I have said this many times already. And I’m aware that I will probably continue to say it. Each time more poetically and more emphatically than the last. I am weary of white supremacy. I am beginning to think that my life consists of being grateful for the ability to say that over and over, while nothing actually changes. To be weary of whiteness and realize every day that you are not yet at capacity, that you can tolerate more whiteness, and you inevitably will. That this is your life, your role is to tolerate whiteness, then describe it in such a way that it impresses even the very whiteness you are weary of.
I am ashamed of myself. I thought I was made to fight, I thought I would fight until they ripped the life from my body in rage. But apparently I cannot always fight in the way that I want to. Sometimes I am recovering from a previous fight, and the recovery period takes longer than expected. Sometimes I was simply hoping to have a pleasant day, like that’s what I needed, I didn’t want to face off with white supremacy that day. There are moments when the words I’m so capable of crafting refuse to show themselves, and I know that tears will manifest instead, and my tears are not communication. Confusion will register on the white person’s face and they will say that I am too emotional, they will walk away and leave me a sobbing mess, all the words I could have said melting down my cheeks.
There are moments when I don’t want to speak, I don’t want to educate, I want only to use my hands and my anger. After all, they should know by now. They will only reject my words. I could speak the truthiest of truths and it will be no match for the willful ignorance of white arrogance. So I’ve stopped interacting at all. I smile back softly when they smile at me. I glance into their eyes on the subway and look away. I code switch obediently when I meet my friend’s white friends, to be polite, to maintain the social order that a casual, brief encounter should entail. I feel the discomfort when she asks me what my book is about. I consider the heaviness of simply saying “race” and watching it land on her face, watch her make some safe arbitrary comment about it without knowing how much I have suffered recently for talking about race to white people. I dance around it instead, tell her it’s about my experience of being an immigrant in New York.
My friend gets increasingly louder on the train as she vents about her frustrations with white people refusing to watch When They See Us, I feel awkward again. There are two white people opposite us, one a thirty-something white man with blue eyes, the other an older white lady who my friend says has been staring at her. Indeed, they are looking at us, we are discussing racial issues within earshot. I am weary of their gaze. The gaze that knows nothing, and doesn’t care to know. I am painfully aware of my friend having the wherewithal to bare her scars in front of them, while I have lost mine. I search my mind desperately for a blanket to cover my nakedness before their gaze, but there is none, so I simply avoid eye contact with them as she speaks.
Later, she asks a couple white men walking by for directions, they kindly oblige, and as she is in that mood, she adds “Have you guys watched When They See Us?” Again I look away. I marvel at her bravery, her desire to fight, and I mourn the loss of my own. That I cannot even look them in the eye as they say they know of the movie but they have not watched it. She thanks them for the directions and we leave, her a fighter, me a bystander.
You see, fighting is not always passionate arguments. It is planting a seed, making a suggestion, calling them out, using your words, not being silent. We can fight in very simple ways. I fight often, but lately I’ve been fighting more selectively. I have hosted healing circles for racial equity advocates, I have testified at council meetings on Closing Rikers, I am writing my book…But I’ve lost the ability to fight in the little ways every day. Is my passion fizzing out? Am I not as committed to the cause as I think? Is it fear of the average white Joe on the street? Is it fear of the depths of their oblivious racism? Or am I weary? Running out of emotional energy for every fight, opting to preserve my sanity sometimes?
Sitting in the off-Broadway play “Toni Stone”, one of the few brown faces in a sea of older white folk, the typical audience for Broadway and off-Broadway. Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball, a black woman, so the performance had themes of oppression; the unique oppression faced by women of color. I sat there frozen, a woman of color seeing our experience unveiled to a white audience, touched by the lines.
“But I’m tired,” Toni Stone said.
“Aren’t we all tired?” the supporting character replied.
As my eyes welled up, the white couple behind me complained that they didn’t “get” the show.
The actors brilliantly addressed the sadistic heaviness of the white gaze even as the white gaze remained on them. Black actors pretending to be white boys hurling the most creative racial insults at black baseball players, while the baseball players manage to keep their head in the game. The black audience members laugh, the white ones barely chuckle.
We laugh away the discomfort, but it stays. It stays lodged in our hearts reeling from the pain of words we may have never personally experienced, but collectively suffer from. I walk out of the theater without addressing the snarky couple who had been sitting behind me, without really looking at any of the white people swimming around me to get out.
So many black Americans have lived under the white gaze their entire lives. I have had only 3 years of it, and it is nothing short of intense psychological agony. Why am I already weary, with a lifetime of this ahead?