When the mask comes off… Again

I am a Black woman, and I am exhausted. My reality is déjà vu. Every uncomfortable social experience is reminiscent of a moment that has already occurred, a feeling that I’ve felt before. And unfortunately, I have lived these moments, over and over. I’ve felt the same, every time–hurt and confused. In 2014, when Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen was murdered by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in my hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, I felt the same pain, frustration, fear, and anger that I feel now. It’s 2020. There have been countless others, murdered and reduced to hashtags. It has taken me weeks to be able to fully process what is now, rather, what has always been unfolding in America.

I’ve spent my whole life being made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Although, I have displayed outward, strength, confidence, grace, and a sense of control, I have constantly been reminded by the world, that my very existence is problematic, abstract, or threatening. White people cannot begin to imagine this burden without feeling extremely uncomfortable–as they should feel.

In 2014, I wrote an essay entitled When the mask comes off. For me, re-reading this essay today is chilling. I had been struggling to find the words lately because the reality is, I’ve been writing this story my whole life. I am out of words. Not only have I been writing it, but I’ve also been living it. It’s quite disheartening that I am literally copying and pasting an excerpt from that essay I wrote six years ago in a completely different political climate. What’s even worse is that some of you are just now acknowledging that America is a systemically racist society, and we have such a long way to go. Please let this sink in.

Though, I am slightly more optimistic, I still live, breathe, and feel blacker everyday. I am not ashamed, nor is this post a plea for sympathy. It is merely an account of an experience that most Americans will never have. You see, often times, even small mistakes cannot be afforded if you are black. Dressing a certain way can get you stereotyped, followed in stores, and in extreme cases, killed. Laughing or talking loudly with a group of friends can make you an instant threat in most environments. Particularly, as a black female, your unique fashion choices can be viewed as urban or ghetto instead of creative or stylish. You basically have to accept that it is not uncommon to work twice as hard for half as much as your white counterparts. Another source of frustration is that once you do “make it,” you involuntarily become a spokesperson for your entire race, which is considerably unfair seeing that everyone is different. The right to be viewed as an individual then becomes a privilege with which you are not awarded.

Recent events have revealed ugly truths about America that I have been forced to ignore my whole life in hopes of gaining some sort of pseudo-acceptance of my existence here; clinging on to the belief that if you do everything right, you can somehow break the chains. I really thought that we as a country were past the deadly cancer to any free society: racism. The truth is that the same beliefs that made slavery okay, exists hundreds of years later. Yet, now, racism is so sophisticated and institutionalized, that I have to be bold and declare it the status quo. It literally exists in every industry and sector of our lives.

Recent events that have triggered what is shaping up to be a modern-day civil rights movement happen to be difficult for me to ignore. Yet, I have often heard people say, “I just want things to go back to normal.” However, “normal” to some equates to being systematically disadvantaged solely based off the color of their skin, for the benefit of another group of people. Does a democratic society really want that? Anyone with general intelligence, self-awareness, and a progressive mindset would welcome the revolution that is happening.

America’s mask was ripped off following the fatal shooting of black Ferguson teen, Mike Brown by white police officer, Darren Wilson. Buildings were burned to the ground; property, vandalized. A verdict that found Wilson not guilty sparked even more unrest. An entire suburb–destroyed. All of that was just the beginning. In months following Brown’s death, additional reckless police shootings resulting in more deaths of black males, even little boys, occurred. Can you blame the black community for being outraged? Protests were organized around the country, and the entire world would join the conversation. The recent grand jury decision to not indict another white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who indisputably used an illegal chokehold that resulted in the death of black male, Eric Garner, intensified the polarizing issue. The hashtags, #HandsUpDontShoot and #ICantBreathe took over social media. Celebrities, athletes, and public figures began to speak out against racism and police brutality and support protesters.

It seems America has become obsessed with these narratives. Media outlets are capitalizing off this conversation, telling you the stories they want you to hear. Do some research on your own. Seek truth. Be a traditional journalist. Do not be swayed by these corporately controlled talking heads. I dare you to be skeptical, to challenge the very beliefs that make you feel comfortable. The truth is rarely comfortable. Take all media you consume with a grain of salt, and dig deeper into the issue. Ask yourself, “is my life more important that anyone else’s?”

President Obama may have given American a black face (for a while), but ever since the country’s mask was ripped off, its flesh was revealed. That flesh is the elitists’ agenda. And underneath, that flesh are America’s bones. Those bones represent a foundation of slave labor, oppression, and mass genocide. It is important to remember that this is what America was built on. It may take centuries to digest all of the toxins in the body of this beast. At least now, the mask has been removed, so we can hopefully begin performing reconstructive surgery. That surgery starts with engagement in the dialogue, a willingness to learn, and a collective commitment to make everyone doctors.

Six years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, the United States of America is still on the same shit.

Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are the most recent innocent humans who have literally been stolen from us too soon. The truth is, countless others will follow and go unreported. This is not okay. I have been saying this for years. We are tired. I am tired of writing about it. I am tired of trying to help white people get it. 

So here I am, taking the mask off, again. This time, that mask is comfort. If we want to achieve any sort of social progress, we need to embrace the collective discomfort. White people, allies, and everyone in between need to start doing the work. Now is not the time for your black friend to educate you on all things race. We have been doing that all along. Our lives depend on YOU doing this work. We need everyone to wake up now. Recognize your subconscious biases, sit with them, and do better. Tell a friend, to tell a friend, to tell a racist family member. In order to dismantle this societal beast known as racism, we will need all hands on deck, and we need them now. There is no going back.