This afternoon I became aware of a meeting that popped up on my agenda. That’s not unusual. People throw things on each other’s calendars at this company like it’s a dartboard competition. But this one seemed eerily important. Firstly, it was being convened by the parent company (not just my brand). Secondly, there was something about the gravity of the invite that made me think… I better RSVP for this. “ACTIVATE Training | Multicultural: Black In America” it read. Okay. I called my co-worker to see if this was something sent to a select few or if she got it too. She confirmed that she was on the invite and planned to attend. Normally when there’s a meeting that is “suggested” (read: forced) upon us, we get whisperings from higher-ups in our team meetings and through texts and emails. But nothing of the sort happened with this one. I resigned to peek my head in and see what it was all about. If it proved to be a waste of time, I’d retreat back into my cushy list of to-dos offline.
Logged in to the Zoom (another zoom) but the set up was different. I suppose this was the “webinar” set up. Couldn’t see anyone but the panelists of which there were five and I had no control over my video being on or not because no one else’s video or presence was broadcast in the controls. As far as I knew, I was the only one there watching these women, two white and 3 black, preparing to present to us.
Paying half attention, they began the meeting and thanked us for being there and then introduced one of the white women who told us that these kinds of meetings were going to be happening more often and be particularly uncomfortable for some of us: particularly the white ones of us. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. I admit at this point I started to tune out. Another one of these. There are so many of THESE… and I know the intended audience doesn’t give a SHIT. Then one of the women of color, the senior ranking of the three, undoubtedly, began her part of the presentation.
I heard James Baldwin’s familiar voice narrating our absolute and complete disgust with EVERYTHING in this nation and how they’ve treated us. More thinking “they don’t care though” but I never miss an opportunity to relish in how much I love his voice and expression. Old footage of protests with dogs being sicked on us, fire hoses being turned on us, batons being wailed on us. Too familiar to me. I toggled screens to keep working on what I’d been working on while I listened in. I knew what this was. Someone quoting Zora Neale Hurston about the appalling notion of them “denying themselves of the pleasure of her company” and how it was beyond her… a line that had resonated so DEEPLY with me all of my life. Right up there with Hughes’ “Besides… they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed. I, too, am America.” This yearning to be seen. To be acknowledged as equal. To be appreciated for the contribution. To be fully actualized: human. Not 3/5ths. All juxtaposed with the 8-minute footage of knees in necks and multiple shots in backs and black feet dangling above a smiling white crowd onlooking like this was the height of society to attend that kind of event.
It’s all stuff I heard before. Till they played this. Watch till 5:01:
And in my calm, cool, forcibly collected mind, I rationalized everything she said to be right, justified, true, factual, actual. But, I know, “they” – meaning the ones who should care and can actually help stop this from happening – still don’t care. Those cats aren’t even ON this call.
When the screen share stopped, the presenter kept talking and something made me glance at her thumbnail video in the upper right-hand corner of my screen. There was a familiar tilt back of her head… you know… the one we do to hold our emotions from flowing down. But I looked closer and her face was wet. Then she confirmed when she lifted a napkin to her face and dabbed tears and wipe her nose. I pulled open a messenger screen to my co-worker and typed, “OH SHIT… she’s crying…”
And at that moment, tears started to stream down my face as well. Not as a show of solidarity, per se. But in my head, I heard a small voice: “Yeah… this shit actually HURTS.” It REALLY fucking hurts. Watching it every day of your life hurts. Experiencing it yourself hurts. Getting video upon video upon video of your black brethren and sistren being massacred for all of social media to see, sometimes DAILY… HURTS. Seeing the administration that supposedly governs your country turn a willfully blind eye to it all … HURTS. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We’re not supposed to be so strong that seeing this over and over and over again has NO effect anymore.
IT. FUCKING. HURTS.
Her voice never cracked or wavered. Her message was clear and uninterrupted, but at that moment, she allowed herself – and those of us who needed to be reminded – that it’s okay to acknowledge: THIS IS NOT NORMAL. IT’S NEVER BEEN NORMAL. THIS ISN’T WHAT PEOPLE WHO CALL THEMSELVES DECENT OR CIVILIZED OR “GENTRY” DO TO OTHER HUMAN BEINGS THEY CLAIM TO CONSIDER EQUALS. DON’T DENY YOUR FEELINGS.
I haven’t stopped crying since that meeting and it ended at 3:00 PM today. But, what I do know is that while this is not normal, I can DEFINITELY – DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.