My baby is 3. Her meltdowns shift into erratic, happy trains of thought: avoiding imaginary monsters, wanting cotton candy ice cream, wishing she could fly.
For the past few weeks, my thoughts have operated in the same way, an emotional roller coaster. Pacing in my living room in Cheltenham — much like the cheerful TV town of Mayberry, but in full technicolor. A deep unease has infiltrated our peaceful, harmonious enclave. Or, perhaps, we’re noticing that we were never at ease in the first place.
Who’s “we”? You know who. Black residents of the suburbs who are reeling, too.
The ‘burbs have their advantages, to be sure. Trees? Plentiful. Crime? Sporadic. I can walk out of a store and never have my bag stapled shut, or be forced to show my receipt at the door. But I know better than to dig through my purse while shopping, lest employees ask: “Can I help you?” Blackness doesn’t change with your zip code.
And quiet racism can be the most sinister.
For decades, I’ve expertly pushed my feelings aside: Take the high road, with a polite smile and a head nod.
Passed over for promotion again? Try harder.
Waiter has an attitude toward me, but not white people in the restaurant? Kill him with kindness.
It meant silencing myself and enduring these kinds of comments:
“Oh, I wasn’t talking about you — I meant those kinds of Black people.”
“You’ll need a high credit score. Let me show you something else.”
“I voted for Barack Obama.” (I never asked.)
Quickly flipping through a phone to show me your Black friend/coworker/relative. (No, I don’t know them.)
“Can I touch your hair?”
“I don’t see color.”
I’ve been warned to never react, or you’ll fit the stereotype: The Angry Black Woman.
Then George Floyd’s murder tripped a wire in my system. A wire that was disconnected for so long, I had forgotten how to feel something that came to the surface all at once: rage. Forty-two years of rage.
I’m sick of being reminded that we are “different.” And I can’t breathe, either.
I guess I am an angry Black woman, after all. And I’m not hiding it.
Social media amplifies the rage. I’m suddenly reading posts of what used to be the inner monologue of quiet racists — people who outwardly acted like my “friends.” I’ve allowed negativity to enter my being as I watched constant affronts to free speech and equality promised by a Constitution that was not written for us in the first place.
And then, my own county commissioner wrote a divisive diatribe pulled out of the playbook, employing rhetoric that usually felt far enough away from Cheltenham. But this reminded me that far-away hatred is in fact close to home — dangerously close. My thoughts began to race as it hit me: My Blackness isn’t wanted here. Our country is broken. Will my babies ever truly … breathe?
I collapsed and held my daughter tight, shielding her from the monsters.
And then, I stood up.
My first protest, two weeks ago, at Abington Police Station, uplifted me. Despite news stories of tear gas and rubber bullets from the cops, I dug up the courage to go at the last minute. I made a quick sign — “Blue <3 Black — not Black and Blue” — and hopped into the car, ready, finally, to shout: “Black Lives Matter!”
The crowd in Abington was full, the speeches heartfelt. We all took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Every police officer joined us. They sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” too.
I’m hopeful. Then, I’m despondent. Then, I’m hopeful again. Rinse and repeat.
Here’s the thing: I am a Black woman. I’m also a business owner. I have two kids, and I worry when they’re sick. I have a husband who loves my cooking and cuts the grass on Saturdays. My 7-year-old is obsessed with her scooter, and my 3-year-old wants cotton candy ice cream.
I’m a lot like you. And I want to breathe.
Like my daughter, I’m ready for the monsters — the ones keeping us from breathing — to go away.