I moved to Los Angeles in 1992, the year a jury with no Black people on it acquitted the four policemen who had administered that horrific, now-infamous beating to Rodney King. I was 25 years old and had never before seen anything like what I was witnessing; the world was on fire.
A man with a video camera just happened to have captured King’s beating from his apartment balcony across the street from where the LAPD stopped King’s car. It was a rarity for the time ― this was pre-social media ― so the world was shocked to see the proof of the savagery that Black people had been screaming about for decades.
Some of us, for the first time in our lives, felt a semblance of vindication — for finally, there was evidence that could not be disputed. It was on film, it was on the news, and it was on the front page of every newspaper. I felt the collective anger and sorrow of my Black brothers and sisters. Still, surprisingly, at the time, I felt hostility-tinged apathy from a number of the white people in my life.
With a few exceptions, these white people were resistant to discussing the real causes of our civil unrest with me: slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, segregation, the war on drugs, police violence against Black men, systemic racism, privatized prisons, etc. But they were annoyingly vocal in their support for the “real” victim, Reginald Denny, the white truck driver who was ripped from the cab of his truck at Florence and Normandy and beaten nearly to death during the riots.
For more than a month, Los Angeles was divided in an insurmountable way. And during that time, I felt like some of my white friends showed me who they really were.
I was drowning in a sea of outrage and sorrow, and bitter about the fact that some people were unwilling to join me in it. I felt especially betrayed by white women, as I know how powerful their sway is. When they have a cause, they take over the stage. And they do not stop until they have been heard by everyone who has ever mattered.
But circa 2020, those white women are with us now. They are marching alongside us; they are calling their congressperson and crying out for change; they are showing their solidarity on social media (post after post after post ― and yo, you can chill on that a little, we get it).
They’re giving us the support I longed for and needed back in 1992. They have shown up in a big way, and some compelling people are taking notice. But here’s the thing: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that support now. My experiences with the Karens of the world have left me feeling salty. I’m trying really hard not to conflate the actions of those Karens with the many, many beloved and well-intentioned white men and women in my life today, but honestly, it has not been easy.
It’s harder still when I see posts like “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Please don’t do that ― not only is it missing the point, but it serves to lessen the gravity of our cause. Don’t call or text me and ask me what to read or how to support me. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m exhausted and depleted; I’m put-a-fork-in-me-done with all that — please figure it out among yourselves.
“Some of us are dealing with unprecedented grief. We are broken with pain and unvalidated anger.”
There are one or two white women in my life that are killing me right now because they have enacted what I call the “Black by association” clause. Weaponizing the fact that they have Black spouses, friends, or even children and thinking that it entitles them to weigh in on and share our experience with equity. Nah, sistah, it really doesn’t, so please just take a seat.
Also, please know I don’t have the bandwidth to help you process your break-ups, financial fears or your issues with your housekeeper. Right now, none of those things are a priority in my life, and I don’t feel safe discussing them with you.
And don’t text me with some aggressively chipper message on Monday mornings, either. We can’t bear anything that smacks of normalcy. Our world is anything but typical, so please tone it down out of respect. Some of us are dealing with unprecedented grief. We are broken with pain and unvalidated anger.
Before you click over to the comment section to troll on me, be aware that I know how this sounds. I might be coming off as judgmental and callous (sorry about that). But please understand that we’ve been through COVID 19, three months of quarantine, Breonna Taylor being murdered by the police in her sleep, Ahmaud Aubery being hunted and gunned down by a former cop and his son, Christian Cooper being targeted by Amy Cooper (no relation), and now George Floyd ― it’s a lot.
I am too full of emotion to even begin to know how to respond to anything. Though I’m not leaving the house very often, I feel like I don’t have any time to process what’s going on. Sometimes it’s like I’m the one who can’t breathe. This week, I’ve had Black friends who called me after breaking down in tears “for no reason” in a meeting, eating breakfast, or even during a workout. I have Black friends who have had to take themselves off text chains and stopped answering their phones.
We are heavy with unnameable grief. We are suffering.
And all the stuff that usually works to make things better isn’t working. “This, too, shall pass” isn’t happening. For the first time in years, I am stumped as to how to help my fellow brothers and sisters. The most we can manage for each other are occasional two-word inquiries by text, like “You OK?” or “Checking in.”
On the other hand, I also have dear, dear white friends who are taking action that does not require a black co-signer. They are educating themselves and each other, donating to worthy causes like the Bail Project, posting links to Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” on social media, and taking responsibility for their own actions in a way that does not make Black people responsible for their guilt. For them, I am truly and utterly grateful and can fully embrace your attempts to support and nourish me. You all know who you are.
White women, I’m not saying that you can’t be scared, outraged or sad. I’m not saying that we don’t appreciate you and your efforts to connect. I understand that you’ve lost something, too, and I want you to feel your sorrow and indignation. But please know that your grief doesn’t automatically entitle you to an invitation to our wake. Many conversations need to be happening right now, but some of those can only occur between people of color.
[Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Simi Valley police, not the LAPD, were the ones to pull King over. This has been corrected.]