I wonder if the clapping and boos can be heard outside. Where people play pool and hangout at the eatery. Where thousands of letters from friends and family sit. Do they shake in their envelopes? It feels like my blood is shaking. Broiling, really. It’s an uproar. And we are in the middle of it.
I’m sitting in a cafe with my best friend, Royah. She is Persian, and I am Liberian/Jamaican. And for this, I feel a true kinship with her. I feel safe to talk about the delicate things that are too brittle and tenuous to talk about with my white friends. It slips between their fingertips — these conversations we once had. But with her, the delicate subjects are our strength. I’ve come to see that dark is another way to say good; A way to call someone beautiful.
She has just ordered a quiche. I see her talking to the man behind the register. They exchange pleasantries, and she gives him the cash. Just before I see the coins fall into his palm, a woman taps me on my shoulder. I turn around, smiling. I want no barriers between us, at least the ones I can control. She is tanned, almost ethnic looking, but I see the places where the machine missed her skin and left her blotchy. The fringe of her eyes, where lines show her age, are pale white. A smile stretches across her entire face. I see the tension in plastic wrap, when you’re not sure if it’ll rip, when you get too little plastic and too much food. I wonder why is she here, on this day of all days, trying talk to me?
And bodies stand in the dark of night. There, in front of them, is a whisper of light against their faces. I can see the white of their eyes. I can see their breaths, their humanity, in the cold air. They are all black bodies mourning for another one of their sisters, their brothers being shot down. They stand beside a chapel, in the dark. They are cold and shivering. My hands and nose are numb. I try to arch and stretch my fingers, but they crack and hurt, as if I have been carrying a weight. We all have. And then I remember that I self-diagnosed myself with Raynaud’s disease. The blood slowly dribbles to the feet and the hands, pushing against my bones and sinew. But before it gets there, and even when it arrives, my feet and hands remain cold. Those are the black bodies. We are cold and waiting for society to reach us. For society to really take notice to the extent that they do something. To the extent that asking us, as people of color, what they should do is no longer the norm.
Our smiles are still on our faces. Two maybe three seconds have passed, and the man behind the cash register is still processing the transaction. Breathe. She says, “I’m sorry for your loss.” And I wonder how she knows. She knows that another black body being murdered is the death of yet another brother or my sister of mine. The lack of blood relation is inconsequential. We are colored and that is enough. My smile becomes a bit smaller, but more generous. But then she asks, “Is there anything I can do? I want to fight this.” I assume she means this system of racism. I say, “Thank you, but it’s just too complex.”
I see him, we all do. My hands are held together as if I’m in a prayer. My legs are crossed. Emily sits beside me, and every so often she snaps her fingers and claps her hands. We all do. The panel is eloquent and raw, speaking their narrative. It goes beyond the talk of police brutality. Instead, words like “stalking”, “rat poisoning”, “foster care”. When he talks, the auditorium is silent. Nobody moves. His voice is quiet and hushed. But it never trembles. I’ve seen a grown man cry only once before. I feel my respect for him grow. We walk back to the dorm, and I feel oddly weightless. But, at the same time, I feel weighed down.
What I mean is that it’s not my occupation or obligation to tell society how to fix itself. What I mean is that racism is something that pervades our society so well, we all somehow perpetuate it.
Breathe. We exchange our goodbyes. She walks away, probably feeling satisfied with herself. She helped someone. She helped a colored woman. A double minority. Twice the satisfaction. Royah returns with her quiche. The smell that always seems so mouthwatering makes me nauseous and lightheaded. She notices and asks me what’s wrong. Breathe. I shake my head. It’s not the time. Not in this crowded cafe. Her 1998 blue Honda seems like a solace. I imagine how we would come to bridge in this situation? I wonder how many more times we would have this talk? But the only answer I can find is to just breathe.
It has just begun.
by Dominique Spencer