NYDN Op Ed by Natalie Diaz: The weight we carry: A black woman’s lament on the state of the nation

Staff / Jun 5th, 2020
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The name Ahmaud Arbery was still clear in my mind. It was becoming more challenging to catalog all of the names; there are just too many. It has turned into an active memory exercise to remember all of them, to honor them by refusing to forget.

Then a friend texted me the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park. It was terrifying to watch a white woman lose control and so quickly attempt to weaponize the police against a black man because of the deeply held racism and fear of black men. I immediately thought of Emmett Till and the Exonerated Five.

All the while, the murder of George Floyd was gaining more steam in the media. I am careful about how much news I consume around incidents of innocent black people being killed by the state; it can very quickly become overwhelming. I refuse to watch the video but I am still haunted by the images that I cannot stop from forming in my mind: knee on neck, "I can't breathe," eight minutes, several people watching from a distance, George Floyd's face.

As a black woman, these experiences are deeply traumatic. I cannot expect anyone who is not black to understand what it feels like, but I will try to give you a window into some of my feelings in the hopes that that window will allow you to understand my humanity and my experience in a collective effort to reject racism.

Every time an innocent black person is killed by the state, it hurts in the deepest parts of my heart. It is because I am what they are. I am them. Who I am biologically, genetically, culturally is constantly being murdered, in plain sight, by my own country. By the forces that are meant to protect me, and Ahmaud, and George.

The emotional and psychological impacts of this are profound. Many choose to be numb, to shut down. Many choose to point at history and not feel too deeply, because this is nothing new in America. Many choose to feel badly for a few minutes and then move on. But I can't do that. Every time this happens, I call my dad and we talk about it. He tells me that he remembers the "whites only" signs from his childhood. He recalls the KKK putting a burning cross on his house in Swarthmore, Pa., shortly after they moved in as the only black family in the neighborhood.

He reminds me it wasn't that long ago, when he was 13, that the legal obstacles that prevented black people from voting were finally deemed unlawful by the federal government. I think about the privilege I experienced growing up in San Francisco, and what I was doing at 13. I ask him how I can protect the children I want to bring into this world, even if we are privileged, live in a "good" neighborhood, even if I tell them exactly what to do should they have an encounter with the police, even if I send them to the best schools and tell them not to wear hoodies.

We live with this heavy cloud of racism over America, a cloud that took shape at the founding of this country. It stays right over us.When the sun shines, we ignore it. Occasionally a spotlight is put on it, and we acknowledge it, even though we all know it is there at all times.

But it doesn't have to be there. It's only there because we propagate it. I feel the burden of doing what I can to engage white allies in this fight. But before I get to that, I would like to speak to my African-American community first. Because we deserve to be put first in this situation.

To my fellow African-Americans who may be feeling a heavy burden right now, a weight, a sadness, anger: I see your humanity, your resilience, and you are beautiful. Protect your peace, cultivate black joy, and choose how you want to live in this world. Do not let the dark cloud of racism that hangs above us make you feel shame or fear in being who you are.

To white people and any others who do not want racism to persist in this country: We need you. We need you to fight alongside us. Your empathy and compassion are nice, but please do more. Focus on introspection. Examine the systems of power that have been created by and sustained by white supremacy and how you benefit from them. I can't do the work for you, butthis document library of resources for white people to understand racial injustice and systems of white supremacy more deeply is a great place to start.

Please do everything you can, because my life and that of my African-American brothers and sisters depend on it.

Diaz is chief of staff at Time Equities, Inc.

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