I am a people pleaser. I am trying to treat this condition, but I stumble through my life much like an addict would, acting like this isn't a problem. I am also sensitive. I've changed this into the empathy word but the sensitivity I bathe in recently is the one with the why-don't-you-just-forget-about-it-already floaties bumping into f-them-if-they-can't-take-a-joke floaties. And many times I'm convinced there are more of them than there are of me. Wanting others to be happy and more importantly happy with me folds neatly in one of my mother's milk glass mixing bowls with the insight and sensitivity of someone much older. It has been painful.
I remember being in grade school and meeting people's curious, angry, disgusted faces by shrinking away into a "they don't know better" cloud. It was up to me to forgive and understand someone who used the word Nigger to describe me. I once asked a teacher for help when a classmate made fun of my full lips and black skin because I could no longer concentrate on what the teacher was instructing in the classroom. He responded by pulling both of us into the hallway and asking the young man how he would like it if he woke up one day painted black and had to walk around the school that way. I have heard "stop playing in the mud" by relatives, close relatives, longer than anyone would need to. And every time one of these things (and things I can not bring myself to write about yet) happened I would smile, put myself in the shoes of the one who hurt me and shove down my own feelings with what I felt was forgiveness and the right thing to do. The intent of people who called me names, the intent of family members who would tease me, the intent of some classmates or some parents of classmates or some members of congregations in every Lutheran Church I've ever belonged to, was bigger than my hurt. That is what I grew up believing. And that is how I operated in the world.
I am somewhat unique in that I have a duty to feel or better yet to empathize with what my family - who is white - must be feeling. In classrooms where other black children may have had the comfort of running back to their families and being understood during the whole slavery day in History class (one of THE most awkward day for me growing up), I would go back to my white mother and white father and wrestle with my anger and grief by myself. To say anything, I felt, would make them feel bad. Or they might feel guilty. And it wasn't them on the slave ships. And it wasn't me. It was just people who looked like me - with their dark skin, full lips, and kinky hair.
It is difficult to make a commitment to be seen when you've spent most of your life NOT being seen. It's almost as if I received points from the world for blending in and making people forget who I was. If that expectation was only but a whisper, my sensitive self heard it like a yelp and responded by disappearing as much as someone my size and color could in a world of petite and blond. Be good. Don't argue. Don't mention it. Don't be defensive. Be polite. Don't be angry. Ignore the stares. Don't listen to the comments. Make them laugh. Be a good example. Change their minds.
Because I've been asked more than once and because it's the day before brave Tuesday and I have collected a month of Tuesdays here is my answer:
Despite Obama being president for 8 years. Despite the television shows showing people of color doing more than being the funny maid. Despite many of my family and friends being kind. Despite religion, counseling, medication, love. Despite love. Despite love. There are places where I am afraid to go or be based only on the fact that I am black. There are people in the world that I have known who only wish to harm me and those I love based only on the fact that I am black. I am much more likely than most of my friends and family to be followed around the store based on the fact that I am black and that alone. And if I were pulled over by the police, I have a list of things that I would need to do and know to do that most of my family and many of my friends would never have to do. Or be taught to do. Black lives matter does not state that no other lives matter. Black lives matter is a cry from the depths of a broken collective soul that has been shown and taught that our lives are worth less than that of a white person based on the color of my skin. And I can see that because of how justice is served - or rather how many times it isn't.
Because many have asked and because I have a month of Tuesdays saved, I love you. But you need to stop telling me how I feel. And how I should feel. I do that enough on my own and don't need the additional help. When you ask me to maybe see things differently, don't think that I haven't already done that one thousand times every year since I knew how to articulate. Do not attempt to tell me what my experience is because you know me or because we have shared bread or because you love me. Thinking that you know me does not excuse you from the awkward race talk we will have. And please know that this is not to divide but to connect. If it does divide, however, I'm prepared for that chasm. I can no longer sacrifice myself to fill it.