This post was written by Rachel Adkins who is a Black woman. Because I am a white woman with predominantly white readers in this platform, I asked Rachel if she would be willing to allow me to share her voice with you all as an attempt for me to “pass the mic” and amplify her lived experience. Rachel wrote this piece after learning about the murder of George Floyd.
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t begin working on tasks or sorting out my day. I couldn’t do anything because I was feeling so painfully connected to a man I’ve never even met. A man in my city, a man with skin like mine. A man laying on the pavement. A man begging for his life.
This man is different than me, even with our similarities. We are different because he is no longer breathing. The breath was squeezed out of his lungs.. like deflating a balloon after a party. Like an air mattress once your guests have gone home. This man has gone home, but he did not choose to. He went from being a living and breathing human with loves, hardships, dreams, and children to being a hashtag. To the world watching him being brutally abused and murdered. To me comparing his last breaths to a balloon after a party. White supremacy killed this man, George Floyd. In the city where I live. History killed him. White silence killed him. People quieting themselves because “no one wants to hear about racism” killed him. Ignorance killed him. The people who have sworn to protect our societies killed him when they turned a blind eye to the history of violence and aggression from their officers- this one in particular. As he kneeled on this man, so casually with his hands in his pockets, he took the top off of a pot that was far past due to boil over. Over four hundred years of suffering can only be bottled up for so long.
With George Floyd’s last breath, America’s perfect image cracked and blew out like a candle. The world sees a neon sign showing us all just who America is.
The thing is, for as many people who were shocked and surprised by this happening, many of us were not. The reality is, black people have known this happens almost daily for a very long time. Black people know that we have a scary relationship with the police. Most other people, all too often white people, have either been in denial or refused to hear it for just as long.
The interesting thing about being black is we all have these experiences, but they’re unique to each of us. None of us have the same exact story. I grew up (the second half of my life) in essentially a completely white suburban city. I was always the token minority. I was the “wow, you’re so shockingly different than the others on tv”girl, and I was “kinda white.” I went to college in the same kind of dynamic, and it was just as normal to me. I didn’t talk about a lot of things with my friends, because they were predominantly white as well, and I knew they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t believe me, but that was also normal to me. People would ask me if my hair was real, if I had a white parent, and why I was so “different” from the black people they had seen before. In high school, my friend said “it must be cool to be black.” I really wonder if she thought that while she watched George Floyd die.
My roommate was asked if her skin color would come off if she showers, her braids were compared to ropes, and I was told that I am not a real black person. Never once in my three years at that school was I asked out. Only now in my adulthood do I start to wonder if it had to do with my blackness. People at my school would say “why do all of the Asians sit together? Why do the black people only hang out with each other?” My freshman year, my RA performed with Black Face in front of the entire school. Lots of students of color were outraged and protested. They demanded they postpone his graduation. I went to one protest… then I wrote him a note saying I didn’t think he was a bad person.
These types of things became normal to me… I didn’t wonder why I was asked such questions. I never gave it more attention than it took to escape the conversation and move on. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. But it was “normal,” meaning that I was used to it. Not meaning that I thought it was okay. Realizing all of the things I’ve swept under the rug, on top of trying to process the pain and reality of my people being killed feels nearly impossible to bear some days.
I’ve spent a lot of time sleeping in the days since George Floyd’s death. I feel guilty for taking time off of protesting, but I truly felt like I was going to fall apart if I didn’t. I couldn’t sleep or focus on anything. My heart was heavy, but again… I was used to it. I’ve seen it happen so many times before. How could I even have the capacity left to feel so upset? That’s where the numbing comes in. I have not cried yet. I cried once- and that’s because a semi truck drove into the crowd of protesters and nearly killed us. My sister cried and a random white woman supported her. She asked, “why are they killing us?” through tears and hysterics. The woman just said, “I don’t know.” That exchange made me cry for about ten seconds. But I still haven’t released it like I need to. I don’t know if I ever will. Why? Because I am used to it.
I really hope this is the beginning of a positive turn. It’s also scary to me. I think about all of the awkward, undesirable conversations I will have to have when white people walk up to me and apologize (it’s already happened), and realizing with full acceptance that my white friends know they have white privilege (my friend owning that was surprisingly uncomfortable) because it means all of the pain and realities that I have had to ignore my entire life are being brought to life. I don’t want to openly process that there’s a large amount of people who don’t value me as a human. It hurts and it’s hard. I know that it is a better pain though, at least a pain with a purpose. Maybe one day soon the open honesty can actually make this journey easier for me. For the generations to come. They say, pain demands to be felt. This is no different. Whiteness taught me to numb and ignore my pain because it was inconvenient for others. It’s no different than acknowledging a toxic relationship… the truth hurts. It is also hard to swallow.
A lot of white people feel bad, and that’s fine, but I don’t really care. I want to quit pretending that I do. What I need right now is to disappear, if only I could. I would love to come back when everything is better… but instead, I have to fight for a better tomorrow and the energy to keep going. My life depends on it. When people are literally debating the value of your life, and declaring you matter is considered as political, escaping isn’t really a proponent for change. It also isn’t really allowed. I was talking to my sister after we had been protesting all weekend and she was saying “I have to get ready for work tomorrow.” I completely forgot that people still are expected to show up to work and do their jobs, not only in the middle of a pandemic, but in one of the biggest uprisings in our history. I think it speaks to our resilience. I tend to forget its importance, not because it doesn’t affect me, but because (it’s not okay), I’m used to it.