Updated: May 5, 2021
I am in tears as I write. It might be triggering to read. That might be the point.
I got the text from a friend late one night. "Hey, this happened in your neighborhood" with a link to news clip about a man being shot by a police officer on my street. I froze.
My neighbor was murdered as he was driving with his girlfriend and two-month-old baby in the car.
Because he has dark skin and because it was a police officer that murdered him, it's political. Because this is the second one of my neighbors to be murdered by a police officer in a matter of months, it is unavoidable. My mind bounces back and forth on actions and inactions, it has to see it but can't go beyond. It's mental ice-skating on top of the ocean of how I actually feel. As a white person, it is common to iceskate on top of this kind of trauma. It is something that is discussed in white liberal company but not felt.
In the last few years, I've really learned the poison of white guilt. That feeling like I'm somehow the problem and so I should have the solution. Get up a do something. As if there aren't dozens of organizations led by black women that have been strategically addressing the crisis from every angle since before I was born... but I should have the solution. It's poison that holds my heart away from the people I love and the experience of sharing in the human experience. I don't really want to know you or what life is like for you, just tell me what I need to do to be absolved.
In the last few years, I have fallen more in love and in love with more dark skinned human's than any other time and my life. It has saved me from this poison. The medicine is loving someone so you know their pain and joy as your own. The medicine is leaning in to someone else's experience with the eagerness to really see and understand and get another world because of the overwhelming joy of intimacy and connection with someone who has wisdom, strength, creativity and a whole selfhood that could only have been born in that world. The whole narrative of privilege as it's talked about among white people is propaganda against our best interest. We about privilege as if being a good white person is giving away our big shiny castle. As if it's a good position to be in, to have your neighbors murdered. As if it's a good position to be in, to feel safe when your neighbor is murdered. As if it's a good position to be in, to not know or notice, or feel it or care when your neighbor is murdered. That is what we call privilege. We call it a privilege to live in a world where our civil servant's murder our neighbors as long they aren't going to murder me. It's a privilege to not be murdered while our neighbors are.
Basic human rights, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are not privileges that we as white people should have less of so that others can have more. If we were murdered or incarcerated a little more, then maybe darker-skinned humans would be murdered or incarcerated a little less. WE have these rights. They are inalienable. The infringement on these rights is desecration on all of our humanity.
Do I feel safe because of my skin color? No, I don't, I really really don't. My neighbor was murdered. I don't feel safe. I feel like I live in a world where my neighbors are murdered.
Am I inherently complicit in this murder because I am white? Fuck no. I don't feel guilty for being white. I don't feel guilty for the privilege of not being murdered. I feel a lot of other things though, heartbroken, helpless, terrified, confused, and heartbroken all over again. And I feel the deep and potent programmed compulsion to not feel those things. To let my mind go blank, forget his name, and not see the candles and flowers sitting on the corner or see them as some cultural expression that has nothing to do with me. But I don't think that blank emptiness is a privilege and I don't feel guilty that has influence over me.
I know it's a trade-off. Empty, blank, numb, someone else's problem = unexplainable anxiety and depression and unbearable isolation. That I can skate on the surface and I am trading off being alive, knowing myself, and knowing other humans. I don't feel guilty when I numb out, I feel dead, its own kind of hell.
I think that much of what we consider privilege is a stress response. I froze when I got that text because it was unbearably terrifying that this happened and I felt more heartbroken and scared than I could hold in that moment. Then I realize if I only had white friends, and if my white friends weren't self-realizing lovers, I might not have ever defrosted. The collective force of that numbing influence, which defines white America would be dominant.
Even the voice in my head about white tears and fragility tells me "don't feel it when your brown-skinned neighbor is murdered because you are inherently separate, you don't have a right to cry for him, its a problem that belongs to someone else's community that you can't possibly understand". This is why it's taken me 3 months to even shed a tear.
Since this happened when people hear that he was my neighbor they give space for my experience. Not just a conversation but giving voice to his name, or someone he knew, an acknowledgment of this event the shook us, normalizing my grief about it. Every time it came up the ice cracked a little.
I am so grateful that people say his name. He was my neighbor but just a few years ago I would never have known his name. The collective white numb out is fracturing. It breaks the ice in me, the compartmentalizing of the trauma. I have to feel it to heal it.
There is a lie that we live in different worlds. Alex Gonzales and Mike Ramos and I drove up and down the same street every day. It's not a different world. This is one of the ways the statement Black Lives Matter has impacted me. If we (all white people) really related to it like my neighbor was murdered by a person carrying state issued weapon, instead of a black man or a Latino man was killed in a police-involved shooting, the world would change overnight.
Today it broke and I finally cried and shook. Today I finally had a human response, a decolonized response an alive response to Alex's murder. There will be more. Thank you, Fatima, for encouraging my tears. Thank you Ruben for sharing yours with me. Thank you Jenna for holding space for me when I finally felt.
What comes after I cry, I feel, I heal. I look to women of the global majority, women who have been the gatekeepers of this trauma. The ones that have been murdered, have cried, felt, healed and defined what comes after.