Today, I am tired. It is not the “I worked late” or “I was busy thinking about a project” tired. It is not the tired of the mom of an almost 2-year-old or someone finishing a doctoral program. It is the tired of someone who is exhausted by the surprise of others that racism is still alive and well in the United States. It is the tired of someone who has been shouting, “SEE ME, SEE US ...” yet remains invisible. It is the tired of someone who has been patient and provided workshops, seminars and discussion sessions over and over and over again to help people understand that black people, Latinx and Hispanic people, native people and Asian people are PEOPLE. That we are human. That our lives have value.
Today, I am tired because I know that this pattern of seeing and then not seeing me will continue if YOU do not make the decision to value me as a whole person. I have worked for more than 20 years to be the change I want to see in this world. Yet, it appears that my efforts have borne little fruit. I am tired because I repeatedly try to find ways that YOU will find acceptable, reasonable or worth consideration to share OUR value as members of a common humanity.
I am tired because YOU paint me in unique ways that make me special — until they don’t. You say I’m “not like other black (native, Hispanic, Chinese, fill in the blank) people I know. If only THEY would act right. Be submissive. Not wear baggy clothes. Speak ‘good’ English. Stop complaining. Work harder. Stop playing the race card.”
Your list of things goes on and on and makes my blood boil. I am not those things, until I am. When I demand equity, access and room at the table, I am suddenly too aggressive, too angry. I am not your good Negro, your good black friend. I am a person full of complexities and commonalities who will demand justice and inclusion and consistency that does not allow a double standard.
I am tired of you telling me that you do not have privilege. Do you understand what privilege is? What white privilege is? Let me share AGAIN: White privilege is the privilege of not having your race count against you. It is not having your race be a silent signifier that you are worthless, that your ideas have no merit or value. It is the privilege of having your race cover you in reasonable doubt instead of immediate guilt. It does not mean that you do not suffer challenges or experience difficulties in life. It simply means that those challenges and difficulties are not exacerbated by the color of your skin.
So I am tired. I am tired of you marching in the streets and saying our names and acting like this time you really mean it, only for me to be let down again. Saying our names, the names of those killed because of the color of our skin, only matters if you see us as your equal — that you SEE us, really see us. As people. As people having full humanity. As people who matter more than property. As people who are your wives, husbands, sons, daughters, co-workers, friends and neighbors. Can you see us? Will you see us?
In 1978, Pat Parker told us, “The first thing you do is to forget that I am Black. Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.” I think those words matter as much today as they did then when I was 4 years old and growing up in Layton, Utah. The thing is, don’t just do it for me. Do it for all of us. It does not make us bad to have skin the color of coffee with or without cream, with yellow undertones, or midnight like the sky. We are simply a part of the rainbow. So are you. The rainbow of humanity.
If this commentary makes you feel some kind of way, rather than putting those feelings off on me, explore why you feel the way you do. Engage in some self-exploration and examination. Then ask yourself how it would feel to live in a body where someone’s fear of the color of your skin provided legal justification for them to shoot you — sometimes in the back — or to put a knee in your neck even as you cry out that you cannot breath. Then ask me why I am so tired.