(As I write this, I will put asterisks next to terms that may not be common knowledge and list the definitions at the bottom of the post.)
The year 2020 has been one big, trippy episode of Black Mirror, and we’re only half way through the year. We’re all just gigantic balls of stress at this point, but the purpose of this post is not to talk about how crazy 2020 is. It’s to talk about the big thing that’s been weighing heavily on me. When I lay in bed, my heart hurts, it’s hard to breathe, and I am filled with disappointment in my fellow human beings. I need to get this out on the page so that it’s not jumbled up in my head anymore. I need to say something.
Occasionally, an event will be the catalyst, the tipping point, to this charade of peace that we have in the US. The senseless deaths of POC* hit it’s tipping point, once again, with the death of George Floyd.
I have so many feelings about this. I have feelings about his death. I have feelings about systemic racism. I have feelings about police brutality. I have feelings about the treatment of disabled people. I have feelings about the immigration issue. I have feelings about discrimination, prejudice, and racism. I have feelings about micro aggressions*. I have feelings about it all!
But I have remained silent about it for the last few weeks, and I’ll explain why.
1. I am a straight white woman. For years, since I was able to grasp the concept of prejudice and voice my feelings, I was told that it was not my place and I should remain quiet. When things are put so clearly into rules that a good percentage of people agree upon, I try to follow those rules. Making and keeping friends is difficult enough with having autism that I try to listen and follow the rules my friends set.
2. I have limited experience with racism (both on the receiving end and witnessing it). I have a little more experience with prejudice, but still not a lot. They say “write what you know”, so I remain silent because I will never truly know what POC experience in today’s America.
3. I didn’t feel like my voice was important. I am not the person that this is happening to. I am not the person that fears police. I am not the one that lives with that uncertainty, fear, and stifled rage every day of my life. I have remained silent to let the voices that need to be heard ring loud and clear.
4. However, I’ve been seeing over and over again that my silence is deafening, just as bad as racism. I’ve been confused and remained silent while I’m trying to figure out just what it is that I can and should do.
5. The ferocity of my feelings make it hard for me to stay level headed in the face of injustice, ignorance, and hatred. I have never been skilled in arguments and probably never will be. The last thing that everyone needs right now is someone blowing up like a crazy person all over the place. It will never be my intention to drown out the voices of the oppressed with my rage, so I will probably still remain relatively silent.
6. I have a massive amount of things on my plate right now. I am carting Mateo back and forth to his therapies, I am preparing for our impending move and worried that it will fall through again, I am actively advocating for him to start the preschool that he needs in the Fall and receive the therapies he needs once we move, I am cooking meals and changing diapers, I am still breastfeeding, I am cleaning my house, I am entertaining and aiding in my children’s development on two different levels, and I am constantly emotionally exhausted from raising a non-verbal toddler that has sensory issues. It’s all so much and, honestly, it’s easier to put blinders on and focus on my own little world. But that’s not the right thing to do.
The right thing to do is speak up, even though it’s uncomfortable. The right thing to do is stand behind and support those that are in distress right now. The right thing is to set the example for my kids that we should never stand by and watch as people are being treated unjustly! Those are the right things to do.
It’s so confusing, watching all the opinions being shared, the words being said, and the divide in our society. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is a racist? Who is a bigot? Who is closed minded?
Opinions are a lot like emotions. You’re allowed to have more than one at a time, and they are not mutually exclusive.
I believe that all lives matter, but I believe that all lives won’t matter until black lives matter.
I believe that not all cops are bad, but I believe that the system on which law enforcement is based needs major reform.
I believe that rioting is wrong, but I can understand why it happens (history shows that it is effective) and the emotional progression that leads to it.
I believe in God, but I believe that my faith should not dictate the freedoms of others. God gave us free will, and everyone is entitled to exercise that free will. Even when we don’t agree with them.
People that are spouting “all lives matter” every time someone says that “black lives matter” aren’t getting the point. It may not be true everywhere in the US or in every income bracket, but the ethnic group that is statistically more likely to be the victim of police brutality and racism is African-American. It’s a reality that a lot of black people have to live with from a very young age. It’s something that I’ve never lived with. I don’t and will never understand the fear that they face every day, but I don’t need to understand it to acknowledge it and know that it is very real.
I’m a big fan of the analogy that has surfaced in the middle of this. I’ll admit that my feelings on the Black Lives Matter movement were on the fence (leaning hard towards support) until I heard it. Not that I didn’t believe that black lives matter. It just felt exclusive to everyone else, and exclusivity does not sit well with me.
POC-“My house is on fire! Call the fire department!”
White Person-“Your house might be on fire, but all houses are important.”
POC-“All houses are important, but my house is on fire.”
WP-“Yes. Fire. But my house is important too. What about when my house is on fire?”
POC-“Your house is fine. My house is on fire right now and I need your help. Call the fire department.”
When “black lives matter” is met with “all lives matter”, it doesn’t come across as inclusive. It comes across as though their plight for equal rights and equal treatment is falling on deaf ears. The fact that there are other instances of unjust treatment for other groups (I.e. Latinx, Indigenous people, women, Muslims, Jewish people, people with disabilities, etc) does not make the injustices these people face any less revolting and any less important to fight against! This is the fight right now. Who knows what fight will come next, but I hope that the next one is met with as much support as this on has. What is needed now is for the people of this nation to come together and fight for a better future for everyone!
I haven’t spoken up about this before because I didn’t feel it was my fight. I have always been angry about the deaths of POC at the hands of police. (Any unjust death at the hands of anyone really upsets me.) The fact that their entire job is to uphold the laws of this country and protect the people living in it makes these deaths even more frustrating. It just never touched my life enough to make me feel like the fight was mine. It wasn’t my friends or family dying. It always happened in some other part of the country, far enough to leave my life unscathed.
But it is my fight. It’s everyone’s fight! It is a fight for the human race. If we sit idly by as a whole ethnic group is persecuted, what happens 50, 100 years from now when the ethnic group being persecuted is us (whatever group you belong to)? Will anyone come to our aid and fight for our equality?
On top of that, I was not raised to be an advocate. Don’t get me wrong. I had a very happy childhood. The Bible says that we should love our neighbors and part of loving others is standing up for them. I was taught that. I just was not given the skills to be an advocate or the skills to hold my own in a debate. We learn a lot of how to interact with people and treat people at home with our family. I was raised to listen and obey my parents without question. Even when I disagreed, even when I felt like something didn’t make sense, even when I felt that something was unjust, I was quiet and obedient. Because that’s just what I was supposed to do. Because of this, I never learned how to stand up for myself or my beliefs if they did not line up with my parent’s. My beliefs have not 100% lined up with my parents for quite some time, but I was not able to freely express them until I was married. Even when I did start to express them, I was timid and afraid of the consequences. My husband helped me through that and into a place where I started to stand up for myself, stopped letting people take advantage of me, and started to advocate for myself. That was a long, emotional journey for me. I’m still not perfect at it.
Having Autism is no help in this particular area because I was not observant enough to be able to tell when things being said or done made people uncomfortable. I was not aware enough to realize when something that I repeated verbatim was something that upset other people. I tend to take people at their word. I am a very literal person and believe most things at face value. This means that I was shaped by the unconscious prejudices of those around me. And, honestly, I’m still not the most skilled at these things. I still find it difficult to read people well enough to understand the true weight of my words, but I try like hell to be the best person, friend, and relative I can possibly be.
Now I’m learning how to advocate for others. My son having autism is a major reason that I am gaining experience in advocating for others. He is 3 years old and is incapable of asking for his needs to be met and incapable of meeting his own needs. He needs someone to do those things for him. I am that person. I am still learning. I’m a little clumsy at it, but I am fierce! I will be working on bettering myself so that I can advocate for all the people I love and all the people that are being wronged.
The difficult thing that I’ve come to realize is that I’m not just advocating for his autism based needs. I need to advocate for his needs as a POC. While my children are fairly pale, they are half Mexican. They are currently passing* but they are POC. It’s a part of their daily lives, their home environment, and their holidays. It is part of who they are, and they may not alway be passing. My kids, my sweet babies, may be the victims of racism, prejudice, or bias some day.
It’s my goal that they be bi-lingual. They could be out speaking Spanish with a friend or relative some day and be berated for not speaking English. Someone might tell them to go back to where they came from when they were born into an American family in the middle of Kansas.
Maybe they’ll have a nice Summer tan and be followed around a department store because they look “suspicious”.
Maybe they will be pulled over for a routine traffic stop and it’ll turn deadly.
Maybe, just maybe, the list of victims of police brutality will contain my kid’s names.
What about Brietta? My sweet girl will grow up to be part of the group that has the hardest time in the work force and the hardest time being taken seriously: minority women.
These are real possibilities that weigh heavily on me every day. This is why it is my fight. It is my fight for everyone’s children. It’s my fight until all kids feel safe like they should.
Since becoming an adult and increasing my skills in observation, I have actively opened my ears and my heart to the words of others. I have actively been acknowledging my own unconscious prejudices, delving into why they existed, and slaying them where they stand.
I’ve come to learn things and now understand things like how toxic the phrase “I don’t see color” can be. When people say it, the intention is mostly innocent and loving. The people that say it are trying to say “I don’t acknowledge the color of your skin because it does not impact the way I want to treat you”. The way it comes across is insulting. When you tell a person that you “don’t see color”, they are hearing that you don’t see who they are. Being Mexican American is a big part of my husband’s identity. It is a big part of his heart and his mind. If you completely ignore and pass over the fact that he is Mexican, you ignore his family, his childhood, the traditions he grew up with, and him. There is an entire culture behind the color of his skin and the country of his ancestors. It’s the same for African Americans. There is an entire culture that you erase when you claim that you don’t see color. I’ve learned that most people want you to acknowledge their color and everything about it that makes them happy and proud!
I’m not done with this journey, but I am learning as I go. I am, and have been, doing my part in the background for years.
I don’t want to draw attention to myself as normal social interactions give me anxiety. Unless you’re in my box, you make me uncomfortable on a certain level (I know this isn’t an “acceptable” thing to say, but it is truth). Add to that racial tension and difficult topics, you have a very frazzled Allie. Being frazzled makes my thoughts practically incoherent. This is why I write.
Today I write to remind myself and all of you that we need to get uncomfortable. Comfort breeds complacency. Comfort is the enemy of progress. We have grown too comfortable in our lives, in the violence we accept because it doesn’t touch us personally, and with the narcissists in positions of power in this country. We’ve grown too comfortable and that needs to change. Change starts with us. Progress starts with us. Our voices, our votes, and our camaraderie. The future of our home, the future for our children is in our hands. If getting uncomfortable is what it takes to create a better future, let’s get uncomfortable! It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth it. All of the progress I’ve made in my social skills would not have happened without a bit of discomfort. It works.
Black Lives Matter,
1*POC- People of color or person of color.
2*Micro Aggressions- Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults.
3*Passing- Bi-racial, POC, or mixed person that can pass as white a white person.