By L. Lamont Williams
After awaking slightly hungover on a Tuesday, a consequence of the interminable, global pandemic disrupting many societal routines (I’ve taken naps at 11:00 PM and plan for breakfast at around 2), I appeared in a Zoom meeting before doing what everyone else is doing, resuming a nothingness stripped of comfort or solace, a nothingness that has little to do with will or functionality.
I checked my phone.
I don’t have Twitter, or Instagram, or any other popular platform, but I was nonetheless informed of a global call for awareness, from the music industry at large, called, I believe, #BlackoutTuesday.
In November 2008, weeks after I had mailed a ballot back to Massachusetts, and just moments after, alone in my Seattle dorm room, I watched the newly elected President informally accept his responsibility, I thought about how my first vote was for a Black President. And how sweet it must have been for my mother, a Black woman, Bronx-born proud, fiercely intelligent and sweet as southern tea, to have felt even the slightest bit of joyful vindication that the examples she set were, finally, so abundantly represented. And how my father, seven years my mother’s senior, born and raised in Boston – Roxbury specifically – who’d seen and felt and heard the blatancies of people, of governments, of systems re-impaling the psyches of men and women who looked like him, could enjoy even the briefest reprieve. And how my grandmother, whose parents and grandparents had known intimately the irreparability of America’s moral fiber, how it was snipped at the very beginning, who’d raised my mother’s older siblings in rural Florida, who educated and disciplined and loved them enough to recreate a reality in which they could actually be seen, could feel, even for a moment, that this country could be home – a place to feel secure, emboldened, appreciated – for her grandson. And I cried.
Then I hit the streets to celebrate.
White people were everywhere. They screamed “Obama!” like Black folks praise the Lord. I saw serpentining conga lines of cheery people with images of our new President slicked to their shirts or hoisted in the air. Hugs and traded smiles were in abundance. Their voices said “We did it!” and their eyes glazed a resolute peacefulness.
My tears had since dried.
Someone had extricated themselves from the dancing line and, wandered, to me. He asked if he could smoke some of what I was smoking, and I shook my head. Undeterred, he struck up the only conversation to be had. He told me, “We did it.”
I didn’t answer. His celebration of the historic event could not be compared to my own. The celebration would end, he could pat his own back, and life would resume as it should.
And it did. The examples that my mother set, the navigation through perpetual demonization and isolation that my father was forced to master, the world within a world my grandmother cultivated, would be challenged just as much in December as they were in October. Long before and long after. “We” had not done it.
The responses to the horrifying murder of George Floyd do, admittedly, feel different. People who’ve existed and succeeded simply by being, are shown, firstly, the complete disregard both law officers and they themselves have shown for the lives of Black folks, and secondly, the anguish and destruction exemplified by the visceral chaos incited from a continued refusal to actually listen. Still, it is impossible for me to believe that a concentrated, twenty-four hour trending topic will stretch into the minds and hearts of most Americans forever. (People presumed racism over at the inception of Obama’s first term). Now, and maybe the next few days, weeks, months – hell, even years – our collective attention is captured. But when things resume and business opens and when people are awakened from the consuming loneliness COVID-19 has created, my mother, my father, my late grandmother and myself – and so many millions of Americans who look and feel like me – will continue to live in the nothingness at which White folks still have not had a glimpse.
The root of my skepticism is as entrenched as the reasons for it. A collective, consciousness-bargaining agreement will not sate it. But generations down, if our protests transform into moments of humanity, and the confusion, resentment, anger, and sadness turns into actualized empathy, and if that can stretch and lend itself towards creating a moral fiber, then maybe I can envision a world where my grandchildren can honestly say, to and with the nation that has long abused and neglected them, “We did it.”
#progress #perspective #society #change #history