Somewhere along the way, so long ago I can’t remember the when or the why of it now, “Tuesday” became my go-to day for use in flippant one-liners. For instance, I’d describe my toxic ex’s and my pattern of frequently breaking up and getting back together as an occurrence that took place “on alternate Tuesdays.” Or when I encountered everyday sexism (eg: getting catcalled, a coworker making an inappropriate comment to me that made me uncomfortable, random men making excuses to invade my personal space in crowded public places, etc.) and a male friend would get angry on my behalf, I’d shrug and respond with something to the effect of, “Yep, welcome to being a woman. We just call that a Tuesday.” And—in tongue-in-cheek, Carrie Bradshaw fashion—I can’t help but wonder how many BIPOC might have felt similar sentiments towards Blackout Tuesday. A friend of mine posted something to the effect of “how are you going silent for Blackout Tuesday if you’re not vocal to begin with?” And valid. I’m sporadically vocal at best about anything in this particular space since I don’t really update it super regularly, and the last time I personally wrote anything extensive on this particular subject for this space was almost seven years ago post-Trayvon Martin. I’ve spoken about it since then, certainly. But probably not extensively. I am careful—probably too careful—with what I say, and when, and how, and to whom… particularly on matters that are not my own lived experience. I prefer to leave that space available for those who can claim it as their own, and thus express it firsthand and more impactfully than I could. Which sounds nice and respectful and all on the surface, but which, if I’m completely honest, may be a bit of a cop-out. Though I will speak up and plant seeds with those whom I recognize may be more inclined to receive them from me in my position of relative privilege than they may from someone they view as “other” in some way. Case in point, a client I had back when I worked in a long-term residential substance abuse and mental health treatment facility. He was a white punk rock kid from the part of South Jersey that is so far south it might as well be Alabama. We had been working together for almost four months at that point, had developed a solid and trusting therapeutic alliance, and had worked successfully through some of the previously-held sexist views he had come into treatment expressing (partly because they were what he had grown up believing, but mostly because he got a kick out of watching people’s reactions when he did things like casually announcing his tit-for-tat views on domestic violence in a process group on relationships… after which I later found myself conducting individual sessions with three separate clients who had walked out of the group during his share and wanted to know how, as a woman, I could possibly stand to listen to or even be in the same room as him). On this particular day, we were meeting to discuss a write up he had received for his decision to rock his confederate flag T-shirt and see how our predominantly black residential aide staff would react. We talked for awhile, he was receptive, and a “click” moment occurred when I shared the story of nineteen-year-old Kristin getting pulled over by a cop after not letting him cut me off:
“Do you know how many lanes there are back there?” the cop had asked once I’d handed over my license, registration, and insurance.
“Yeah. Two,” I’d replied matter-of-factly.
“No,” he’d countered, “It’s just one.”
“Really!?” At this point, I had widened my eyes, injected my tone with just the right amount of faux-surprise, and made an overly dramatic, smart-assy show of looking over my shoulder at the main road behind us, “So is that line of paint on the road just there for decoration then?”
He’d stuttered, caught off guard for a moment, then gruffly told me to “slow down,” before shuffling back to his car. No ticket. No warning. Just a sassy little white teenage girl exercising her first amendment right to mouth off without repercussion or thought or fear.
The theme of fucking with authority figures being right up his alley, my client thoroughly enjoyed that part. His laughter faded, however, when I juxtaposed it with the story of what had happened to Sandra Bland when she was pulled over, and an early flicker of realization crept into his eye. It was a small thing in the grand scheme, and I don’t know what he may have done with it since—only that the seed was planted and that when he successfully completed treatment a month later, he was notably more centered, peaceful, and open than he had been when he’d entered. I don’t share that story often. I was just doing my job, and I require no accolades, no “gold stars” or “cookies,” as writer Irene McCalphin so powerfully, goosebump-inducingly, mic-droppingly perfectly puts it here:
I try and hope I at least moderately succeed in accomplishing the following: I do not ask or expect my black friends and colleagues to do the work of educating me. Though I may ask them their opinions on current events, I make efforts when doing so to keep whatever my two cents may be to the barest minimum and truly hold space to hear what they have to say. I do not presume to tell their stories for them—the aforementioned encounter with my former client being a rare exception as it is unlikely he would have received the message from the residential aides as openly or readily as he did from me. I exercise my allyship quietly and behind the scenes for the most part—I find performative, attention-seeking, “look at me! I’m a good person!” broadcasting to be tacky and cringey and generally gross… but I also recognize that a portion of that is tied to my own discomfort with being uncomfortable too. I could stand to be more vocal once The Moment has passed. We all could.
Back to my initial statement about “just another Tuesday,” though. I am not suggesting that BIPOC are not impacted by this current moment. It seems virtually impossible to be human and somehow immune to reaction in this instance. But I can recognize that the lens through which they view it is different, their perspective richer, broader, deeper, and far more well-rounded and defined than my own. And though this is certainly and undoubtedly a headline worthy of mention and dialogue, an injustice that merits uprising for revolution… it is by no means a newsflash. Maddeningly, heartbreakingly, in many ways… this was another Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I greeted a black colleague whom I adore and hadn’t seen in a few days. I am grateful now for that few days buffer that shielded her from the added weight I felt when I asked her how she was doing. “I’m tired,” she responded. As I prepared to listen a little harder, hold space a little deeper, presuming the reason behind her tired to be obvious, she continued, “I just started a new second job as an overnight warehouse shift supervisor, and then I came here so I’m on no sleep.” And instead, I listened while she shared her excitement about all the things she was enjoying so far about this new position and what it would mean for her financially. She had thoughts on current events too, of course—primarily that these are just the names attached to this current moment, but that “this has been going on way before George Floyd,” and we agreed that we were both proud of two of New Jersey’s notoriously “bad, high crime areas”—Newark and Camden—for having held peaceful protests. But this was not a newsflash. This was not her highlight reel. She had a shiny new job that would better her life financially, and that day, that was her front page headline.
Last night, I was on the phone with my mom, and she asked if I had any black friends. “Don’t laugh!” she cut off my knee-jerk snarky retort, going on to explain that she sincerely wanted advice because a dear friend of hers who happened to black’s birthday was coming up and in light of everything, “I don’t know what to say to her!” So I shared my little Tuesday insight. “Tell her happy birthday,” I advised. “Tell her you’re glad she was born and that you love her and you’re happy to know her. She knows the rest of it, she’s lived it, and if she wants to talk about it, be there to listen… but let her birthday be about her.” Seeing as how she happens to be birthday buddies with Breonna Taylor, perhaps my mom’s friend may have some thoughts or feelings to share on the subject, and if so, I hope my mother holds her own in holding space for her to do so—but it should absolutely be about her.
I recognize acutely that this is not my moment or my story to tell, that this writing exercise in which I am currently engaged is merely my own reaction paper to something so much bigger than me and the vicariously traumatic emotional impact I may experience in my tiny little world. I recognize also that it often takes me a minute to say my piece, that I tiptoe around and shy away a little too much, so uncomfortably self-conscious and hyper-aware of not wanting to take up space that is not mine or to co-opt another’s pain that I say too little too infrequently. And while I don’t feel like it’s a performative exercise when I finally do speak up, I also recognize that it is one that needs to be more than a response to staring into the face of horror when The Moment is at the forefront. It doesn’t matter how careful we are, how politically correct, how “woke”—sometimes our white privilege lies solely in our ability to blissfully daydream in the moments of seeming peace and respite in between the larger horrors that slap us plainly in the face because we don’t have to personally confront or experience the smaller, day-to-day horrors. Mine certainly does, and I’m calling myself out on it here and now. When I wrote my piece on Trayvon Martin, I shared the Mary J. Blige song One alongside it, playing on the lyrical themes about carrying each other and love as the higher law. And while I still believe those sentiments to be true, they only scratch the surface. We, I, must say more, do more, listen harder, seek to hold rather than occupy space wherever possible, look deeper, and—perhaps most importantly—keep looking and continue paying attention after the moment has passed, the headlines have shifted, and the spotlight has dimmed. It would be nice if things were as sweet and simple as “love is all you need.” This is, sadly, not the case. But it’s certainly a good place to start. And it doesn’t have to be reserved for Tuesday.
© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2020