The year is 2020. There’s a pandemic. There are protests in the streets of major cities and minor cities for the cessation of brutality of black people at the hands of police. I have participated some… enough to open my eyes to the callous nature of, what do you call them? Law enforcement I suppose. First it was the Portland Police, then the Federal “Agents” from a speculation of places: Homeland Security, ICE, the National Guard, unknown gun for hire. Dressed in Camouflage or all black riot gear, unnamed, unidentifiable, they stood in front of the Federal Building, or in front of the police bureau building, or they marched along the side streets and through the little park blocks. They were heavily armed with – who knows what besides what they threw and shot and swung at us. We too were masked, and difficult to identify, and we came armed with signs, and chemicals to clear the tear gas from our eyes, and loud shouts chanted in line. Some of us threw plastic water bottles, some threw left over fireworks. Some set small fires. All were angry and all wanted change. 75 days later, no change has come.
I went once downtown. I was tear gassed, I stared down the men in black and camo. I yelled at them to just go home, to quit their jobs, not to shoot their mothers. They didn’t appear to care. They stayed on. They kept their jobs and they shot their mothers, and their brothers, and their sisters and their fathers. They shot us all.
So I went home. And I stayed home. I paced like a caged animal. I wanted to go back. I did go back during the day once. I looked around with my son Mariano. He was ill at ease, but we walked around anyway. And we took advantage of the chalk bucket that a trans protester had provided because she had been man-handled and arrested by police for chalking the sidewalk. And now she wanted everyone to get to do it – she was leaning in. We chalked the sidewalk with “Can you Hear me Now?” and “Black Lives Matter”. I could feel the tear gas powder in the dry dirt as it wafted up to us walking through. The remains of the nightly protests. I could feel the tension in the air and the hard stares of the people occupying the park blocks where we were. I didn’t belong here. I was white privilege walking. I could leave at any time. I could eat at any time. I could engage and disengage at will. I was not in any danger that I didn’t bring on myself. I was not like the others here. We went home.
And I stayed home, glued to the live feeds, posting updates and information on Facebook, my mother decided to engage me in conversation about racism – or the lack thereof. And it’s so exhausting to think about, that I want to stop typing right now and lay on the couch and zone out. I’m not done processing – I will never be done processing. The depth of racism runs so deeply through my veins, I will never be able to purge it. It’s swirling in my gut and causing me to retch. It crawls under my skin and tingles my hair till the hair on my head falls out from the poison. It’s in my ears, the sound of which is my soothing mother’s voice, the low baritone of my father. The warm embrace of racism is my father’s strong arms and broad chest that envelope me in safety. It is the critique of my mother to comb my hair and brush my teeth. To walk with my head up high and my shoulders back with the pride of privilege – you can be poor, but you don’t have to be dirty. Dirty. Dirty.
Black men owned slaves in the south honey. Some slave owners were kind to their slaves so that when the Emancipation Proclamation happened, and they were granted their freedom, they didn’t want to leave. The KKK started as a noble group. The Black Panthers were evil. I can’t stand abortion, it’s awful. There was no racism in Oregon when I grew up there. My dad worked in the shipyards during the time of Vanport. There was no racism. The black soldiers could have gone to college after the war too if they chose it. I don’t know anything about there being red-lining in Portland. We had a black family in our neighborhood. If North Portland was where all the blacks had to live – well it was the NICE area of town! It just makes me sad how everyone is being torn apart. There was a song I used to think was about you and I – “Sometimes it Feels Like You and Me Against the World” – but I don’t feel that way anymore. You’re like your brother Dan.
My brother Dan molested me when I was a child. She knows that. She was there comforting me while my dad beat the shit out of him with his belt in the other room. I heard him screaming, my fathers voice like the low growl of an attacking dog. I sat on the couch and cried while my mother held me. I have not recovered from that. Honestly, their response to his betrayal of my trust in him was worse than the betrayal itself. I’m glad he didn’t die. And. I have not recovered from either event – the betrayal or the response. And she says we are the same. Yes, I know. Our personalities are so similar that I swear I can read his mind. Probably because I spent so much of my childhood trying to see inside his head. Trying to apologize for tattling. Trying to make up for that beating that I was responsible for. Trying to save him from what must have been a difficult journey from there. Until his callous response to his own son’s suicide threat woke me to some alternate reality. “He’s just trying to get attention. We need to let him sit in this alone for a while”. Crazy because I know my brother’s son was trying to get his dad’s attention – he’d been trying his whole life – but my brother had disengaged his heart from his son. My nephew would never get the attention he craved from his own father. And I saw my brother anew for the first time. And this vision alerted me to a new vision of myself as well. I would never save my heartless brother. It had all been for not. And now I was free. Unanchored. Adrift.
Its all the same, you know. Police Brutality against Blacks, and my Father’s Brutality against my brothers and my brother’s walled up heart. The silencing of the blacks, and the silencing of both me and my brother. Sitting on the couch listening to my brother scream while my father beat him, and pacing in the other room while my husband verbally attacks my child and now watching from the suburbs what is happening in the city. I cannot relax complicit. The child self inside of my body will not let me. And it comes out as a scream – as a high pitched female dog defending her pup. Get back or I will fight you. I don’t want to kill you. I don’t know if I can kill you. But I do want to protect my cub, my brother, my daughter, myself. And I hate you. I hate that I love you. I hate that I love you, the racist, the misogynist, the power hungry, the indifferent to my longing. I hate that I love you. But I don’t know how to leave you – my father, my mother, my brother, my husband, my child self.
What I do know is that I have to have time to be alone in my thoughts and with this body who is reeling inside with all of the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a white woman in America whose ancestors are from South Carolina slave owners, and Oregon settlers who didn’t care about their own privilege over their black neighbors. Settlers eager to believe the “dangerous black man” and the “free-loading black mother” tropes. Eager to scape goat the blacks for all the crime and filth and lift themselves above another group of people in order to secure their place in the “middle” class. You can be poor – but you don’t ever have to be black and for that you can be proud. What is this new place I find myself? That the unrested ghosts have been raised from the dead places inside of me to rattle their chains in my head and scream their howls of pain in my ears. What do I need to do to allow these dead events to rest in peace inside of me – now and forever?
I joined a genealogy group – and I joined a writer’s group. I have to write myself out of this hysteria. There are skeletons in the closet of my ancestors I didn’t even know I had in the house that is my mind and body. A closet behind the brick wall of silence built securely by my father, my mother and my religion. But I see it now. What will I find when I turn the handle? What secret does my body hold? I have to know.