The day George Floyd was murdered, the world was presented with an ultimatum. You can engage and rise up against something that is bigger and deeper than what you’re prepared for, or you can continue to ruminate in your privilege. The momentum that followed in support of the Black Lives Matter movement was overwhelming.
To engage in the Black Lives Matter movement is not a choice, but a necessity. Because my people have lost so many men and women at the hands of law enforcement in this country. We continue to lose our men and women. Our people don’t often make the news cycle, but we mourn them and we live in fear for each other, regardless of a hash tag or a reposted quote.
While most remained ignorant in their fragile sense of being many others walked the tight rope to the right side of history. The people I know were mourning, were traumatised and they knew deep down that they had to prepare yet again, to be put under a microscope for white voices to make sense of our existence.
Among the recounts and essays. In between apologies and inclusion statements and the reposts declaring “I acknowledge my privilege. I understand that I’ll never understand”. We warned you. Told you to keep your foot on the gas. Pleaded with you that this is not a one off. That this is not insular to law enforcement. That this is not exclusive to the USA. Weeks later the discourse has changed, your attention has shifted and I’ve decided you’ll never understand, because you don’t want to.
This is a letter to my small town friends, from the eleven year old girl that got called a coon on the bus home, from the thirteen year old girl that cried all of second period in the bathrooms after you tugged on and mocked her box braids. It’s from the fifteen year old who waited half an hour to be served in that tiny boutique with the money her mother saved for her first pair of expensive heels. The girl that swallowed her tears back when the lady implied she couldn’t afford them, and wore them to her formal anyway.
From the sixteen year old girl who didn’t get invited to the pool party because ‘my family don’t like her kind’. The seventeen year old who had to listen to your centrelink jokes every day and started noticing the retail assistant hovering when she was taking a while in a store. This letter is from the woman who has grown into herself, who is proud of her people and in love with her Blackness. This is not a plea for you to feel sorry for me, it’s a final word on the resentment I felt for so long.
I write to you because you talk about racism as if it’s so far away, as if it was so long ago. I saw a post the other day, it was paraphrased from an Angela Davis essay. It reads, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” You see, the aesthetically pleasing reposts are not meaningful discourse. I don’t need to hear about every time you felt icky when your uncle said boong or coconut. I don’t care that you admire me considering the adversity I’ve faced. I am not driven or pretty or smart in spite of my people, I am educated, relentless and confident because of them.
Speak up when your shitty friends make shitty comments. Your microaggressions are not jokes, they’re racist. Ask yourself how many Black faces you see when you walk into a room. Do you even notice? Because I look for them, for someone like me. How many POC are on your local footy team? Do you hire POC? Is your social circle diverse? I was seen as a token my whole life. I have sat at your tables, and you accepted me for the Blackness you decided I represented- but I am Black every day in ways you would insist I some how avoided. Sometimes I didn’t feel proud. The way I treated my body, my hair, my sense of self. I know now that it was self hate.
Our town will continue to raise children that ask their parents not to show up to parent teacher night. Who apologise for their big loud laugh and the way their skin darkens in the sun. We will have generations of girls skipping meals and dousing their hair with chemicals to look like their peers. It’s your responsibility as an individual. Inform yourselves and the people around you. Do the work.
While you may not be an expert on the history of this country, or the nuances of communities of colour. You can learn and you can take that information to a space you are an expert of. You can speak up at family gatherings, work, at the pub, where your kids go to school. To engage in the betterment of the way we treat each other is not a choice, but a necessity. Because the town I grew up in is my home, and I want it to love me as much as I love it.