My Cardigan Has No Pockets

Shannon Barber
Jun 22, 2015 · 4 min read

I am wearing a cardigan I love and it has no pockets.

Every time I wear this poor old cardigan, I try to put things in the pockets that aren’t there. I drop my cell phone, my keycard for work, I don’t have anywhere to put my bus pass. I get upset, I pick up my dropped stuff and tuck it away here and there.

I tuck my things where I think I won’t drop them, wallet in my bag, phone into one cup of my bra, keycard in the other.

Every time I rant for two minutes to myself that my cardigan has no pockets.

Hold onto that image, feel free to imagine yours truly standing looking sad and searching for pockets that aren’t there.

Now I tell you this because I want you to hold onto that low level maddening annoyance.

Every few weeks I reach what I can only call racial pain threshold.

While I am glad many of my friends who are not People of Color look to me for wisdom in times of racial strife. Whether it is another Black person extra judicially executed, another Black woman, another Black child, whatever has happened I feel the eyes on me.

During these times I find myself increasingly at a complete loss for words or knowledge.

My cardigan has no pockets.

I have no where to go to be safe from these things.

In the vastness that is the internet, most of the places I frequent I have to deal with it. I have to deal with well meaning White people who cite Black on Black crime (erroneously, look up the statistics), speculation as to how many generations back a victim’s family may have had trouble with the law, I have to continually explain why calling a 14 year old girl a woman when she has been a victim is a problem.

I have to watch people use coded language to make themselves feel good that they are totally not racists, but they use language that supports racism.

I see it all.

People ask me why, haven’t I commented on X thing. Or called out X person or come to their facebook page to explain things.

My cardigan has no pockets.

There is no where for me to put all this stuff.

People demand my emotional labor for free. My time for free. Therapeutic discussions on White privilege that are gentle and we all hold hands while singing old Negro Spirituals while White people work their shit out.

I leave the internet and in meat space I go into a drug store and look at the list of my phone and watch myself get followed. I ask if/where the brown people shades of make up are and I get blank looks.

My cardigan has no pockets.

I get notes, emails, private messages, DM’s and whatnot demanding my time and attention. White men who want me to face my “Black Privilege”, White dude poets who do the most racist things and block me on social media because obviously I’m a problem. I have to deal with that.

I have to go to my YouTube channel and remove racist comments from cat videos I posted over a year ago.

I have to think about, if I publish yet another essay on racism how many death threats am I going to get?

Am I going to get more graphic photos of mutilated Black bodies in my inbox on Tumblr because I said something that probably adds up to, “Whiteness No.”

My cardigan has no pockets.

White women tell me when I let them know they are not behaving like good allies that I am divisive, too aggressive, they tell me that maybe if I wasn’t an “angry Black woman” people might want to be my ally.

I’m told I am continuing racism by speaking against it.

I’m told I’m a problem because I’m talking from real lived experience and not theory.

My cardigan has no pockets.

My cardigan has no pockets and my safety net has holes in it.

Generally speaking, most of the people who do these things and make these demands on me never stop to think that I might be tired. That talking about certain violent manifestations of racism that result in death gives me nightmares. They don’t consider that this work, the real serious work of writing about racism and my own experiences is grueling. That the level of entitlement inherent in demanding that I speak on every racist happening is astronomical.

Some of the people who make these demands I know it is not malicious. I know that on one level they don’t want me to be in pain.

That said, too often my pain is just a non-issue.

They can’t see that my cardigan has no pockets and I have no where to put all this stuff.

The reality is, if I haven’t commented on a particular issue or person, it is not because I have nothing to say. It’s because I’ve already said it and it hurts me.

It makes me tired.

It makes me angry.

I have art to make.

I’m supposed to be finishing a book.

I’m supposed to be excited to be making a book baby with someone who respects and loves me.

I will go out on a limb to speak for a lot of People of Color and tell you, our cardigans have no pockets.

Go easy.

Read what we’ve already written because regardless of the individual particulars of a situation, we probably already covered it.

Don’t call us in for back up in dealing with your racist relatives or friends on Facebook. Give us a break. Don’t hand us more stuff if we haven’t asked for it.

While you are posting articles or trying to talk to other White folks about racism, remember that we’re human too and we can only do so much.

Our cardigans have no pockets.

Shannon Barber

Written by

I write a lot of stuff.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade