Every time an interesting number shows up like the one above, 222, I translate it to Mandarin, which was my second language for ten years. Er er er. It would sound as uncertain as I so often feel when I sit in front of my laptop, when I panic at the thought of letting people into my thoughts, when I click “publish.” Except that the Er is pronounced in the fourth tone, which is very emphatic.
So I am allowed to sit with the idea that I can be both. Uncertain and emphatic. Emphatic in my uncertainty.
I have wrapped up my first reading of the book I mentioned in my previous post, “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown. This is a book I will definitely visit again and again. It has helped me on my path as a parent of marginalized people. On days when I feel myself slipping away from community, it will be my companion. The kind of companion who refuses to lie about how bad things are, but speaks in a language that frees my heart.
In a chapter called “How to Survive Racism in an Organization that Claims to be Antiracist,” Brown lists ten actionable things. Number Five says:
“Practice self-care. Remember that you are a whole person, not a mule to carry the racial sins of the organization. Fall in love, take your children to the park, don’t miss doctors’ visits, read for pleasure, dance with abandon, have lots of good sex, be gentle with yourself.”
I thought about all the things I have given up so that I could show up for my kids in a world that hasn’t bothered about us much, but has surely shamed me whenever I inevitably stumbled. How, for a time, I cast aside the pleasure of just-because reading because I was too unhappy to lose myself in stories about people whose lives had nothing to do with mine. How I shrank away from doctors, who would give me advice that sounded ludicrous in a life that lacks childcare and so many more needed supports so that I could magically make all the lifestyle changes they so easily prescribed. How I preferred to avoid extended family because what the fuck was there to talk about. They might as well be strangers. So much easier to engage mostly with other parents like me; at least there is no energy drain. How angry and defeated I felt. Feel.
Brown ends her book by talking about how, whenever she seeks love for the Blackness she embodies, “it means inviting hopelessness to my doorstep.” She describes how, until we face just how hopeless the idea of social change is, we won’t become stronger.
I definitely relate. These aren’t skills I wished to cultivate, but I have learned how to spot fake allyship very quickly, and to avoid engaging with it; I have learned not to expend free labor on people who come to me for moral gut checks but refuse to be changed by what they hear; I have learned to trust in my own thought process. Because, quite honestly, trying to follow the vision of people who don’t live this life is just not valuable. People want to be part of something uplifting, but who sticks around for the times when it’s not uplifting? And who sticks around without offering up commentary that puts an end to the hope of building trust? Not many.
In the midst of doing some decluttering yesterday, I came across an old handbag which had a keychain attached to it. It had one half of those heart shaped Best Friends tags which young girls might use to swear eternal allegiance to their bestie. R and I bought them long ago, when he was struggling through bullying friendships and other mean kid crap. And I was his only friend.
Truth is, he lost his half of the tag long ago, and laughed with heartless amusement that I still had mine. Because, by the time he reached high school, I was no longer his friend. He had forged some wonderful friendships that are still going strong. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before I tossed the handbag out, I took a picture of the keychain, just to remember how far we have traveled. In the isolation we have too often endured, we have been our best selves to one another. I can never feel hopeless about that. In my children’s loving natures, I have experienced the Divine, Who slipped out of the palatial temples that didn’t know how to welcome us, and wound Herself into our lovingly connected heartstrings.
In case you cannot find God, She is in my house, and Her embrace is why A laughs for seemingly no reason. Every day, we wake up and have a cup of tea with our Best Friend.
Brown, Austin Channing. “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.” New York: Convergent Books, 2018.