Monday evening I attended "A Stand Against Bigotry" event in the town I live in. Yarmouth is a small, affluent, predominantly white, coastal community in Southern Maine. The community boasts the ranking of number one school district in the state and prides itself in being progressive on many fronts. So, some community members and school leadership personnel gathered at the Town Hall to listen to the Chief of Police and others speak about racism in our community.
The "other" speakers were a black woman, 3 students of color and a black man. After they finished sharing their experiences in Yarmouth and Maine at large, the microphone was open for any to speak. One young white woman got up and asked that the chief of police and state rep affirm that "Black Lives Matter". No one else volunteered to speak.
I felt as though I should share my story, but frankly I didn't want to. I had just finished silently crying so hard that my body was shaking and I was reliving my experiences growing up as a black girl in Maine. However, as I looked around at the sea of white faces my anxiety grew because I felt like they needed to hear my stories. But here's the thing: I have been telling my story for YEARS and it's extremely painful to do so. People take for granted the emotional impact of reliving trauma through "story telling".
So in the moment I decided not to speak. I decided that for once I was going to sit and remain "safe" like my white peers. Now, that doesn't mean that I didn't plan a speech in my mind as I sat there, because I surely did. And after the event was over I felt shame for not getting up to speak. But I decided that rather than get on the hamster wheel of shame and anxiety, I would write this blog and share with an even broader audience my feelings and experiences. And I'm doing this from the comfort of my own home, boom!
So friends, if I had spoken this is what I would have said:
"Good Evening. My name is Kellie Hall and I am a Yarmouth resident and mother to three children in the school district. I am not an activist, nor do I aspire to be. I am a personal trainer and wellness coach. Health and fitness is my passion. Yet time and time again I find myself in this position of advocacy and leadership. I have been forced to speak on the behalf of black people my entire life and frankly didn't know there was any other option. I just assumed that it was my duty and obligation to educate the white people around me. I have also witnessed racial inequality my entire life and often felt that if I didn't speak up, no one else would. I endured endless microaggressions and had to "ruin the fun" by calling bullshit on the racist behavior constantly thrown at me and others.
Why is it that the vulnerable ones are the ones who have to further make themselves vulnerable by speaking to large groups, advocating for themselves and others like them? Why do I have to relive my and my family's trauma over and over again in hopes that you will care? I feel like this is the new minstrel show. Black people and other minorities get up, tell you heartfelt stories about their pain and suffering, you're moved and then you decide whether or not it means enough to you to change your behavior. Either way, you've been entertained. Bigotry as you call it, racial injustice as I call it, is nothing new. This has been going on since the first black people arrived four-hundred years ago.
So why is everyone so surprised by George Floyd's death? Why is his death perceived to be so much worse than Eric Garner's, Treyvon Martin's, Philando Castile's or the countless other black lives lost? Why now? I'm going to tell you why now. Because it's convenient. The world is at a standstill as we try to manage a global pandemic. Everyone is sick and tired of drinking wine and watching Tiger King. The Black Lives Matter is the new thrilling reality series that everyone is watching. And here's the thing, I'm not even mad about it. I don't care WHY white people are joining the club, I'm just grateful you're here.
BUT, BUT, when our lives go back to over-scheduled mayhem, will you still be interested in fighting racial injustice? Or will you slide back into the comfort of your white privilege? If you are truly committed then you need to plan ahead. How are you going to stay involved when your life gets hectic again? Because I and my fellow Black Americans do not get to retreat to the comfort of our "normal life". THIS is our normal life. The shit that you are just waking up to is our EVERY DAY EXPERIENCE.
I wish that I could only be a personal trainer and wellness coach...not an activist. But such is the burden of being black. Black people are tasked with surviving trauma, advocating for themselves, and educating the people who mistreat and neglect them. We also have the luxury of watching black bodies and culture mimicked in white pop culture. You can plump your lips and butt, listen to hip-hop, get spray tanned, wear certain clothing and talk a certain way, laugh at our jokes, but never have to experience the pain and struggle that comes with being black.
As i stand up here I recognize that some will only see my privilege. That I am living in an affluent community and have access to all the resources I may need. But here's the thing about racism, it doesn't care about my social status. No amount of wealth or power that I acquire can shield me. This is why you see black professional athletes, actors, politicians, professors, doctors and musicians saying the same thing as disadvantaged black people. It only takes one person's perception of me, one time, to extinguish my life.
THIS is my life. I do not get to escape. The fear is real and is constant. I fear for myself and my family. The mental toll is immense and at times debilitating. Black people have been fighting this fight forever. We're tired. We have come so far, but we have so far to go. We need your help.
So, in conclusion, I ask this of you. When you see me around town let me be your reminder to take action. Let my presence in your community remind you that not everyone in Yarmouth feels safe and fairly represented. When you see me, know that when George Floyd died I didn't say "oh that's sad" and then spend the weekend boating or hanging at the beach. I could hardly function. I couldn't sleep. When you see me, remind yourself that though your privilege allows you to choose to care or not, that I don't have that option. When you see me know that I am oh so tired of educating white people about their privilege and racism. And finally, when you see me, know that I am so much more than just a Black woman. Thank you."
As always, thank you for reading.
There's a Song for That: "You Should See Me in a Crown", Billie Ellish