The day after George Floyd, a Black man living in Minneapolis, took his last breath after being pinned beneath the knee of a White police officer, a company-wide email appeared in my inbox. The subject: Just Reaching Out. I didn’t open it immediately because I already knew what it was, and when I did, a quick skim confirmed my assumptions. The onslaught of reactions, reports, and retweets of Floyd’s death made it hard for anyone with a TV or a social media account to ignore — including my co-workers. They, too, had seen the grim footage.
I’m not sure if they’d ever watched the recorded deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, or Walter Scott, but for whatever reason, this one stuck with them. This one meant that some employees — employees like me, with a little more pigment to carry — might not be okay today. They wanted to figure out how to be supportive, so here was this email, addressed not just to me, but to the whole company. From a non-Black employee. This was… new.
Considering some of the not-so-accommodating White colleagues I’ve encountered throughout my career, it was refreshing to see my current team acknowledge the moment and essentially put out a PSA that I may not show up to the next Zoom meeting all smiles, business as usual.
In this case, I know they mean well, and I appreciate the step forward. But in the back of my mind, I also know most of them spent their Memorial Day worry-free, at distant cabins and summer houses, at beaches and barbecues. Perhaps even lounging in a pool on a unicorn floatie, chilled Stella Artois at hand. Me? I spent mine in my apartment, angrily staring at my laptop screen, thinking the same thing I do every time a new hashtag generates: That could’ve been me.
Every day I show up to work, I come in Black and I leave Black. I eat, breathe, sleep, live, and will eventually die Black — hopefully only at the will of my maker. And my co-workers will never understand what it’s like to live this truth in the midst of Black trauma, no matter how much they protest and petition in the heat of the moment, only to retreat to their normal lives when media coverage ceases. Black death at the hands of a non-Black, police-badged aggressor is a jagged pill I have to swallow alone, as is the range of emotions that come with it. Anger, fear, helplessness, distrust, grief, numbness: The burden of Black trauma is one that I simply can’t share with most of my co-workers, no matter how much they profess their allyship.
Because on a regular day, those allies are nowhere to be found.
I can’t vent to anyone about seeing a brother pulled over on the side of the road on my way to work, or the fear in my own chest whenever I see red and blue lights in my rearview mirror, even if they’re only passing by. That weight is mine and mine alone.
When a meeting gives rise to a microaggression, there aren’t too many to commiserate with. I can’t share a sympathetic, “Damn, homie” when Nipsey Hussle and Pop Smoke get gunned down, because they probably won’t see beyond “Black-on-Black crime.” I definitely can’t mouth off about Amy Cooper doing her best performance art to sic police on Christian Cooper, a Black birder who simply asked her to leash her dog in Central Park.
It goes deeper than headlines. I can’t vent to anyone about seeing a brother pulled over on the side of the road on my way to work, or the fear in my own chest whenever I see red and blue lights in my rearview mirror, even if they’re only passing by. That weight is mine and mine alone. I don’t know where to begin in coaching well-meaning, non-Black peers on how to understand my plight, let alone on how to then take action. Coordinating marketing campaigns and tracking projects is my job. This isn’t.
Black and Brown folk are the ones left reeling after every killing, yet it’s also us who have to convince White killers and indifferent bystanders that our lives are actually worth a damn, then hold the hands of non-Black people who want to help but don’t know how to do it. Not to mention that it’s all while putting on a brave face to get work done, bills paid, and mouths fed. It’s fucking exhausting.
To be clear: I’m not knocking White and non-Black people stepping up to the plate to demand justice for Black people. Please continue to do so — even if you’re scared of getting something wrong, being called out, or making us more upset. There’s work to be done. And maybe one day I’ll take you up on your promise of “I’m here if you want to talk.” But also recognize that at this point, I’m emotionally drained from trying to unpack all of this shit myself. So give it some time. This one’ll take a while.