Who doth protest too much?

Subtitle: Mutual Understanding?

You can tell me
(and you have told me and I appreciate your honesty):
“These demonstrations aren’t about black lives mattering.”

You can tell me
(and you have told me and I appreciate your honesty):
“I’m tired of hearing about race and racism. What’s this ‘systemic racism’ anyway?”

(But, given that you’re “tired of hearing about race and racism,”
it’s clear to me that your question is merely rhetorical.)

You can tell me
(and you have told me and I appreciate your honesty):
“I don’t understand your experience.”

(And, I think, if you dared to be a bit more honest with me, indeed, with yourself,
you don’t understand me.)

And if, no, rather, as you think and feel these things,
then, please, don’t tell me that you care about me. Not really.
For I won’t, don’t, can’t believe you. Not really.

For, and by your own admission, you don’t understand me,
but, and this I assure you,
I understand you.

I understand that you are privileged not to have to understand me or my experience.

I understand that you don’t have to wake up in the morning
and, with your first thought, remember that you are black.

(And if you think or feel that I need not, then, again, you don’t understand.)

I understand that you don’t have to walk out of your door
to go to work or
to go to the store or
to go anywhere else
with a conscious thought (however fleeting)
wondering whether, from wherever you went,
you’ll return home again, safe and sound.

So, you do not (cannot? will not?) understand me,
but, and this I assure you,
I understand you.

I watch you. What you do and what you don’t do.
I listen to you, too. What you say and what you don’t say.
Why?
Because I must.
I don’t have the privilege of ignoring you.
This is a part of price I pay, the burden I bear for being black in America.
It’s called survival.

© 2020 PRA

8 thoughts on “Who doth protest too much?

  1. I sure as hell hope this is gonna be a sermon because as you would say “that’ll PREACH!!”

    Much love!!

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  2. Thanks, always, dearest Loretta, you have my thanks for you and your encouragement. Still, I don’t know about a sermon, but this, along with others, may be the makings of a book of poetry.

    Love

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  3. Dear Paul,

    Once again, this poem seems to me to be holy ground – the holy ground of your experience of both personal and collective not being seen, not being heard, not being believed or credited for the truth of your own life. This, it seems to me, is a portrait of the fracturing of the God-given bond of human brotherhood/sisterhood – to speak and have your words turned back based on someone’s self-serving false judgment of the authenticity of your account of your own life. This is the same dark ignorance and fear that cheapen and erase the lives of Black people in the systems that so relentlessly serve and protect the status quo of white wealth and power.

    Once again I can only kneel beside you in your pain and pray to be able to do what I can as part of white community to battle the ignorance and fear that are, I acknowledge, such insidious parts of my own inheritance.

    In gratitude for your courage and with much love,

    Karen

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  4. My dearest Karen, once again, I thank you for your kindness and compassion and understanding. I find this time/era of renewed racial pandemonium especially trying. Not because I had deluded myself into believing “things had gotten better,” but, rather, largely because I have lived my life, especially in the past 15 years, particularly conscious of and committed to encountering and engaging “the other” – all who think and feel, believe and behave differently than I. Thus, I find myself unable to do what others of my sisters and brothers of color have chosen (perhaps, wisely and, at least, sanely) to do. That is, forswear any additional efforts to educate white folk about race and racism. As I continue to try to serve as a black apologist – of course, not to apologize for my people, but rather to explain our experience through the lens of mine own – it is increasingly frustrating and angering to receive – often enough – replies saying, in so many words, “Oh, yes, I understand all that!” (That said, there have been quite a goodly, gracious number of responses as yours – compassionate, caring, understanding. Thank God!)

    On this former score, in the past two days a number of friends have posted this message: “History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from it. And if it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us!”

    To which I have replied: “Dear N., I take the point of this word. In this case, especially as one who delves into history as a way to provide points of reference both to evaluate/discern the meaning of the present time and to plot a course forward, I am not one who desires to remove or otherwise destroy our monuments. However (and you had to know there would be a “however”), when people talk about not erasing history, I ask: The history of whom? Now, I can answer my own question in this sense. I do consider – and let me say it – Confederate American history as a part of our national story; the chapters of which are to be preserved and told. Nevertheless, I can assure you that my surname ‘Abernathy,’ which has Scotch roots, would not have been the name by which I am know had not the history of a significant number of people I call my ancestors not been intentionally and systematically erased during their enslavement. So, when people talk about or argue against not erasing history, please, please, remember and be mindful that some of the folk who hear and read your words have had precisely that insidious and egregious act done unto them.”

    A luta continua…

    Love

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    1. Thank you, my friend, for that further word that illuminates the grace and generosity you seem to ceaselessly practice regardless of what I know must be exhaustion with the necessity of explaining yet and yet again what should by now be evident to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. I would offer an amendment to your friends’ statement about history belonging to all of us – to the effect that history only belongs to those who are humble and wise enough to learn truth from it and who do not try to pretend that history and its truths have no consequences.

      A luta continua!!!

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  5. Ah, my dearest Karen, I like…l love your amendment: “…history only belongs to those who are humble and wise enough to learn truth from it and who do not try to pretend that history and its truths have no consequences.” Amen.

    Your thought stirs another within me. That, as oft hath been said, as history is written by the victors, then it is left (up) to the victims to discern ways to make their voices heard, thus, to incorporate into the historical tapestry the threads of their truths that the message may be…will be made whole. In this, I had a flash-thought. That in this time, this era of viral pandemic and racial pandemonium, the protestors against racial inequalities and police brutality may be considered, as voices of the victims, “essential workers”; their labors of demonstration necessary to the health of the communal fabric.

    Love you

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    1. Yes, Paul. I LOVE it! What a brilliant image! The protestors are indeed the Essential Re-weavers of our common human history. They are giving much-needed attention to the weak, damaged, and ill-woven parts of our common life and are, step-by-step, march-by-march, chant-by-chant, stitch-by-stitch rendering the tapestry strong enough to carry the whole of the TRUE story of American identity and history into the future for all to read. While many aspects of the story are not pretty, nevertheless the weaving, the tapestry, if it bears the sacred truth of ALL the people who have built and every day still build this country, will be beautiful.

      With thanks and love,

      Karen

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