fixated on the hunt. He didn’t even notice the impromptu class reunion.

Maybe my hesitation escaped his attention as well.

Maybe he didn’t notice the fear that had to have been visible in my eyes.

Maybe black men will be able to express emotion safely in my son’s company when he reaches adulthood.

Maybe things will get better.

Maybe.

Learn more about Trayvone Martin and take a stand against institutionalized racism here.

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Written by GRSeim

March 21, 2012 at 6:42 am

3 Responses

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  1. That would pretty much be the reason why it’s called EWB – Existing While Black (or, you know, of color, but Black men have it pretty badly). It sucks, and institutionalized, structural racism is such a hard thing to change. But it has to change. Trayvone was not the first, and he won’t be the last, and damned if I want my kids growing up in a world where that kind of shit is okay.

    jaqbuncad

    March 21, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    • I spiral down this trail of depressing thought all the time. My mother grew up with a black nanny who left her own children behind each day to care for my mom, aunt and uncles. Racism is part of our family culture; just a bunch of racist, religious Republicans. It horrifies me now as an adult, but it’s there, and I can’t know what lies I’ve bought into, I don’t know what a non-racist upbringing looks like. I’m constantly stumped by weird things like black baby dolls and Kwanzaa, things other people must have learned about in school, but there was no one to learn from in the all-white suburban neighborhood where I spent my childhood. It is so easy for me to talk about feminism, because I’m the victim there, I was denied access to education, I was forced to give up my youth, lied to, abused. It’s easy to talk about it, be loud and proud, get in people’s faces and demand change. It’s far more painful to have these kinds of conversations, to acknowledge that I am part of the problem and desperately need to change in probably a million ways that I don’t even know about yet.

      It crosses from humbling to terrifying when I consider that I am raising a white American male, a person who belongs to the most privileged class on the planet. No one wants to screw up as a parent, but I feel like, for me, there’s always this dark cloud weighing on the back of my mind: if I fuck this up, I could create a Dominique Strauss Kahn, a Robert Bales, a George Zimmerman.

      MWS

      March 26, 2012 at 3:53 am

      • For sure – it’s a hard thing to do, to own the places where we have privilege, to acknowledge the role we play in the oppression of others. It’s work, it’s soul work, and sometimes it’s agonizing and sometimes the reward doesn’t seem worth the risk. I still don’t have an everybody answer to those white people who ask me “But what’s in it for me? Why would I want to get rid of a system that benefits me?” I can answer for my own white people, like my dad: it means that, at least, this child of yours, who identifies as a person of colour, will show you more trust than I currently do. But everyone else? Hell if I know. I just know that it’s the right thing to do, to make a world where people don’t have to suffer and die needlessly, arbitrarily.

        I heard a metaphor recently. Say you have fish, and someone puts poison in the tank. The fish sicken, and some die, and you get angry at the person who put poison in the tank. “You killed my fish!” you say, and the other person, the poisoner, says, “Well, I didn’t put the poison in the fish, I only put the poison in the water.” It’s not a perfect metaphor by any means, but we are the fish swimming in that poisoned water, and all of us take it in to some extent. Internalized oppression comes from that poisoned water just the same as racism does.

        For me, I look at my two sons, who are happily identified by their sister-in-law as “tall, dark, and foreign” (Libra) and “all-American” (Gemini), and I wonder if one day they’ll find themselves on opposite sides of the racial identification spectrum. Gemini for sure will inherit that mantle of whiteness, whether or not he wants it, and I honestly don’t know how to deal with that – it’s not something I expected to have to deal with as a mama of colour raising children.

        I hear you, is what I’m saying; it’s complicated, is what I’m saying. We’re not exactly in this together, but we’re both part of the interconnected web of all existence.

        jaqbuncad

        March 26, 2012 at 5:13 am


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