What the Cameras Show Us: Ourselves
I am a thirty-two-year-old white, heterosexual, married woman. I walk through the world with privilege. I am not always lucky and my life has not been easy, but I have also never been afraid for my life.
It would be dishonest to start anywhere else. When I decided I needed to write this piece, I spent a lot of time wondering whether I could. Whether I should.
On Twitter, for the last week, I have been listening to, and sharing with the hope of amplifying, the voices of Black women and men who are living with this fear, who know what it means to be afraid for their lives, whose parents and grandparents have raised them to be smart and do great things but above to all to be safe.
But looking at our editorial calendar for the week, I couldn’t remain silent. The Rumpus is a website that speaks out. And I am the Managing Editor of The Rumpus, and because I don’t have a budget and am disinclined to ask for free labor at this particular moment from those who are suffering, I think it is part of my job to say something. To acknowledge that while we are still running interviews and essays and going about our literary business, we also know that the world is on fire.
That said, I’m speaking for myself when I say: I am white and I feel complicit. I feel ill. I know that I am not the problem, but that I am also part of the problem. I have been listening to those who really know the fear and pain of brothers and sons, mothers and daughters, walking around in constant danger, real danger—I understand, cognitively, what that must feel like and also know, of course, that I can never understand what that feels like. I feel it, but also cannot feel it.
I keep returning in my mind to the four-year-old daughter of Diamond Reynolds who was in the car when a police officer shot bullets into the body of her mother’s boyfriend. The four-year-old who comforted her mother, saying, “It’s okay, mommy. I’m right here with you.” I do know something about that. About being a four-year-old who witnesses terrible things. And I know how even at that age, you can be strong, but also broken in a way that can never quite be fixed. I wonder how that police officer could have made that choice. What could possibly have created these people who make these terrible choices.
And then I zoom back out. My brain pans away from this one image of a broken childhood that I can personally relate to and moves through the rest of it—hundreds of years of history, a country built on the backs of slaves and at the expense of the Native peoples already living in it, too many lives lost, a broken justice system, a broken political system, racism, sexism, homophobia… This is not a comprehensive list. I am exhausted at the weight of this non-comprehensive list, and yet I must not be.
Because I can walk through the world without fearing for my life, I have to be awake and I have to take ownership of that privilege and use it to speak out against the violence being enacted on Black men and women across the United States.
And I have to do what I can to make sure that those who need to be listened to are being heard. Social media is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but it is also a tool. Twitter and Facebook allow us to witness what has always been happening but used to be kept quiet. But now, they cannot keep us quiet. They cannot keep you quiet.
Here are some of the voices on Twitter I’ve been listening to especially closely this last week: Ijeoma Oluo, Daniel José Older, Celeste Ng, Morgan Jerkins, Mensah Demary, Ashley C. Ford, Saeed Jones, Lisa Lucas, Roxane Gay, Deray McKesson. This list is not exhaustive but it’s a start. These people are here and they are talking and I am listening to them.
And here is what I’ve been reading, the articles that have left me hollowed and in tears and hopeful:
“Diamond ‘Lavish’ Reynolds, Public Witness” by Doreen St. Félix
“For Alton. For Philando. For All.” by Stacia L. Brown
“Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering” by Roxane Gay
“Dallas Is a Tragedy for All of Us—and Shouldn’t Shut Down Calls for Justice” by Ijeoma Oluo
“How Police See Us, and How They Train Us to See Them” by Greg Howard
“How Many Black People Can You Mourn in One Week?” by Hannah Giorgis
“Why It’s Important to Challenge the Power of the Gatekeepers” by Ijeoma Oluo
“Surviving Suffocating Sadness When You’re Black and Confused” by Ashley Weatherford
“17 Poems to Read When the World Is Too Much” by Hannah Giorgis and Tomi Obaro
I will keep reading, and listening, and trying to find my own way to help bring an end to—and the very least, attention to—the systemic murdering of Black people in America. I will continue to remember that while I may be “for” all the right, just, good causes, I am also walking through the world with privilege, and that privilege comes with responsibility. It comes with culpability. My hands are not clean, and cannot be, until we force change. Until we stop allowing.
I have a two-year-old son. He, too, will walk through the world with privilege. But I hope very, very much that the world he will walk through won’t look as grim, as segregated, as hateful, as the world I am seeing through my computer screen today. As the world many people are living in today.
Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.
Feature photograph © AP/Max Becherer.