Somehow and rather unfortunately, the brownness of my skin and the blackness of those I love have always made proximity to violence seemingly unavoidable.
Originally, I wrote something different for this reflection piece. Originally, I wrote a reflection about love. I wrote a reflection about how love in these times can be the fiber that binds us together even when hatred strives to tear us apart. Originally, I wrote about how comfortable I felt, how many affectionate words I received from you all, and how many people related to a story about my eyebrows and my smile. I said something about how, when we are single strings and single individuals we are fragile, but together in networks like these, we intertwine, we make webs, we unify, and we become unbreakable. But sometimes I feel like these metaphors romanticize things; that for some my eyebrows and smile were a window into societal issues and the resilience of my family, but for others they merely a literary tool, strategic imagery that cushioned your understanding.
So in the spirit of proximity, I will share another story with you all, metaphor free.
Yesterday, I thought a man might kill my partner. We were walking in Venice, Los Angeles with her dog. I’ve lived in the area my whole life, but I had never seen the canals just a few blocks from the beach. I remember thinking about how quiet it was by the water, distanced from the constant static buzz of cars and tourists. I remember laughing about how small the sidewalks were as we uncomfortably squeezed by other couples and other families, people jogging, walking their dogs, and photographers who were balancing on one leg over the water to get just the right angle.
I remember how it felt as I smiled at the man who approached us, as we all shifted from left to right, guessing which way the other would go. And I remember when his eyes changed only inches from us and his arms raised, and he screamed out “Get off the f***ing sidewalk, N***er!” and said it again. I remember how I felt when my stomach dropped, when my smile was erased, when I hesitated only for a second and knew in that second he could have hurt her. If he had a weapon, maybe done something worse. I remember listening to him as he walked away yelling “N***ers don’t live here, N***ers leave here!” My father had taught me to never let a man have that power over you, to never let that word have that power over you, but in that moment I didn't know if he was trying to take from us our dignity or if he may take from us our bodies too. I remember all those who watched and did nothing, those who had smiled and talked to us moments earlier, who had treated us with friendliness, but in a moment when our bodies were in danger, did nothing.
I would hate for those of you who showed me great affection in a moment like the Gathering, to be the same as those who were unwilling to show great love in moments of peril. Though this Gathering brought me tremendous joy, I recognize that this affection is not a strong enough feeling to encourage the action these times require. My inability to separate myself from my Blackness, my proximity to racism, means that anything less than a radical and enduring love will not help me. It will not help any of us.
For those of us who agree we need love now more than ever, please practice it in proximity, even when painful; when you witness these moments, remember that love is action not just some affectionate feeling.
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