A Black Man Was Killed And I Still Went To Work
How am I supposed to navigate the professional world in the middle of a race war?
There is much to be said about the current state of America right now. One in which Black people are not living, but surviving. Taking it day by day because we can’t afford to plan for a future we might not even be alive to see.
One where we watch trauma porn on our Twitter feeds — one shot, two shot, three bodies, four. Countless black people have been murdered, how many more?
One where we see ourselves in the faces of Breonna Taylor and Philando Castile, but are still expected to show up for work and draft memos while white coworkers remain unaffected by the Black struggle.
I, like most of America, have spent the last 72 hours glued to my phone. Scared, angry, and defeated as I watched George Floyd take his last breath. A white cop’s knees pressed into his neck while an Asian officer stood by and calmly watched his partner commit legalized murder. Yet, I was still expected to show up to work the next day.
Can you imagine how dreadful it is to drag yourself out of bed and walk out the house with the weight of the world on your shoulders? THIS is what it feels like to be a Black person in America.
I could easily have taken the day off, but it wouldn’t have done anything. I am Black 24/7. This isn’t anything I can ‘take a break’ from.
I spent my entire work shift overcome with emotion that I could not show. Not only because it’d be uncomfortable for me to do so, but because very few would even understand in the first place. I sat alone in my Blackness. Alone in my office. I tried to shift papers around to feel like I was doing something, opened emails and left them unanswered. Prayed between breaks and held back tears between Zoom meetings.
Never have I felt so alone in an office full of people. In that moment I knew that although others could sympathize with what I was feeling, they would never feel pain on a level as deeply as I have. So I stayed mostly quiet.
Aside from the small talk with my coworkers and sending news articles in the group chat, I still had to distance myself to some degree so I could properly do my job. I had to show up and exist in work culture as if Black men and women aren’t being murdered at the hands of racists in blue uniforms.
It was beyond taxing to have to file documents while thinking about what I would do if that were my mother, brother, or uncle… or if it were me. But this is the reality for many Black people. Just like we occupy the majority of essential workers forced to work during a pandemic, we are also expected to work during a race war.
This is the part no one talks about. No one addresses how mentally and emotionally draining it is when we’re expected to continue working as if we didn’t just watch a Black man die for the 267th time.
We, unlike many white people, don’t have the luxury of compartmentalizing our race-related pain and trauma. We must sit in it until it happens again.
I could easily have taken the day off, but it wouldn’t have done anything. I am Black 24/7 and have been Black for over 20 years. What people are just discovering as unfair and unjust treatment is my everyday life. There is no ending for this, nor is this anything I can “take a break” from. We are tired and lost.
This is not an issue we have the privilege of stepping away from, it doesn’t disappear the moment we put our phones down.
For us, we think of Sandra Bland the second we forget to use our blinkers, we think of Tamir Rice when we see Black kids playing outside, and we think of Atatiana Jefferson when we lay down at night to rest our restless minds.
We have to question how we will answer the door when we receive a knock at 2 a.m., how we will walk in a white neighborhood — will I walk upright with my shoulders squared to show my years of ballet training? Because that’d make me less of a threat if they know I took ballet as opposed to hip-hop, right? No, that’ll look like I’m trying too hard to fit in. Should I walk with a book so they know I know how to read? How will I tell the officer what I do for a living to afford the car I drive? Will he even believe me?
Or maybe I’ll just relax and breathe until I’m pushed on the ground, windpipes choked by oppression until “I can’t breathe.”
The brutal truth is that there is no sound advice to offer. There’s no right way to conduct yourselves in white spaces because your existence is enough of a threat. There are no “How To’” or listicles on Medium about how to cope with this.
Quite frankly, I wish I had an answer, I wish I could provide some tips but I am still struggling with this myself. So for now I relive the same never-ending nightmare over and over. Standing at the printer while blurred faces pass in the background. Talks of weekend plans with their families are heard while we are constantly taken from ours.
We, unlike many white people, don’t have the luxury of compartmentalizing our race-related pain and trauma, we must sit in it until it happens again.
And when it does, we will show up to work promptly at 8 a.m. like we have every other day. With no exceptions or room for compassion because the world has a way of normalizing Black pain.