There's something extraordinarily haunting in feeling deeply connected to a perfect stranger having only viewed their final moments on Earth.
I've been reflecting on the intersections of my identity and how I identify with the victims of our country’s most recent crimes. How do I see myself in Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery? This has been so emotional for me because of the layers of complexity. I'm not only black, biracial to be more specific, and a woman, but I was also adopted as a baby by a white family. I lived in a white town in rural Pennsylvania ("Pennsyltucky" as it's so lovingly referred to...) with a population of about 1,200 people for the first 18 years of my life.
To be considered threatening or dangerous as a 10-year-old girl is something I can never forget.
To those in the white community who choose to hate, my blackness threatened them and their idea of what a "family" should look like. This was the driving factor of my parents' decision to move from the outskirts to the center of town because concerns had been raised about my safety.
To be considered threatening or dangerous as a 10-year-old girl is something I can never forget. After high school, I went to a predominately white, religious university. That's the hand I’m playing. Some of the cards I was dealt, some of the cards I chose, but they create the lens through which I view these events.
As much as we would like to believe we are all in this together, I am compelled to ask if that’s the truth. We are simultaneously experiencing events in vastly different ways. I've spoken to my fiancé, to my family, and a number of my white friends about this topic, and it is as much draining and exhausting as it is motivating and purposeful. Many out there are grappling with these issues for the first time while others have been unceasingly in this fight all their lives. Many close to me do not hold the explicit markers of a racist but rather have the camouflaged, implicit ones. I shared my experience and resources and they have generally been well received. These moments give me hope.
Nevertheless, I'm struggling with this and it hurts right now. Though what hurts the most is that there is NO reason why what happened to Ahmaud, in particular, could not have happened to me. I did unaccompanied runs often in high school. I have continued to do this all over the country and the world because of the nature of my career as a professional athlete. I vividly recall running alone through an unfamiliar neighborhood while staying with a host in South Carolina for a race. Although I had my worries about getting lost, my overwhelming worry was because I was a female and I was black- compounding my fear.
Therein lies my struggle. Where is the root of my pain, being black? Or being a female? Or struggling with my identity in the black community because I talk a certain way, or because my skin is a certain shade, or because my parents don't share my skin color? This is not to say I do not reap benefits from the shade of my skin. But I also bear being disconnected because I am viewed as an outsider to the black community, not sharing in their plight because my skin is lighter, and an outsider to the white community because I am black.
If you or I wait until we know it all before we speak out, we never will. I encourage you to make mistakes.
I'm a huge proponent of making mistakes (comes with athletics) and I enjoy learning (a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Minor in Biology, and a Master of Public Administration to prove it). So you're going to keep seeing me making mistakes and learning, and I'm okay with that. If you or I wait until we know it all before we speak out, we never will. I encourage you to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to misstep in pursuit of the right step. I encourage you to redirect those who are truly trying to "get it"; handle them with compassion because we need all hands on deck. This is unquestionably not the time to cling to the "us v. them" mentality with those who aren't there yet but are working to get there. The reality is, we need them. We need those who are somewhere between unaware and "waking up." The future is in our hands, but we can't get there alone. I think we learned that the hard way in November of 2016. It's not enough to be "not racist" we need to shift our friends, families, and followers to be actively "anti-racist" and that demands work, but it also requires support. This responsibility ultimately falls to each individual but cannot be left to the assumption that those unaware of where to start will just "figure it out." This is how we share the burden of the work to generate real, sustainable change.
I leave you with this. Please fight the thoughts in your head begging for things to go back to "normal". Those moments you wish your Instagram would go back to "normal." The moments you wish your mood would go back to "normal." And the moments you wish you could numb yourself to the plight of those around you, returning to the ignorance and privilege you might have previously, inadvertently enjoyed. Because while we were all living in "normal" Breonna Taylor was being murdered in her home in Kentucky. Ahmaud Arbery was out the door for his last run in Georgia. And George Floyd was taking his final breaths on the streets of Minnesota.