Literally wearing my heart on my shoulder.
Sometimes I carry a Black Lives Matter tote bag that I impulse-bought from a street vendor on 125th Street here in Harlem, back in September.
I felt really self-conscious about the bag for the first few weeks but got some nice comments from strangers. Once when I was carrying it, an older black lady gave me some serious stink-eye, but I’ll never know if that was about the bag or something else, like maybe just my own self-centered imagination. Anyway.
For months after the 2016 U.S. election, I did not hear a word about the bag, kind or otherwise. It’s hard to imagine that’s a coincidence. (Last week, however, a random white lady said something like “I like your bag” and it reminded me that I’d started this essay and maybe wanted to finish it.)
My last bag-related conversation with a stranger was November 7, 2016. A woman said something nice as we were leaving the New York State office building where I had just finished collecting appropriate copies of all the documents needed to apply for my daughter’s Dutch passport, and I gave one of my then-standard replies, like, Thanks, I kinda want to add some embroidery that says “I wish this didn’t have to be a thing.” Yeah, she said, just the other day a friend of hers was talking about how she was almost tired of having to be black and proud, like, couldn’t she just be her own dang self? It would be a better world that way. Yeah, I said, that’s what we’re voting for tomorrow, right? She laughed, and we went our separate ways.
That feels like such a long time ago.
I still carry the bag, though. It’s got my Hillary campaign buttons on it: “She uses big words.” “She believes in science.” “She does her homework.” For awhile I also had a little antifascist pin on there, too, a swastika with a red “NO” stripe through it, but I decided it was too subtle—not nearly “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” enough—and, as a designer friend pointed out, the swastika is just too loaded a symbol to counter with a little red ink—and took it off. And when I still feel self-conscious about the bag, I think about my friend L. She’s my oldest friend, we’ve known each other since our mothers walked together with us in baby carriages, and her sons are eight and nine years old. I remember the time she told me, at once seriously and casually, that it’s important for a black boy to learn how to be charming and persuasive. Another time, L told me about how she doesn’t visit her in-laws in I think Kansas anymore, and that her mother-in-law was very understanding about having to go to her grandsons instead of their coming to visit her. And then I know carrying the bag is the very least I can do, and that I must never stop doing at least that much.