I went to go visit my dad yesterday in Harlem for the first time in months, for the first time since this pandemic came down. I hadn’t been on the subway in months and it was kind of strange but I braved it, stood up all the way. It was a beautiful day and immediately upon emerging next to St Nicholas park I felt something in me restored. On my dads quiet brownstone block there were people sitting on the steps of their homes, a couple listening to music on headphones, a woman doing another elder woman’s hair, a woman taking her friends picture on a bench and smiling, singing, Black people just living, breathing, beautiful, existing. I smiled to myself. I breathed deeply behind my mask. It had been so long since I’d seen Harlem. And I didn’t realized how much I needed it.
I spent about and hour with my dad, talking, catching up, and never once did we talk about George Floyd or Christian Cooper or any of the Black lives taken by or threatened to be taken by racist white monsters over the last few months. It didn’t occur to me until just right now that it was no where in forefront of my mind, that I didn’t even hold it inside me somewhere to bring up in conversation with him later. No, I just wanted to sit and talk with my dad, see how he was doing, how he was keeping. There was no room perhaps for the unprocessed feeling of rage, hurt and anger I was dealing with the day before when isolation because of the pandemic had me drawn like a fly to the flame of social media barrage over these latest outrageous incidents which will not be the last, and yet continue to shock, paralyze, motivate, anger, touch and shape us in ways that are beyond violent. There was no room, no desire. Seeing my dad, being in Harlem, was almost like an escape.
I had thought about venturing further downtown for shots of evacuated Manhattan but then thought better of it. I knew that being surrounded by White people even in a pandemic was not going to be healthy for me. It’s funny how you can sometimes want to be in places but not around the people who usually frequent them. Maybe that’s how Europeans felt when the first encountered Natives. Look at the this great lush extensive land resource. But can we get rid of all those savage monsters though? Except as usual they were wrong about who the savage monsters were.
No, I just wanted to see some of my people, making the most of what this country has given them the way they have for decades, showing more humanity and civility to their oppressors than has ever been shown to them.
More and more these days, I am thankful for all the times I was surrounded by White people and made it out alive. I have never allowed myself to think about how close I may have come to danger because I have made choices that embedded me in institutions, classes, concerts, seminars, etc. where I was the only one or heavily in the minority. This is what makes Black folk multilingual, born actors, body language adjusters, white voice experts with a mask (pre-corona) for as many crazy White people situations you can think of. And by the way, crazy White people situations vary and evolve each minute. And masks only deter at best, never do they guarantee protection against, murder, rape, lynching, decapitation, genocide, micro aggressions, brutality and all forms of abuse and violence. And yet, like the masks we all wear to protect us and others against this deadly unseen virus, we still wear it. So in many ways, for us, it’s just one more mask that may or may not make any real difference. It’s just a Wednesday.
I am also thankful not to have to be at work on days like this when we would have been expected to get on with “business” as usual and where low hushed marginal discussions about it would have been whisked away by mindless systems of divisiveness passing as authority. There would be no attempt to engage with it collectively or face it head on in any way. These are the lessons of a pandemic that I never would have chosen to learn. But learning is what I’m doing.