Remember newspapers? I do. If I picked one up, I knew to expect the bad news of the day. The most shocking and dramatic headlines slapped onto national disasters and other catastrophic news. Today, we are ambushed with bad news through social media. You’re happily scrolling thru Instagram or Facebook and learn that a friend has died. Or in the case of this week, one murder after another, caught on video.
I started this blog in August 2008. I very much inspired to do something during the blocks of hours I was a caregiver for my grandmother. Granny slept a lot and I wasn’t much of a daytime TV watcher. So I hung out online. Plus, blogging — even before I monetized — felt like something very productive to do while waiting for calls for auditions and jobs.
On December 25 of the same year, my aunt was shot and killed by police. In her home. She was 4’9″ and about 85 lbs. It was a domestic call. There was a hearing, but no charges against the officers. There were no police body cams either. Just their testimony against her husband’s and he was traumatized having witnessed it, bullets grazing him in the process. My aunt’s little body was riddled with shotgun rounds. The weapon automatically fired bullets, one after another, once the officer pulled the trigger. I used to know the exact number. Remembering it doesn’t bring her back, so perhaps that’s why I’ve let it go. There was no public outcry about her loss of life. She didn’t become a hashtag. Remember, this was a domestic call, so it was automatically someone’s fault. Definitely not the police, though. They have families they need to get home to. That’s what I kept hearing. I did read some shitty jokes (yes, jokes), comments and assumptions about her online. As a family we had to encourage one another to not read and not engage. It was easy to do because she was news for one night and then the world moved on. I can’t imagine what families are going through in this day and age with more access and apps than there were a decade ago.
I might have mentioned my aunt once in the past couple years — that Christmas is particularly difficult because we lost her on one of them. As I re-read this, I realize she passed away on Christmas nite, 2006; not 2008. There was one wedding and a lot of trauma that happened within 2006-2008. What I know for sure is that I have specifically kept Gigi’s Gone Shopping as a discussion space for outfits and shopping. It’s the one place that I have almost complete control over. I can choose to talk about whatever I want and avoid things that I’m completely sick of hearing about — like certain reality TV celebrities who make tens of millions of dollars/year…and contribute what exactly to society?
I’ve talked about other things over the course of 8 years, but when I did so, kept it personal. Diplomatic. Safe. There are many times I wanted to discuss current events, but know there are others who do entertainment and politics much better than I’m interested in or capable of. So I chose and still choose not to. Plus, I just need this. I need this to be a place where I can come and not feel obligated to make a statement, share my opinion or link out to the opinions of others. Sometimes I only want to talk and think about shopping. Yes, it’s a diversion, distraction, escape. Whatever you want to label it, I need it. Because like most people, I suck at self-care. It’s far easier to get lost in a hobby.
Last July 4th, I was going to write about an experience I had while shopping that day. I didn’t. Instead, I chose remain committed to my personal choice to keep this space on the topic of shopping. And truth be told, I didn’t want to “ruin the 4th,” a patriotic holiday, by bringing up something I’ve never discussed before; race. Yep, I worried more about upsetting people in my online space than sharing a personal experience that really disturbed me. Because…oh, wait, here’s someone to explain it.
This crap is tiring. I didn’t feel like spending the energy last year, recounting the incident. To what end? A few comforting lines of indignation in response, on my behalf? Then what? I’m still black and still have to go out each day as a black woman, not knowing what I will encounter. Probably more times than I realize, I automatically repress my natural right to freedom of speech and responses in situations so that I’m not videotaped and convicted in the public minutes later. Or far, far worse. But now it’s time.
I went shopping on July 4th. Mini G was with me. I drove into a covered garage and found parking. For the record, traffic fights are stupid and not worth it to me. I will glady let you have the parking space, cut in front of me, etc… I found parking easily. All was well in my book with the exception of a glare from a white woman in a vehicle. Shrug. Whatever. Being given a look that I don’t belong in my own town is something I’ve been used to for decades.
I exited my side of the car. Opened the rear door and started to get Mini out of her car seat. Apparently, the woman I saw in the car didn’t like how fast I was going so she came over to tell me. Only she didn’t tell me from a reasonable distance. She was standing directly behind me, at my car door, yelling. If I had inhaled, I probably could’ve told you what she had for lunch. My body went into fight or flight mode. My heart is beating faster at the memory of it.
My thought was to push her away because I didn’t know if she was going to strike me or do something to my daughter. I also knew that the parking garage was under construction and there were likely no cameras to prove my side of the story versus hers, no matter who struck whom first. She was white, in her early 60s if I had to guess and I was sure she would “win” if the authorities were called. I thought of my daughter. What would happen to her if something happened to me? Not to mention I didn’t want to upset Mini or show her a bad example by yelling back at the woman.
I tried to ignore the experience and drop it from my mind, but I was livid. Despite the fact that it was largely assumed for years, from blog photos here, that I was white, it’s evident that I have a brown face. Even when I’m in a car, it’s clear. I knew that she saw me before she came over to my car. She saw that I am black. I know she didn’t see Mini G because rear tinted windows. But I know I’m just not that light in color to be mistaken as white. I also think an assumption of youth was in play and that’s why she felt she could come and talk to me any old way. But she didn’t come and share her thoughts. She yelled — up in my face — about me being wrong, turned and left.
After I got Mini out of the car and into the stroller, I followed that woman. She was on the move and so was I. For awhile she was unaware that anyone was following her, but by the time we got to the 2nd floor, shoppers, passersby and that lady could tell that I was following her. I knew I was pushing the boundaries. Taking a risk. But I gambled, knowing that there were cameras in the store. Loss Prevention is always on duty and I was banking on that whatever was to follow would be recorded. If not by store cameras, then by someone’s phone and on that day I was fine with it.
I can’t tell you word-for-word what I said, but I had a good talk with that woman. In her face. Not yelling, but I was emphatic and firm. And I made sure to stand as uncomfortably next to her as she did me. Of course she didn’t like it and created space between us. I told her that what she did was completely inappropriate. I told her that she saw that I was black and assumed that I was young. She denied that with her mouth, but I saw otherwise in her eyes. Meanwhile, Mini G was trying to play in the racks, oblivious to the tension. Shoppers had stopped to see if they were going to witness something, but we were able to get the conversation to a more regular mode so eventually they all moved on.
The lady let me know she had just visited her brother after not seeing him for a couple of decades. By her account, he was over-the-top negative from the moment he picked her up from the train station, took her to eat crap food and provided her with the worst trip of her life. I let her know that it wasn’t ok to take it out on me. A point I made sure to leave with her were that I could’ve been a completely crazy woman who beat her up in response to her confronting me so aggressively. She poo-poo’d me, but I reminded her that she turned her back and walked away after her rant. I could’ve clocked her right in the head. And I repeated the fact. Because it’s true. She thought she was crazy enough, but she could trip the switch on someone who was real lunatic.
Another point I made to leave with her was that I had a small child in the car. What about the impression she was making and the position she was putting me in, in front of my daughter? She said that she didn’t see her and I believe that to be true. Initially. She didn’t correct her behavior once she saw Mini, though.
Just last nite there was Dallas. And here I am going on and on by myself and a lady yelling at me last year? Yes, I did. Because repeatedly reading #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile and seeing the videos of their fatalities desensitizes us. It just does. I didn’t watch them and I refuse to. I don’t need to see it with my own eyes to believe it happened or figure out or decide whether either were complying with the law or not.
Prayers and thoughts are not enough. I wish they would give that line a f$*&#g break! And don’t get me started on “s/he didn’t deserve to die.” Who deserves it? Not someone with a broken tail light. I’m tired. I’m physically, mentally and emotionally tired. But I need you to hear from someone that you consider a friend. I’m talking to my non-black, Internet friends here. If you feel angry or confused or tired of hearing about race, privilege and police brutality — multiply that those feelings times a lifetime and that’s a taste of how I feel. I don’t get to put on my skin when I have the strength or am in the mood. I live in it every day. I’m also well aware that I would quite possibly be debilitated if my skin were darker, if I had less education, if I lived in a different neighborhood.
Some will never be able to rise because they will always have the feet of others trampling them down.
What can you do? Listen. And when you want to walk away and focus on #caturday or something else less stressful, do take that break. But at some point, come back and listen some more. If you feel quick to deny the existence that there’s a problem or want to say that all lives matter, don’t. That’s not going to help.
Start by looking at yourself. How do you interact with the world? How can you do and be better? Do you have any friends that are different than you? Not work friends. I mean, people you invite to your personal events or into your home. Look at photos from your personal events. What do the faces look like? A mix or all the same? I know many of us have racist and prejudiced family and friends. I’m not asking you to unfriend them or not attend the annual family reunion. Just start with yourself. Get to know people who don’t look like you. We need to see the humanity in others so we don’t continue to dismiss this as a compartmentalized problem. Once you have real, personal interactions, then and only then can you begin to speak on what you know about these issues. Hopefully you’ll be able to speak up on my behalf whether I am or your “in real life’ friend of color is in the room or not.
A white woman started talking to me the other day about Mini G’s hair. I smiled, mm hmm’d and would’ve kept walking, but she was hobbling along with us so I slowed down. I wanted to keep moving, but it felt like she needed to make a connection to let me know she ‘saw me.’ It seemed she also wanted to make a connection for herself. She seemed nice enough, but maybe she’s been not so nice in the past? Maybe she was just trying to ‘be the good’ in this world? I don’t know. I usually wouldn’t have thought about it except as a brief conversation about hair, but I’m trying to be more aware of people and be open. Rather than giving into the anger and sadness I feel living in these times, I want to continue to easily make connections like that one.
There is a problem. Many of them. The media keeps us petty and keeps us fighting as a distraction. Keep that in mind. I hope we can all find our way to be part of solutions.
p.s. Going forward. This post is a one-of-a-kind. You will see me talking about Tippis and other things on sale at J. Crew on Facebook today. Just because I post about a retail deal doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to the world. Perhaps I will initiate future discussions…we’ll see.