Tired

I’m tired, man.

I knew, as a kid - we all know deep down - that things weren’t really fair for me. That it wasn’t right that, when I wasn’t with family, I was almost always the only black body present.

I knew the little jokes people made, the things my classmates said, the history teacher who was usually very kind except that one time, I knew it wasn’t okay. But I didn’t have the strength to be the only person speaking up.

My dad always told me to be vigilant in looking out for racism and white supremacy. I nodded but I never really did it. Everyone else said they weren’t racist so I believed them. Maybe because they saw me as one of the good ones, right? So when people said affirmative action was problematic but that it was okay for me because I was smart, what did it really imply? Or when I was told, however many times over, that my (very safe) neighborhood was too far for people to travel to, what did it really mean?

I started speaking up a little in college. But even then I was in denial. I didn’t join any of the many welcoming black groups because I was still determined to be accepted by “them.”

They’ll never really accept us, though, unless we smooth out every single rough edge, and even then they’ll still laugh at you for having different cultural markers.

But then there’s the other part, which is that we had some money. Not as much as my classmates, but my life wasn’t hardscrabble. We went on great trips. I got to ride an elephant in Zimbabwe. I went to study French in France. So what did racism matter?

To come to terms with the fact that white supremacy doesn’t care how much money you have is to just get so bone tired it’s hard to bother to care. It would be a lot easier to go back to how I used to be and pretend the thousand cuts weren’t making me bleed out.

Yet here I am, committed, once and for all, to focusing on race and racism and white supremacy within a subset of education, within a field (ELT) that I stumbled into and came to love.

I remember, in Korea, how quickly any points I tried to make to fellow Americans about racism were shouted down. I remember how my well-meaning Korean colleagues othered me unintentionally, and how I just swallowed it because there wasn’t really anyone to tell. Eventually I got pissed off, and burned all my social bridges in Korea so I wouldn’t be tempted to come back like many of my friends had. I still sometimes say I’d rather be there than in certain parts of the South, but that’s not really true, because at least American racism is shared.

I can’t count how many times I’ve meekly tried to speak up about something that made me uncomfortable racially and been told, indirectly, to keep quiet. Only when a slur is involved do people suddenly become performatively woke.

And because my parents made money, it’s a unique challenge to get taken seriously as someone with personal experiences with racism and white supremacy. My life wasn’t as hard as it could have been - true - and so this is just another reason to keep my mouth shut.

I’m tired, man. I had a lot more energy when I paid less attention to the negative impact my skin color has had on my life thus far.

Sometimes I just want to go to sleep.

But I won’t.

My voice is creaky and unstable, but it’s growing in power.

I doubt myself much of the time, but I’m putting myself and my words out there.

In the work I plan and hope to do, a lot of people are going to be In Their Feelings all the time, and it’s not fun for me when that happens. I regret opening my mouth when people try to silence me. It’s really unsettling to be talked down to.

Yet their responses are about them. And if someone’s emotional about something I’m trying to say about white supremacy, then they have work to do, not me.

I can’t give up if everyone else hasn’t. My fight is only just beginning, and my parents and their parents and their parents before them didn’t live through what they lived through just for me to keep my mouth shut.

I’m going to keep writing, and thinking, and talking. I just hope people are willing to listen.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality