I had a hard time getting up this morning. I read the news in bed, so I could have the option of turning over and crying into my pillow, should the mood take me. I didn’t. Maybe I’m cried out, dried out, not so much toughened up as turned brittle by Events. Maybe I’m too far up on the knife age between fury and despair to wring out any weeping. My life is okay, but if feels like every morning I wake up into a slightly worse time to be alive. Doesn’t really matter. The self-indulgent tears of a middle class, middle-aged white lady are the very last thing the world needs right now.
I didn’t go to protests over the weekend. Protesting is a young person’s game, or at least a younger-than-me person’s game. That’s what I tell myself, even though it’s probably a cop-out. I don’t want to court risk because I don’t want to be in jail or in the hospital when my grandmother dies. That’s true, but in context, it feels petty and trivial, dangerously short-sighted considering the big picture. I also don’t want to see people beaten or tear-gassed or fired upon. I don’t want to see journalists arrested. I don’t want to see the moment when a police force arbitrarily decides to escalate, to provoke the crowd, to try and unleash violence they can then quash. Because even though I’m not there, that’s the view from here. Peaceful protests until. And then. Someone throws a plastic water-bottle. Police disproportionately respond with tear gas and rifles. Then things spiral .
It’s worth noting that I don’t want to be beaten or tear-gassed or fired upon. I’m claustrophobic. I’m afraid of fire. And though I try to heed the promise of flowers rising from ash, it’s hard to hear the sound of a new world being born over the helicopters, the sirens, the people screaming, the boots of riot police. It doesn’t sound like justice. It sounds like a terrifying vacuum of leadership. It sounds like a mass chorus of angry, grieving, desperate voices and a few rocks and torches facing off against a vast paramilitary force that no longer even pretends at peace or accountability, held up by a four centuries of foundational racism and inequality, currently empowered by a cruel, venal, ignorant sociopath, who sits protected in his bunker under the White House trying to incite his fear-addicted, heavily-armed, ignorant (and also cruel venal, ignorant and sociopathic), plague-ridden supporters (including a not-small number of the police officers firing tear gas into the crowd) into something like a Civil War. It sounds like terror and violence and heartbreak. It sounds like America, the America we conveniently ignore until it finally claws its way through the mirror in the middle of the night, and we sit up in the smoky pre-dawn and are forced to remember what we look like.
There are people I can’t talk to right now, not about this anyway. A friend called at midnight last night, sobbing at the callousness, the intractable indifference of family member. “He has no compassion,” she said. “He has no compassion at all.” I wished I could hug her—we were separated by geography and COVID. I didn’t tell her that I’d spent the part of the evening unfollowing the last remaining friends whose commitment to social justice turned to scolding at sight of the first broken window. “Don’t you realize, you’re doing more harm than good. You must be peaceful.” And yeah, that’s the ideal, but it’s far too easy to ignore the peaceful. It’s easy to pretend it isn’t happening because it’s not happening to you or near you. It’s easy to let it get swept under a status quo that keeps you “safe” and provided for at an unthinkable current and historic cost. It’s already too easy forget that the tear gas came out before the windows were shattered and the buildings burned. It’s easier than you think to sound like you value an individual business more than a human life, or for that matter, a whole community of human lives. It feels like déjà vu. I mean, like, weren’t we just talking about this with the pandemic? The end of lockdown orders. The people bearing brunt of the risk, as we venture out, as we depend on them to safely shelter in place. “The vast majority of our COVID patients are African-American or Latinx,” writes a friend in a hospital. “The demographics are stark.”
The demographics are stark.
Are you paying attention? Have you been paying attention?
Did it take George Floyd plaintively calling for his mother as he was choked to death? Or was it seeing Minneapolis, a friendly, reasonably progressive city, the home of Prince, hardly a tinderbox, hardly a hotbed of violence and corruption, go up in flames for you to notice? Was it your friends and coworkers getting gassed? Was it your hometown under curfew?
How much more catastrophe must be endured by those least equipped to bear it before we get it?
I don’t like the way this feels. I don’t like violence. I don’t like those looking to profit off all this, via power grab, or just use it as an excuse to push their own agenda, whether to try to summon up some apocalyptic race war, or work out their personal vendetta against a local bookshop, or take part in wanton destruction for the lulz because they’re a young white dude who likely will never get shot by police and can return home after trashing a neighborhood, without fear of retaliation. I don’t like the unsettling sense of fissures spreading and widening beneath me, of lava churning under the surface, hungry to swallow us all. I don’t like people talking casually about Civil War, like they’re trying to will it into existence. I really don’t like people being murdered in cold blood by the people theoretically charged with protecting them for no reason other the color of their skin. And I really, really, really don’t like the entire elaborate racist system that allows it to continue unabated.
This isn’t about me, though. And it’s maybe not about you either. So maybe I should just shut the f@#k up for a few days and listen. Listen to the sounds of grief. Listen to the sounds of fury. Listen to the sounds of despair. Listen to the sounds of the old world cracking under the weight of so much horror, injustice and needlessly lost life. Listen that shitty old world fights back, and tries to take us all down with it. Listen to the voices from the fray. Listen carefully and pay attention. Because maybe, somewhere, in all the deafening sadness, fury and confusion, I’ll hear something that sounds a little like hope.
As of this writing, 2,874,179 people have recovered from COVID-19. #blacklivesmatter