Making Space for Anti-Racist Work in 2020

Have you seen Hamilton? ***SPOILER ahead***** I listen to the soundtrack a lot, however I deleted certain songs from my playlist. AKA I deleted the one really long song where his son is killed in a dual.

But for real, if you’ve done any US History you would know his son is killed in a dual. In the same place Hamilton is killed in a dual.

But I digress. I deleted that song because I literally couldn’t emotionally handle it. I also fast forward that entire scene if I watch it on Disney+.

This is another aside- I read “Never Caught- The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge- by Erica Dunbar. Fast read. Non-fiction. Very well researched and as a bibliography fiend I promise it’s also well cited. Essentially made me disgusted with GW and I can’t imagine knowing my ancestors were treated this way for over a century, and not at a minimum riot in the streets.

We will come back to that later.

I can’t listen to that song because I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to listen to a song entirely devoted to the death of a couple’s son. Hi. Welcome to 2020.

I’ve medicated a lot of people this year. More than normal. I have medicated people and teens and kids aggressively; mostly all through a screen. People are struggling. Job loss. School. Parenting. Relationships. When I have seen a token person or two in person at my office it’s the loveliest feeling but also still horrible. Because through the screen there is a dissonance in my entire being. I’m trying to hold emotional space for some one when I can’t even see below their shoulders. I can’t see body language. I also am literally not in a physical space with them. It makes a difference.

Then when I am in a physical space with people I have to do this whole rewind and remind my brain and body what it’s like to hold people’s pain in the room with me while wearing a mask and praying they don’t have COVID. It’s all bizarre. The physical and emotional dissonance of telehealth and then the added stressors of in person appointments.

I was added to a therapy group on FB- it’s private so I won’t name it- but it’s essentially for burned out mental health professionals and was started in response to the pandemic.

It makes me feel good that I’m not as burned out as a lot of individuals on there. It also makes me incredibly sad but also fist pump of solidarity because yeah. I’m feeling it too. The burn of 2020.

Why then would I continue reading anti-racist works you ask? Doesn’t that take emotional energy? Yes. Yes it does. But guess what. As burned out as I feel sometimes, and as scared and vulnerable as I feel I never have to worry about racism. Because I’m a white female who can pass as hetero if I choose to. I continue anti-racist work in my readings and writings because People of Color do not get to take a rain check on their minority status during 2020. In fact they have higher rates of infection and higher rates of death from COVID. Racism doesn’t end because of a pandemic. It’s brought even more to the surface.

I choose to not listen to certain songs that will make me break down because I can control that. I choose to continue reading emotionally heavy books because I think it’s important to continue my education on US History from the perspective of Black people. Because in all my Honors and AP classes I was not taught US History as I should have been.

I never once read a novel from the perspective of Black male or female. I was never told Thomas Jefferson repeatedly raped a young girl starting when she was only 15 or 16 acting as the chaperone for his daughter from the US to France. They would go on to have several children and she was not granted her freedom. She was his property because of his late wife- Jefferson’s slave was the half sister to his late wife. A product from the rape of his late wife’s father of one of his female slaves. She was given to Jefferson’s wife. Jefferson’s wife died, and then she was Jefferson’s property.

I was not taught that England abolished slavery in 1708 and part of the Revolutionary War’s cause was fear that England would force the colonies to abolish slavery. I was not taught that England did not abolish slavery in the colonies because England itself was profiting heavily from slave labor in the South. They were complicit.

I was not taught that Washington’s adopted son (Martha Washington’s grandson) would go on to father at least two children by two slaves on their plantation. In the archives it does not say rape. That doesn’t make it any less than rape though.

I was not taught the significance of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850- that it was meant to preserve the union but all it did was further cement the polarization of the North and South. I was not taught the number of brave Black men and women who lived in the North as runaway slaves with no rights, sometimes no identities, often were refused marriage licenses, but they carried on. They persisted. They also often had passive and overt support by their white neighbors. Ona Judge was one such incredible woman.

She lived bravely in New Hampshire. She was found eventually. Her story is inspiring. She lived in abject poverty and when interviewed very late in her life she was asked why she would leave such a “comfortable” household as the Washingtons’ to live in poverty often going hungry. She said she would rather die than be anything but free.

These are the heroes of our country. These are the founding spirits who ran, bled, cried, and died for freedom. I continue to learn from them because they are so worth learning from. Even when I feel burned out and like I can’t hold space for anything or any one else. I hold space for their stories because they are profound and incredible.

Their stories provide light in a time of darkness. They fought a conservative Supreme Court continuously passing act after act to keep them in shackles. They persisted. They had laws passed state by state meant to assuage their desire for freedom; still they persisted. The fight for freedom from enslavement should be taught not from the vantage of the white people but from the vantage of people who were enslaved. They are the true heroes. Their stories are epic and their perseverance shaped our nation.