Please, take your knee off my neck.
Many days, I find myself mesmerized by my daughter's brilliant eyes and vibrant confidence. She's enchanting, warm, and outspoken. I feel privileged to know her and love her. However, there are also many days I look at her, and far too often, think, "I am thankful that she does not look like me."
My daughter is biracial.
Even at three, we've already had many interesting conversations about race. Caroline sees herself as brown — dark brown. When we color our family, she picks the richest shade of mahogany and gleefully squiggles lines and circles to represent who she is. If you were to ask her who she looks like, she'll adamantly vocalize that she looks exactly like mommy, and is utterly confused by anyone who would say otherwise. It warms my heart that she views my skin as beautiful. And I agree. However, I constantly worry about the day when she realizes society feels otherwise.
Each day, I wake up fully aware of my brown skin. Every day.
I intentionally style my hair, walk, and speak, knowing how others might perceive me as a black woman while in the grocery store, at work, or in the gym. I am entirely aware of my race, as I've spent my entire life as an outsider. The token person of color in a world that is mostly white.
- I remember being shown out of a craft store in elementary school as the shopkeeper screamed, "I don't want nigger children in my store."
- In high school, I reported that I was raped. The white man, whose sperm was found inside me, denied touching me. The detectives told me he was innocent and called me a liar. At that moment, I recall feeling powerless and worrying, "What's the point of crying for help? Because, as a black woman, society will always value his words over mine."
- In college, I remember having to console friends after a swastika was carved into a classmate's dorm room door at Miami University.
- As a young adult, I've heard too many times to count, "You're really pretty… for a black girl. But I can't date black women."
- As an adult, I worry about the day when I may be stopped, in my mostly white neighborhood, not because I did anything wrong, but simply because I look like I do not belong.
Now, before you draw your eyes away from this message:
- If you have turned on your TV and only see a mob instead of protesters — this message is for you.
- If you have shrugged your shoulders at President Trump's tweets as "not that bad," — this message is for you.
- If you've replied to reading "Black Lives Matters" with "Well, White Lives Matters too," — this message is for you.
- If in those quiet moments in your home, you've thought, "But I'm not a racist. I don't see color." — this is for you.
- If you have watched the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park and thought, "I could never be her," — this is for you.
To my white friends, family members, and neighbors — this article is for you.
November 9th, 2016, I woke up with swollen eyes that were still stinging from hours of crying. The type of cry where your entire body aches and you simply feel worn — even hours after finally managing to catch your breath. I was sitting in our newly painted nursery, staring at the light yellow walls, and reflecting on the news of the day — Donald Trump Wins the 2016 Election.
I'm not writing this as a political statement — but as a plea to be heard. As it would merely be irresponsible of me to not mention the pivotal catalyst for my more vocal advocacy over the last several years.
I write this as someone who has defined her political views as conservative. I've worked for Republican leaders and have spent the majority of my adult life voting for and supporting candidates who believe in free enterprise and less government intervention in the lives of everyday Americans. Which, frankly, is all the more reason why I'm sharing these thoughts.
The 2016 election was devastating. It was devastating because I genuinely believed that it was impossible for someone who flooded the airwaves with so much hate could then become the leader of the country I love. A person who continues to falsely claim five young black men known as the "Central Park Five" are guilty of sexually assaulting a jogger in 1989, who is okay with continuously sexually assaulting women, and who belittles immigrants from "shithole" countries.
Like me, President Trump descended from immigrants. However, his continuous statements about immigrants from mostly black and brown countries are repugnant. It's hard not to be offended when the President of the United States says that my parents didn't deserve the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, like his, simply because of their country of birth.
Nevertheless, as I reflected on this new era, that we as Americans were about to venture into, I blamed myself.
The struggles of victims of violent crimes, immigrants, women, and people of color are real, and our voices need to be heard. However, I sat there crying and thinking, I did not do a good enough job sharing my experience as a human. I cried, thinking perhaps if I had more conversations that were open about my life and my experiences, maybe others would have a heightened sense of empathy and awareness for people like me.
As irrational as it sounds, I blamed myself.
With Caroline in my arms and only a few days old, I promised her I would not remain silent. I would be fearless in the face of adversity, and I would leverage every tool I had to be a better and more vocal advocate for myself and others. I promised her I would do everything I could to change the world. I promised this to my firstborn child, hoping that her experience as a black child would be better than mine.
We are approaching the four-year mark of this promise, and last night I had another one of those cries. I believe my therapist would say this is good, as showing tears and anger is not one of my strengths. Nevertheless, it was another night of hyperventilating and hot tears as I realized we have so much further to go.
The dismissive and indifference highlighted by some of my friends and family members who continue to look the other way when it comes to people of color, victims of violent crimes, and immigrants must stop. I need you to take a moment to understand what it feels like to walk in my shoes, in my daughter's shoes, and in #GeorgeFloyd's shoes.
- I need you to acknowledge and take the time to understand what is at the core of our anguish and concerns.
- I need you to realize there are systemic injustices that black and brown people face every day in our country.
- I need you to understand and acknowledge institutionalized racism exists.
The issues listed above impact us all.
However, how can it be that a photo from 2020 can look like a photo from 1967? How can you then look at the humans marching in America's streets and dismiss them all as foolish thieves?
Do not let the small number of individuals who are using this moment and demonstrating violence as an easy excuse to dismiss the pain and injustice of an entire community. We are expressing raw anguish because we continue to share our stories, and we are not being heard.
You've told black athletes to stay in their lane. You've told black comedians to focus on jokes. You've mocked black politicians who focus on race as a public health crisis to look elsewhere.
I ask, who is supposed to speak out about our plight, and when will you hear us?
- Imagine being a young black girl and receiving harsher discipline at school because you're perceived to be unruly, loud, and unmanageable. #BlackGirlsMatter
- Imagine what it is like to go on a run and die because you don't look like you belong. #AhmaudArbery #LivingWhileBlack
- Imagine what it is like to be violently assaulted and being accused of making it up. #SophiaFifner #MeToo
- Imagine what it is like to be unfairly convicted of a crime that if you were just a few shades lighter would be a misdemeanor #FerrellScott
- Imagine what it is like to be black and to die simply because you exist. #BreonnaTaylor
People who look like me are living with this injustice every day, and we are tired. The only difference between me and the protester's face you see on Fox News is that our anguish is released in different but equally valuable forms.
I have the privilege of access to health care, education, and resources to channel my frustrations through volunteerism, legislation, and countless therapy sessions. However, my plight is no different than the faces of the black and brown people you see on your screen. I am them, and they are me.
We are both living in a world where, whether we take a knee or protest in the streets, our concerns are not being heard — and we can not breathe.
I realize every person's journey for understanding humanity takes different shapes in forms. Some jump headfirst completely embracing words and phrases like #blacklivesmatters, intersectionality, and implicit bias. However, for others, you may need a more gradual approach.
For those who need a more gradual approach, here are a few suggestions:
- Actively listen more than you speak
- Admit your bias and check your privilege
- Learn with intentionality to understand people who do not share your same experience.
Change cannot happen in a vacuum. I refuse to live another 50 years, waiting for justice. I refuse to silently sit by waiting for you to listen. Therefore, I'll close with this simple ask.
Please, take your knee off my neck and help me breathe.
This article originally appeared on Medium. You can read it here.