“To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”- James Baldwin
The last few months have been tough for everyone. For many of us, working through a pandemic has been traumatic and stressful. If you’re considered an essential worker and have to work each day, I can only imagine how you are functioning. Being subjected to people every day who may or may not have the virus is frightening. Coupled with the fear that you may bring home a virus that can potentially kill your loved ones is crippling. You may be one of the forty million unemployed people wondering how you’re going to continue to pay your bills after the unemployment runs out. Or maybe you lived to paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic and have fallen on even harder times, having to rely on food banks and government assistance to get by. Perhaps you fall into the class of people that have been fortunate to continue to work safely from home conducting non-stop virtual meetings. You’re learning how remote work requires productivity even as you homeschool your children. There are no personal or professional lives because they run together. You’re burnt out and exhausted. You’ve watched enough television and social media. You’ve played enough games with the kids, and you’ve started drinking in the afternoon. All of this has caused anxiety and depression because we don’t know when it will end.
But if you’re Black, there are two pandemics. While most people have been trying out new recipes and exercising on their Peloton bike, others have had to learn how to exist in a country that has declared open season on our lives.
Black people have watched our friends, and family members exposed to and die from higher coronavirus rates. But we’ve also watched them be shot in the back while jogging, murdered in their own home, threatened while bird watching and choked on video.
Yet every day, we continue to work, jump on zoom calls because we have to. We swallow the rage that threatens to consume us and instead smile, while inside, we are fearful and dying. For many of us, that’s all we know how to do. We accept it.
“We revolt because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”-Franz Fanon
Others, collectively fight against a system that oppresses us by taking to the streets in protest. We rebel against the status quo that says that we are still 3/5ths of a human being. Stung with rubber bullets and tear gas, we are rounded up like criminals, because we dare to riot against the injustices of a society that does not value our lives. We can’t even protest peacefully without worrying about being infiltrated by the far right, burning down buildings, in our names while trying to incite a race war.
“A riot is the language of the unheard”-Martin Luther King Jr.
We are not okay.
If you ask your Black friend or colleague if they’ve lost a friend or family member to coronavirus, you’ll get a painful and resounding yes. If you ask them about how many times they’ve been questioned or threatened by a White woman, like Amy Cooper, who used her race and privilege as a weapon against them, again the answer will be yes.
Just last week, a friend’s son was out jogging with his uncle and was stopped by the police because he fit the description of a young man in a hoodie that committed a robbery in the neighborhood. She feared because she knew if it had not been for the fact that her brother was riding beside him to pace him and could prove they’d been running for 20 minutes, that situation could have taken a dangerous turn. Each time my nephew leaves the house, I live in fear that I might get a call in the middle of the night that could flip my world upside down. It is maddening that we still believe in equality when we know otherwise.
And yet, every day, Black people find the strength to show up even as we are traumatized. We bury our feelings of anger and resentment to protect white people who label us as “aggressive,” “angry,” or “not a good fit” if we dare to speak out.
“We wear the mask that grins and lies.”- Paul Laurence Dunbar
This past weekend, a well- known influencer, Marie Forleo deleted the posts and comments of Black women in her B-School Facebook group, who dared to bring up how they felt about the racism and injustices in the world, citing that “B-school was not the place for her comments.” She’s since backtracked on her stance and committed to getting Diversity and Inclusion training for her staff to understand better and create a safe space for Black and other people of color. But the damage is done. It doesn’t matter if the woman who made the comments initially was right or wrong. I learned long ago not to seek validation from people who don’t understand the pain of 400 years of slavery that continues to inflict daily trauma.
It’s hard to be your best when you have to worry about the police being called on you for minding your business. It’s even harder if you’re the young women who videotaped the man being murdered by the police, while he called for his mama.
Just like Eric Garner and George Floyd couldn’t breathe, tons of us can’t breathe. We can’t breathe because of the rage, pain, fear, and sadness that we have to choke down to keep existing. We find support from each other — people who look like us and understand our collective pain. We take to social media to post articles and tweet our feelings, but we never bring our pain to work.
So, while the tale of two pandemics has devastated the world and taken the lives of many people regardless of race or socioeconomic status, recognize the disproportionate burden that falls on your Black colleagues and friends.
Check on your Black friends and colleagues. We’re not okay. And you shouldn’t be either.
Venessa Marie Perry is an organizational development/ relationship coach and writer. She’s the best selling author of Enduring Love. She writes about love and relationships at LoveWrite. Follow her on twitter or IG @venessamperry.