May we accept that real change is scary and hard

Dear President Trump,

The overriding emotions for me today have been shame and fear, which may explain why I’ve been so irritable and sour. I don’t know about you, but often when I’ve got strong primary feelings on board, niggly secondary ones pile on and poke at me, trying to grab my attention. Well, I did get sidetracked, but I’ve got it straight now that I need to deal with the shame and the fear in a forthright manner and not hide behind all the pesky, non-priority shit.

I’m going to tell you about the shame first. It stems from a conversation I had yesterday that I wish I could edit – my part, that is. I was talking with an African American person who was telling me how hard it’s been all week to focus and act as though things are normal when George Floyd’s murder has brought up so many awful memories and has made the fear they feel every single day even more acute. There were parts of my response that I feel fine about. I think I helped make a little space for them to talk about how they were feeling and what they are going through. But when they brought up how helpless they feel in the face of such wide, deep systemic racism, I distanced myself from their pain and started talking about ripple effects and generational shifts.

Well, ripple effects and generational shifts aren’t worth shit for people who rationally feel afraid every time they leave their house, for people who rationally fear they could be shot by police in their own beds, “mistaken” for someone who was arrested earlier in the day. It’s like telling girls and women that we need to be patient, that the patriarchal culture that leaves us unsafe in our homes and on our streets, that blames and shames us when we are raped is going the way of the dodo bird and we just need to hold on and make a few more polite ripples instead of ripping the assholes new ones and burning it to the ground. I feel ashamed that I ducked the anger, the rage really, and the fear and went Pollyanna to protect myself.

And here’s the fear that’s been stalking me all day – what if the current confluence of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing African Americans, yet another African American man being murdered by a police officer on film with three other officers not intervening, and a complete and utter racist asshole in the Oval Office who is using the presidency to incite violence is not enough to get us to trade in this wreck of a system? What if most Americans yawn on Tuesday and essentially say “next”? What if Columbia University historian, Eric Foner, is right and this ends up being like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when there was so much hope that America would finally wake up to the systemic inequities oppressing people of color but we let the moment pass. As Foner was quoted in the WP earlier yesterday:

“There seems to be a very powerful inertia pushing us back to normal….”

This is what I’m afraid of – that those of us who can compartmentalize, shelve, “tut tut,” will let inertia pull us back into complacency. I pray not. I pray that the images of white people linking arms and forming lines between police and black protestors galvanizes us, clarifies for enough of us that we have to stand with our black and brown sisters and brothers, that this sick system of ours is imperiling all of us through its utter disdain for people’s needs, including for a habitable planet. This sick system was engineered to keep rich white men rich and while it continues to most visibly, ostentatiously oppress and pick off African American people, if we don’t collectively step up and say ‘enough is enough,’ we are all doomed.

This is our chance – this confluence of starkly horrible things should be a lightening rod for change. We mustn’t kid ourselves that things can’t get worse because they most certainly can.

May we put ourselves on the line for one another’s safety.
May we dismantle the twin evils of systemic racism and sexism even if means taking down the whole thing.
May we take good care of ourselves and one another.
May we accept that real change is scary and hard.

Tracy Simpson

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