On a Corner in Atlanta

For the past 4 years, my Black Lives Matter shirt has taken its place among the rows of strategically folded tshirts in my drawer. They’re arranged so I can see the image on the front of each shirt. Which is important, because I think of my t-shirt selection as my mood board for the day.

Who doesn’t really?

I wore my Black Lives Matter shirt a lot right after the murders by police in 2016. It felt like daily protest, just me marching about the world in this shirt.

I know that might seem ridiculous now. But it felt radical then. Which, truthfully, is part of the problem. Even the smallest gestures from white people are seen (by ourselves) as meaningful and heroic. When, really, what we need is to burn the whole system to the ground and build something truly based on equity and celebration of diversity over whiteness.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about a t-shirt.

After the first year or so, I started passing over the Black Lives Matter shirt more. Not because black lives mattered less to me. But I started to wonder who the hell I thought I was to proclaim that black lives matter. I mean, wouldn’t black people look at me and think, “Well, no shit. And who are you to tell me I matter?” As if it were a question.

Because Black Lives Matter is such an obvious statement. Yet, for years those words were somehow militant, radical, suspect.

Think about that for a minute.

But, occasionally, I’d see the Black Lives Matter t-shirt in the drawer, dust it off, and wear it.

Here’s what happened every single time:

Some mediocre white guy would give me side-eye.

Some white mother with kids in tow would look at me askance.

And I’d draw smiles from most of the black people I passed. And at least one, often more, would stop whatever they were doing, look me in the eye and say “Thank you.”

Holy fuck.

Wearing a t-shirt proclaiming the basic human dignity of black folks was enough to make someone stop and thank me.

That has been the state of our country for black folks. That’s how bleak it has been on the human rights front, right here in the United States.

It always made me cry, by the way. The thank you. It was the single most humbling experience I’d ever had (over and over again). But the crying I saved for later (because white tears are a no). Those moments were about folks feeling really seen, even if just for a second.

And now, here’s the part of the story where I connect the t-shirt to something else. (You were wondering if it was going to happen, weren’t you?)

Neighborhood folks have been gathering on the busiest street corner in my little neighborhood to have a Black Lives Matter protest/vigil each evening. They hold signs, wave to folks, and are generally just present.

I knew they were doing this. But I didn’t go.

Because, unlike a march downtown, where the whole group storms up to City Hall or to the Capitol or the Police Headquarters with demanding to be heard by folks in power, what were we going to accomplish standing on a street corner in our neighborhood?

There’s a lot of talk about performative allyship right now. And no one needs one more white person stroking their ego right now and calling it activism. So, I fretted that maybe we’d just all be making ourselves feel good standing out there–to no real avail. I worried it was just performance.

But, finally, I caved. Because I drove by on Tuesday night and folks were all out there holding signs and folks were honking and waving, and it cracked something in my reticence.

So, last night, I gathered up the 9 year old and off we went.

It took 5 minutes standing there on a corner in my own neighborhood to realize what folks smarter than me who’d already been doing this for a week already knew: this wasn’t about me at all. Not about performativity. Not about my ego.

It was about letting people, black people, know that they are seen.

And valued.

It’s so simple. It shouldn’t need to be said that Black Lives Matter. It should be a given. But it’s not. Not in this country.

Holding a Black Lives Matter sign on the corner of a little intersection somewhere in Atlanta isn’t going to change policy. And there’s so much work to be done on that front that I think we each have to find a way to meaningfully engage in that work if we really believe black lives matter.

But that doesn’t make acts of solitary performative, either.

If a single black person drove by that little cluster of white folks on a street corner and felt an ounce of hope, or felt seen, or just thought “well, no shit. Of course black lives matter” then it wasn’t useless.

It was just (part of) the right thing to do.

I Survived My DUI Stop. But I’m White.

Another black man was killed by police in Atlanta. Shot in the back while he was running away.

Know the egregious act that ended his life?

He was drunk. And he fell asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru.

This is a story I should be hearing in an AA meeting in a church basement drinking chronically bad coffee. Not reading in the paper. Because he shouldn’t be dead.

Every black person gunned down, or choked to death, or any of the myriad of ways black people can die in this country just from being black feels personal to me. (If it doesn’t feel personal to you, it’s because systemic racism has done its job convincing you that black people are complicit their own abuse and destruction in this country. Don’t worry. Your condition is reparable. Pick up A People’s History of the United States and start reading.)

But Rayshard Brooks. This case forces me stare right into the face of my own white priviledge.

Why?

He died for doing something I’ve done too may times to count: he drove drunk. Am I proud of that? Hell no. But was I murdered by police for it? No. I wasn’t.

Here’s what happened to me instead:

I was driving the wrong way down a one way street in Tallahassee, Florida. I was actively operating my vehicle. Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his.

I got pulled over. I was obviously drunk. I’d been driving with one eye closed so I could see the road more clearly (again, not something I’m proud of–but it’s factual). And, again, careening the wrong way on a one way street. Clear indication that maybe shit has gone real wrong.

Rayshard Brooks wasn’t currently a danger to anyone when the police approached him. He was inconvenient to Wendy’s customers.

When the cop approached me, I had zero concern for my own safety and a wanton disregard for other people’s lives. I was so entitled and such a drunk shit that I wasn’t even worried I would go to jail. The cop was annoyed with me.

Annoyed. Not lethal.

I told him that I knew one of his fellow officers, and his demeanor changed immediately. He wasn’t even annoyed anymore. He was concerned for my safety. He told me to go straight home.

Right.

I’m visibly drunk. I get pulled over. I am entitled, completely unremorseful, and am throwing around the names of other cops simply to avoid the DUI that would’ve been a more than fair consequence for actively putting people’s lives a risk.

And he told me to be safe and sent me on my way. He didn’t even follow me home.

So you know what I did?

I went through a fast food drive through for a late night snack on my way home. Just like Rayshard Brooks.

No one was concerned about Rayshard Brooks getting home safely. Clearly.

Drunk driving kills innocent people. It’s an offense I take incredibly seriously now, on this side of sobriety. I also know that drunk people are irrational, belligerent, and can change moods on a dime. Does Rayshard Brooks grabbing the officer’s taser mean he was violent? Nope. Should it have gotten him killed? I know that’s not even a real question.

This is precisely why we need to defund the police. They shouldn’t even have been there. Rayshard Brooks wasn’t an active threat to anyone. He was sleeping it off in his car. Which is pretty much all you can do with drunk folks anyway. But who else were Wendy’s employees supposed to call? If we defunded the police and shifted money around so that trained professionals could address drunk and disorderly conduct and substance abuse without lethal force–with an eye on getting people the help they need–well, Rayshard Brooks surely wouldn’t be dead.

White folks acting like they don’t understand what defund the police means–I don’t believe you. You understand damn well. But you also know you are extremely unlikely to be murdered by police while driving drunk, or after a routine traffic stop, or sleeping in your own bed. You are comfortable with the status quo because it is unlikely to kill you.

It is unconscionable to risk more black lives for the comfort and sense of security of folks living out their white privilege. Defunding the police is imperative. Rayshard Brooks has every bit as much right to be alive as I do.

This Is The Work

The first time I marched with Black Lives Matter, some friends were concerned. It was after Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were murdered by police in 2016. And literally the day after Dallas. Safety concerns were real. But safety concerns for black people have been real in this country since its inception.

I could not understand, at my core, why every person I knew wasn’t out marching in the street. I wanted to shake people. This fight was urgent, dire. But most people I knew, my friends, were–in my estimation–continuing on as if nothing had happened.

I felt like I was screaming into a void.

Imagine, if I (a white girl from the suburbs), felt that kind of angst… well, just imagine what black folks have felt the whole time they’ve been trying to get us to pay attention. It must be maddening.

When I see white folks on Facebook demanding that anyone who isn’t ready to go out and march for black lives right now should unfriend them, I get the impulse. I do.

But it’s wrong.

If I’d written off every person who wouldn’t march with me during the summer of 2016, I’d have been pretty lonely these past 4 years.

Know what so many of those folks are doing now?

Yup. Marching for black lives.

It’s amazing to see that kind of cultural shift. And it’s one I wouldn’t get to see if I’d galloped away on my moral high horse.

When white folks are instructed to collect our cousins, it means calling out racism and demanding real accountability. But it also means having hard conversations with folks who don’t agree with us. Not just writing them off.

Racism is a white people problem. Which means its our job to educate other white folks. So, when your childhood friend says things like, “rioting doesn’t solve anything,” it’s your job to push back. Not to just shake your head sadly and remove her from your Christmas card list.

It’s true that sharing the most vulnerable parts of your antiracism journey with folks who aren’t on the same page is only going to bring you more pain–and possibly give you what feels like a good excuse to give up.

But educating people isn’t the same thing. Educating other white folks is the work. It’s work black people have been doing for years–without ceasing. We can’t just shrug and walk away from folks who don’t get it after a week.

Writing people off misses the point entirely. And it lets me off the hook by suggesting that I have arrived in my antiracist journey. But, in this country, is that really even possible?

I feel 100% sure every black person I know has had to practice extreme patience with me in some capacity. I’ve been educated for free by not only the black people in my life, but those I follow on social media who share their insight & experience daily. No matter how exhausting the effort.

The least I can do is pay that forward.

Don’t give up on the white folks you know who aren’t there yet. You do you. Keep sharing what you learn. Keep having hard conversations. And when it all seems exhausting, remember this is the work.

Confidential to New(ish) AntiRacists: Get a Life Raft

I don’t know everything.

Hell, I don’t know most things.

But here’s one thing I’m sure of: if you are a white person getting down to the hard, soul-searching work of becoming anti-racist, you’re going to need a life raft. Because there’s a tidal wave of rage, grief, regret, and full-blown horror headed your way.

Prepare yourself.

You’re about to discover that everything you’ve been taught is a lie. Racism is in the air we white folks have been breathing since the day we were born. It takes a lot of undoing. And, for some of us, the realization that the adults we trusted as children have programmed us to be unquestioning consumers of the message that people of color are inferior, deserve less, are in some way flawed, chose to be denied equity (and on and on and on) will be devastating.

The generation before us bought the lie and served it up to you. That is true. But we’ve all worked together to keep white supremacy alive and well. And being an somewhat-unwitting participant doesn’t absolve you of culpability.

You will recognize this, and it will rock you.

You may be called a race traitor. People will look at you sadly and accuse you of feeling having “white guilt” (and you may, if you just shuffle around with your head down saying “fuck fruit” and not doing anything. Don’t do that. It’s self-indulgent). They’ll ask you if you think you’re black (that one is particularly confounding to me). People will be assholes.

You’re about to engage in a completely new way of being. It is the right way. But it takes some serious psychic and spiritual equilibrium to ride this tidal wave.

That’s why you need a life raft.

Let me stop here. When you look around you, full of despair and itching for absolution, your instinct will be to run towards black folks and use them as your life raft.

Do NOT do this.

We’ve been taught (by our culture and sometimes by plain words) that black people exist in service to white feelings. They do not. Do not process your feelings with them, in front of them, near them.

Black people are busy. And they are done with our mess.

So where will your life raft come from? That’s up to you.

Maybe you go find you a good therapist to process the indoctrination of white supremacy and the dismantling of systemic racism with. If you’re choosing a new therapist, sniff out how they feel about antiracist work before you sign on. The last thing you need as you begin some of the deepest psychic work of your life is someone co-signing your bullshit as it arises. And it will arise.

Ferret out your white friends who are also engaged in antiracism work. If you don’t have some, make new friends. Talk to them. Share. Process. Avoid at all costs your white friends who are, in fact, racist. Anyone who thinks the status quo in America isn’t that bad will only frustrate you, bring you to tears, make you drown.

Go for a run. Take up yoga. Paint. Write poems. Dance. Sing. Meditate. Pray. Lay in a hammock. Stare at the clouds. Do what renews your soul.

You are a person. A whole, beautiful person. With a helluva lot of work to do.

Take care of yourself. You are no good to anyone if you get overwhelmed, throw up your hands, and decide nothing will ever change. You aren’t helping anyone if despair drives you deep into yourself. You can’t engage in a struggle if you’ve got both hands tied behind your back.

One of the least kind things that we, as allies, can do is process the ugliness of our own ancestry in front of black and brown folks. Choosing a life raft is a kindness–to you and to the people of color around you, who know all too well the havoc, chaos, and destruction that white supremacy wreaks.

Go find you a raft.

Then get back to work.

Now, What Happened Again?

Sometime around 6th grade or so, I got ahold of The Diary of Anne Frank. And suddenly, my world was awash in both the goodness and insight of a 13 year old European Jewish girl from forty years ago and the abject horror that human nature can unleash.

Both. At the very same time.

I, a WASPy eleven year-old living in the Florida suburbs, was completely enchanted by Anne’s urbaneness (she was a German girl living in Amsterdam–I couldn’t fathom that I’d ever visit either place) and her energetic and observant nature. I desperately wanted to be her friend. Or to be like her. Eleven is a hard, confusing age and reading Anne’s diary let me feel close to someone–another kid–that I admired and looked up to.

And then they killed her.

I was bereft.

Of course I knew what would happen when I picked up the book. I knew, intellectually, about the Holocaust. We’d covered the facts and figures–the loss of life, the utter devastation, the depravity of human nature–which are simply staggering. But numbers don’t speak to me like they speak to some people.

I didn’t understand what happened until I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank. And once you know–on a deep, soul level–the beauty and horror that occupy this life side by side, you can’t unknow.

I was obsessed.

I read and read and read. Every time I went to the library, I grabbed a book about the Holocaust. My mother tittered about my obsession. But I had so many questions. How could this have happened? I felt such loss. I loved Anne. And that love for her pushed me to examine the very hardest truths about life.

Stories change everything.

Anne Frank has been the gateway for reaching and teaching children about hope, strength of character, the destruction wrought by hatred, and the horror of war since the late 1940s. She made me better because she made me curious.

Stories make my daughter, Jane, curious, too. Some stories I wish I didn’t have to tell her, though. Like the story of what happened to George Floyd.

She listened quietly. I think she thought I was making it up at first. Because who puts their knee on someone’s neck and leaves it there as they scream “I can’t breathe!”? In Jane’s consciousness as a 9 year old, that doesn’t seem possible. It seems so absurd. Why would he do that?! she asked. I’ve never seen that look on her face before. That disbelief.

Because George Floyd was black.

That’s the answer I gave my 9 year old for why George Floyd died. Because that’s the truth.

We live in Southeast Atlanta. Jane is constantly surrounded by black excellence, black joy, black friends, black teachers and leaders all the time. That is a gift we gave her by moving here. She hears and sees the stories of black kids all the time–living, dreaming, laughing, just being. So when we talk with her about racism, she has an emotional understanding that I couldn’t have fathomed at her age–because she has something to connect with.

She can extrapolate. She knows her friends’ stories. And she knows the story of George Floyd. And that look of utter disbelief I got from her–it was about knowing how quickly that could become the story of someone she knows, someone she loves. It was the horror of knowing that, in this country, we allow people to die with someone’s knee on their neck for nothing more that being black.

She asks about George Floyd’s story. And Ahmaud Arbery’s. And Breonna Taylor’s. Over and over again.

So I tell her. Again.

She’s trying to make sense of something utterly senseless. She’s a bit obsessed. She’s been confronted with the horror of the war against blackness in this country.

And now that she knows their stories, she can never unknow them. Because stories change everything.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

We All Have To Start Somewhere

Hey, white folks! I’ve got an idea: let’s stop shouting “Racist!” at each other just to end a conversation. Let’s honor where each person is in the long, hard, soulful world of becoming anti-racist, meet them where they are, and help them along.

Because it sure isn’t black folks’ job to do that. That’s all on white people.

I was at a meeting full of white folks who were ostensibly there to chip away at white supremacy and address institutional racism. An elderly, white, Southern woman shared something she and a friend were doing … I honestly can’t even remember what it was right now. What I do remember is the response from the young, white discussion facilitator. He interrupted her, voice raised: “That’s not enough! We have to move beyond that. We have to do more!” And he summarily dismissed her–right there. In front of well over 200 people.

Well, shit.

That’s not going to work.

There is so much work that needs to be done. It is constantly going to feel like we aren’t doing enough. That’s because we have not done enough. But this isn’t a sprint. Stop for a minute to think how long this struggle has gone on. Racism is pervasive and insidious. It is not going away overnight. But we also can’t be running (potential) allies off because we fancy ourselves so much more “woke” than them that we dismiss them completely.

I fully believe I will spend the rest of my life unspooling my own racism. There is no room for complacency. It’s unnerving to discover something so ugly lying so deeply inside yourself. It’s easier to turn away than address it. Bringing it out into the light so that you can examine and release it takes unwavering courage.

White people need to encourage each other in this work, not shout each other down constantly. Because you cannot, you should not–DO NOT–expect black people to praise, encourage, or emotionally support you in your work to dismantle white supremacy & systemic racism. Do not expect your black friends to offer you a cookie for cluing in to the abject horror that is the racial landscape in this country. This is not their work. They should not have to praise you for finally seeing what they’ve been telling you is happening all along.

When I write about being silent or simply listening, I’m speaking specifically about how I think white folks need to conduct themselves in racial justice settings or discussions where black folks are present. Plainly put: do not tell black people about their own experience, do not talk over them, do not justify. And do not attempt to assume a leadership role. They understand this struggle better than any white person every will, so just listen. And follow instructions. It sounds so simple. But I can guarantee that the internalized centering of whiteness will make it difficult. Do it anyway.

For the love of god, call out racism where you see it. There’s certainly no shortage of it. But make sure you’re not centering yourself, as a white person, in the discussion. Our egos make the desire to be more knowledgeable, more righteous, more “woke” seductive.

If you are white, assume a complete lack of wokeness on your part. It’ll keep you from behaving like an asshat among other white people who are trying their level best. Offer suggestion, lead by example, challenge people to do more–but that can only happen when we don’t dismiss people who are new to this anti-racist journey.

Look, I’m so far from perfect at this. A white person yelling “Racist!” at me can silence me from 100 paces.It happened a few years ago in a discussion about our local schools. It was an absolutely crucial discussion, one that could have had a resolution that was rooted in actual equity, more integration, and a better educational outcome for all the kids. But folks started hurling “Racist!” at me, and I tucked tail and ran. I regret it. I backed down from what I really believed was right. I shut down.

Which is why, among white folks, there needs to be an understanding: if you see someone doing that grueling work of addressing their own racism, encourage them. No, they aren’t doing enough. Neither are you. But we all have to start somewhere.

Photo by Ryan Wallace on Unsplash

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Drifting Toward Love

I’m always on & on about how reading shifts a person’s perspective, gives them insight into feelings, struggles, and points of view that they’d never otherwise know.  

But, still, it’s shocking, that jolting moment when I’m reading a book that forces me to reckon with how much I don’t know. 

I came out in the mid-1990s. It was tough in various ways. But nothing, NOTHING like what the young gay men chronicled in this book experienced. I don’t often consider my whiteness in relation to my queerness—and how much privilege it gives me. I do know that racism is alive and real in the gay community, just like it is in America at large. But DAMN, I didn’t realize how vulnerable, often alone, and at-risk ALL gay youth are—but especially young folks who are BOTH LGBTQ and POC.  

The author conducted hours and hours of interviews with the young gay men living in NYC, so each of them comes across as multifaceted and complex (instead of whittled down to a “victim” stereotype). He doesn’t pull any punches outlining the ways the gay community, in our rush to assimilate and convince straight folks there’s nothing to see here, has failed our own young people.  

This book is sobering. But it’s eye-opening. And it’s real. If you happen to be a white, LGBTQ person, I urge you to go pick up this book at the library. Then let’s talk about how we can do better.  

Toxic Masculinity Can Kiss My…

I try to approach life with gratitude. I think Oprah told me to do that once, and I listen to Ms. O. Also, the AAers may have mentioned it…. So, yeah, Attitude of Gratitude over here.

The gratitude portion of today’s programming goes something like this:

I am grateful that my body is healthy and strong enough to run. Also super grateful that my foot healed–and that my incredible massage guy taught me how to properly care for my body before & after a run. Running brings my mental, emotional, and spiritual life into balance. For that, I have much gratitude. And for Spring in Atlanta… it’s beauty far outweighs the threat of impending death by pollen.

See me? So grateful. Legitimately.

Gratitude gets me get out of my own head–and helps me stop creating my own problems and my own suffering–long enough to take stock of the world around me.

As I was running through my neighborhood, full of gratitude, nose running from crazy amounts of pollen, taking in the Spring morning, here’s an ugly truth I ran right up against: toxic masculinity SUCKS.

This is not news. I get that. But there’s a direct way that it’s impacting me lately–and it has to do with my ass.

You read that right. No reason to read it again. My ass is the issue here. Okay, not really my ass… the comments about my ass while I’m running are the issue.

Right now, you’re probably thinking “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” Nope. Wish I was.

In the past two weeks, every time I’ve run some wanker finds it necessary to comment on my ass, turn around to stare at my ass, ask me if I can run back by so he can see my ass again, make his whole group of wanker friends laugh at some lewd comment about my ass, or whistle or shout at me (always after approaching me from behind–no pun intended).

Some of these guys probably genuinely think they are paying me a compliment. Fuck that. Objectifying someone is never a compliment.

Some of them like to sexualize random situations and intimidate women. Fuck that doubly hard. Because it DOES scare me when someone catcalls me out the window of his van as he drives slowly by. And what I want to do is flick him off or tell him to fuck himself. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Not without putting myself at risk for physical violence. Men have killed women for telling them no. So what does that leave me with? Impotent rage. A need to grit my teeth and fight my way through it.

Men, you have to do better.

It is absurd that I can’t run in my own damn neighborhood without fending off lewd comments. Not one but two men today found it appropriate to comment on my body. That is fucking infuriating.

Guys, my body is not yours to comment on. Not ever. It’s not yours to ogle as I walk by. My ass is none of your business. I don’t care if you like it or if you don’t. I don’t want to hear it. At all. Ever again.

If all the events of the last 4 years hadn’t shaped me into a much more indomitable spirit than I used to be, I’d probably consider just not running.

Let’s stop there: at a different point in my life, I would have considered giving up something that brings me joy and balance, that enhances my mental health, because toxic masculinity taught guys that it’s fine to make comments about a girl’s ass as she runs by.

I will spare you the litany of profanity that this inspires.

But I will say this: If you are a guy, you have a moral imperative to do something about this. And don’t even tell me that you’d never act like this. I don’t give a shit. I know not all guys catcall women. But you have a responsibility to call out your friends, your coworkers, your brother, your dad when THEY do it. Tell them to STFU. Tell them they are assholes. And, while you’re at it, go on and tell them that what women feel when they are catcalled is likely not flattery at all but an intense desire to take a baseball bat to their car.

Or maybe that’s just me.

You Are To Be Celebrated

ICYMI: The United Methodist Church has been busy imploding lately.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently wrestling with the very real hurt and trauma this conversation the UMC has on the regular about the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks brings up. I felt like I should say something profound and moving about the whole hot mess. But I couldn’t find the right words. In fact, I couldn’t even find a place to start.

Fortunately, there are folks who are brilliant and loving (like Nadia Bolz-Weber & Glennon Doyle) who not only found words but put them out into the world in the spirit of love & healing & GOODNESS:


It took me a long time to stop conflating God and the church–and to ask for my God to-go, please. But on this side of things, there is healing and freedom. Not everyone has the same path. But I do know definitively that you don’t need church to have God. In fact, I’ve begun to see God everywhere. In the little interactions I have with other flawed, miraculous humans. In the (rare instances of) sunshine in Atlanta. In the quiet moments of peace (no matter how fleeting) when I feel deeply the love of the divine.

One of my best pieces of advice in times like this: find your people. It doesn’t have to be the church (but it can be! There are plenty of churches that will celebrate you for who you are. Never accept less than that). Find a community who will stand by you in the daily struggles and the existential ones. And if you can’t find a group of people like that (a running group, a book club, a knitting circle, a writers group), create an ad hoc group of folks you’ve gathered along your life journey who love you to your core (even when you’re annoying, or cranky, or a tad irrational). Lean on those people. And be there for them. Create community. That’s the best and hardest part of being human. Dive into it.

Know that the Universe has only love for you. And it will keep nudging you along your path. I think God is constantly rejoicing over the beautiful, messy creation that I am–all while being just a smidge exasperated at how complicated I try to make everything.

Because the truth is simp]e: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying AF neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.

God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.

**Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

I Went to Demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. And I (re)Learned an Important Lesson about America.

I went to the Capitol to demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. I left with a much deeper understanding of race in America.

When this came across my Facebook feed earlier this week, I immediately cleared my schedule to go:

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I believe that protest DOES matter, that it can change things. And I’ve also come to believe that it is time for white women to shoulder a far more significant share of the burden of protest. Women of color have carried us for far too long. It’s time to step up and do work that benefits ALL women and all people (white feminism is notorious for it’s disregard for the plight of WOC, trans women, poor women).

Protests also connect me with other folks waging an internal war against the injustices in America. They make me feel like I am DOING something. Something tangible. Something real.

I marched through the streets of Atlanta during the summer of 2016 to protest the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And I believe it mattered. Seeing white faces protesting black deaths changes the narrative. This is not a “black problem.’ It is an American problem. It is a race problem. And white folks must play a role–a significant role–in solving it.

At every big march I’ve attended, with thousands of people protesting impending fascism, blatant racism, & police brutality, I’ve been aware of the potential for violence from the police. When I walked into the Capitol on Tuesday, the thought never crossed my mind. Why would it? We were there to demand that the state of Georgia count every vote. That is a concept SO BASIC to democracy that there couldn’t possibly be an issue.

Right?

The rally/protest began with a prepared statement about why we were there & what we wanted:

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I wish I knew all the social justice activists in these photos. I don’t. They’re doing the hard work on the ground, and they deserve recognition for it.

From there, we headed to the Secretary of State’s office with a demand to, you guessed it, count every vote. That looked a lot like a bunch of folks trying to crowd in an itty bitty room:

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Don’t think my claustrophobia wasn’t in high gear in this situation.

Are you bored yet? Good. Because that’s the thing… NOTHING wild was happening. People weren’t shouting obscenities. Or zip-tying themselves to furniture. But, one of the Georgia State Patrol officers was NOT feeling us being there. He muscled his way through the crowd, insisting that we couldn’t sing or chant because there was BUSINESS going on in the Capitol. (He’s right. Legally, it seems, singing & chanting is a no-go. But the defense of basic democracy is pretty serious business, too)

At that point, the officer said if there was singing or chanting, we’d be removed from the Capitol. Now, maybe it’s my white girl naiveté, but I thought “removed from the Capitol” meant kicked out. What else could it mean?

These are images of the protest in full swing. Clearly, I did not sense any danger lurking. I’m taking goofy pictures of a statue of a dead white guy & my super-cool sign, for God’s sake. Yes, people cheered. And yes, they started to sing. Singing. They were SINGING.

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This woman was the first one SNATCHED up by police. Literally. The photo is blurry because I was shaking.

I could sense the cops, especially the one who’d been on & on about the BUSINESS occurring in the Capitol, getting more tense. And then, suddenly that same Georgia Patrol pushed past me to grab the woman pictured above. I was doing the exact same thing she was. Exactly. Yet, he pushed me out of the way to grab her (roughly. Way too forcefully, since she’d been SINGING and holding a sign just a minute before). She started yelling because her purse had been on the floor next to her, and she was being dragged away from all her personal belongings. He was screaming at her that they’d get her purse to her. Screaming.

I finally pulled my shit together enough to grab her purse for her & start taking pictures. But I was hella freaked out. Hence the burry, shaky pictures.

Knowing, intellectually, that black people are more at risk for arrest is one thing. Seeing that kind of racism play out is another. And, through my head the whole time ran the refrain: What if they kill her? What if they kill her? What if they kill her? And I knew, in that moment, that I didn’t do enough. Because I was scared. But I should’ve put myself between her & the officer. Because he only targeted her because she was black. And I knew it. But I didn’t put myself between him and her. And I regret it.

This is what unfolded as I was processing my own fear & regret:

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This was all happening SO fast. This young man was in the first round of arrests. He’s not resisting.

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And, if he wasn’t resisting, why did it take SO many officers to subdue him? He was upset his glasses got knocked off his face–because he couldn’t see. And he lost his phone. But I’ve seen people behave more intensely in a grocery store checkout line than this young man.

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This is the Georgia State Patrol that manhandled the first black woman arrested (the one he pushed PAST me to get to). He did not like this woman filming/photographing him. So he yelled at her to get back. Then he put his hands on her. For no reason. At all.

None of the arrests that took place yesterday should’ve happened. But the force with which these first arrests were executed by some of the officers was frightening. And illuminating. I know black folks move through a different America than I do. I am privileged simply because of the color of my skin–and that’s some bullshit right there. But KNOWING it and SEEING it are different. And it cannot be unseen.

In the face of all this excessive force and the questionable nature of the arrests themselves, there were 2 officers that I saw trying damn hard to do their jobs with integrity. Both of them are visible in the photo of the young black man being handcuffed above. The black officer made every attempt to de-escalate an incredibly tense and increasingly volatile situation. From where I was standing (and I was close), he appeared to be patting the young man on the back to reassure him and was speaking to him in low tones in an effort to calm the situation. The white officer next to him (with his back to the camera) showed basic humanity by picking up the young man’s glasses and phone and handing them to one of the man’s acquaintances, ensuring that they didn’t get lost or broken.

After the initial round of arrests, the police presence remained tense. They were prepping for more arrests on their walkie-talkies. NOT preparing to ask folks to leave. Preparing arrest them. And arrest them they did. One after one, they paraded out black protesters. And apparently, even being a state senator didn’t offer any protection:

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But whiteness was enough to protect Representative David Dryer, who was standing right next to Senator Nikema Williams, from getting arrested. He knows it. Anyone who was there yesterday has no doubt that it’s true. Listen to him tell the story:

Nothing I experienced yesterday was unique. Not in America. The idea that somehow we live in a post-racial world grows more absurd by the day. And it is only my privilege as a white woman that has kept me from experiencing this type of police aggression and blatant racial targeting before now.

Black folks have been telling us what’s up for years. Good for you if you’ve been listening. But as racism and aggression grows in America, it’s not enough to be intellectually opposed to racism. As white people, we must become virulently anti-racism. We must put our bodies between black bodies and the aggressor that seeks to harm them. And I’ll be the first to tell you that’s going to be scary as hell. But the future of our country depends on it. Be certain of that.