White supremacy takes so much already, don’t let it take your grief too

OPINION: Supportal co-founder Marisa Renee Lee reflects on the importance of Black people acknowledging their pain

Ahmaud. Breonna. George.

Another round of names and hashtags and videos. You struggle to focus on work. You feel an unfamiliar tightness in your chest, or perhaps your stomach. You’re just a little more jumpy than usual and you can’t quite put your finger on what you’re experiencing.

I am here to tell you that pain is grief.

I know it well from having lost a mother and more recently a pregnancy. Black people in America are collectively grieving, while the rest of the country continues to proceed as usual because much like our lives, our feelings don’t matter.   

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Demonstrators (C) embrace in front of San Diego Police in San Diego, California on May 31, 2020, to protest against the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. (Photo by ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP)

We are grieving this most recent loss of life, because in many ways, these lives lost mirror our own. We are grieving because we know that no matter how good we are, we are not safe here. We are grieving because we know that you don’t value our bodies as much as your own. Your life moves on.

Maybe you retweet something woke or post a trending hashtag, but we grieve because we know you don’t really get it. You can’t really get it because you don’t know our fear. Your worst nightmare might be someone calling you racist; our worst nightmare is losing our life, or the life of someone we love to a racist. 

My personal grief is also colored by embarrassment, confusion, and shame. How is this country that I hold so dear, not able to care for me, or protect me? Why do I even love a country that continues to allow this to happen to my people? Why am I even a little bit surprised that this has happened again? My relationship with America is probably the most dysfunctional one I’ve ever been in.

We grieve for the friendships with White folks that will never quite be the same. The White friends who don’t know what to say when things like this happen, so instead they don’t say anything at all. Those people who love you, but clearly don’t know how to show you love you when you need it most. There will forever be a space in these relationships where all the things that could have been said during these difficult moments, but weren’t, continue to exist between you. 

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We grieve because even though Christian Cooper is still alive, we know what it is to have our basic humanity called into question and our lives threatened. We all have a story or two, or ten, of being racially profiled in public, or simply being ignored just because we are Black.

(Credit: Twitter screenshot)

We know how painful, disorienting, and embarrassing it feels to be either aggressively mistreated or passively ignored. It is the White person’s way of instantly putting you in your place and reminding you that you are less than. We know that our right to live the way we want is tenuous at best, and Mr. Cooper serves to remind us that even in one of the most progressive cities in America, your Blackness can keep you from peacefully living the way you want.

We can’t watch birds in peace. We can’t go to the gym in peace. We can’t golf in peace. And as Botham Jean’s death reminded us, sometimes we can’t even watch TV at home in peace. 

I personally grieve for my still-living grandparents. How is it possible that after nearly 100 years of being the most perfect negroes you’ve ever seen; this is what America gives them? I feel ashamed that somehow in my 37 years I haven’t been able to make things better for them, but I suppose this is just the process of learning what they’ve always known. Being Black in America means almost always having something to grieve.

Black folks, I need you to know that the grief you’re experiencing is valid — and I can tell you from experience that you can either tend to it, or let it consume you. Just because the rest of the world isn’t slowing down, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t slow down. Find a way to take what you need in these moments, no matter how selfish or unreasonable it may seem.

You are fighting every day for your right to peacefully exist in this country and on days like these, you’ve earned the right to sit the f**k down and tend to your feelings. White supremacy takes so much already, don’t let it take your grief too. 

Marisa Renee Lee is the co-founder of Supportal, a platform that makes it easy for people to respond when someone they care about is faced with a life-changing challenge. She can be found online @marisareneelee.