“Bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t conquered yet.” – Ntozake Shange
I first read those words in my freshman year of high school as the lead in our production of “For Colored Girl’s Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.” Mr.Rothwell, my drama teacher, was a gay man in a tiny, conservative, southern town whose very existence was considered by some, unspeakable. The bravery of his choosing to put on a play with an all-Black female cast (and with a rather controversial title) was not lost on me then, but it is all the more real to me now. I’m tapping into that bravery today.
Pain is inherent to the Black experience. So, too, is pretending that said pain does not exist. This paradox finds parallels in our everyday lives as we work, learn and exist in spaces that reinforce the idea that our reaction to the conditions of brutality and injustice should be kept invisible.
Particularly, in our work lives, where Black folk find ourselves isolated or struggling to find a sense of belonging, speaking the truth of our pain out loud can feel like a risk without reward. Even as I’m writing this, a voice inside me is screaming…It’s a familiar warning: They won’t care. They won’t understand. They won’t change.
This inner dialogue was sparked in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake. Like many of you, I was asked by chipper and oblivious colleagues, “How’s your week been going?” And like many of you, I lied.
Without missing a beat I launched into a cheerful account of my day, successfully burying the reality of my anguish at the loss and lack of respect for Black life.
But the pain lives, however hidden, and it does not relent. So I’m left to grapple with this, the real answer to the question:
I’m somewhere between completely numb and “I will knock all this sh#t over,” right now. It feels like I’m on a sinking ship and I have just one bucket and no matter how hard I try…We just keep taking on water. I’m in the middle of the ocean. It roars. It destroys and we, with our buckets, keep fighting, but with every ray of sunlight through the clouds and every glimmer of hope…comes a new and more relentless storm to follow. I’m just so F*cking Tired.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
These words have tortured me lately. I want them to be true. I want them to mean what the author intended. But, the truth is that we are not in the same boat. If we were, you would not be so oblivious to my pain, because it would be your pain too. The absurdity of the question “How are you doing?” would be self-evident.
Think about it. If we’re on a ship, taking on water, drawing closer to our doom and you see me with a bucket, asking “Hey, how’s it going with that bucket?” would be a pretty strange and ineffective response. So, too, would pity. “I’m sorry you have to be the one with the bucket.” And so would asking me to join you in your oblivion. “Put down that bucket and let’s go do something positive.” And all the while I’m screaming inside:
“JUST PICK UP A BUCKET!”
That is how I will know that you care. That’s what will bring me comfort. We sometimes feel like there is little we can do to move the needle. We cannot single-handedly vanquish structural inequities anymore than we can save a sinking ship with one bucket. But if we start with getting on the same boat. And we all pick up a bucket. We will right this ship.