By Raechel Shaw
There was a time I thought that it would never be me; could never be me. I have, after all, navigated this unfair world, unscathed by the horrors of racism. That is to say that I have never been pulled over (I rarely drive), followed while shopping (that I can recall) or called the n-word (to my face). That white lie, no pun intended, that I told myself — that it would never be me — ensured my survival. I have flourished in white spaces (be it the prestigious K-12 or Ivy League undergraduate institutions that I attended or the large companies I have worked for), amassed white friends, and succeeded in colluding so as not to give any of them a reason to feel threatened by me. How wonderful it is when racism has become internalized such that the policing need not come from external institutions! I accepted that I was the only possible child that could be Scary Spice at a Spice Girls themed party (Really? This was the only adjective they could come up with to describe Mel B?), that I would hear “You’re not even actually black” more times than I can count, that I would be the only black woman in most of my classrooms and social spaces, and that I would get questioned for putting on sunscreen at the beach. At one of the lowest points in my life, as I battled a severe eating disorder, I remember thinking “I want to be so skinny that all men (i.e. white men) would find me attractive.”
It would never be me.
This all changed, however, in the days after the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. In Ahmaud, I truly saw someone that looked like me. (It is not lost on me that this, in many ways, is exactly the conundrum facing anyone that is not black. To that I urge you to just listen. Fight the temptation to explain phenomena as seen through your lenses. Give us this moment.) In Ahmaud I saw someone simply doing something that he loved — something that I love. In Ahmaud I saw myself going for a jog around the Hamptons neighborhood of one of my (many) friends’ homes. I saw myself being followed. I saw myself being on the receiving end of racial slurs. I saw myself being murdered.
I am a black woman and I have been on this earth for 30 years and to admit that it has taken me this long to really see, is something I am working to forgive myself for. I hate that there have been 30 years during which my voice has been silent. I hate that I have 30 years of brilliant people’s orations and texts yet to learn. I hate that I have been complicit.
I have hope, though. I know now that it could be me, but I have hope.