Sunday, September 5th, 2021, 7:02am
A lot of things changed for me in 2020. A personal realization of things needing to be “right-ed” of sorts. Or maybe the word is corrected. Rectified. Adjusted? Acknowledged… For so long, I’ve been living this life where I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Maybe we all do that to a certain extent. Sadly, I’ve been behaving accordingly even though I never fully understood why…until Covid year, 2020.
After the killing of George Floyd, I learned so much more about who we are as Americans (United States). Hearing about Tulsa for the first time in my life was jarring. But once I heard about that injustice, to put it lightly, I needed to learn more. I don’t think I ever cried so much in disappointment over this country that I love, but in 2020, I did. Why anyone, would be so cruel to a group of people based on the color of their skin is something I’ll never understand even though I’ve known and experienced it my entire life. But to then try and erase the history of it all? To hide it, to blow it off, to pretend it never happened? That’s a whole other level of disgust I can’t fully articulate or comprehend. I’m a well-read and a fairly intelligent human being and I’m shocked that I didn’t know about Tulsa and Black Wall Street till 2020. The realization of what the United States had done and then tried to brush under a rug, nearly broke me. I’ll be honest, I hated my country for more than a minute.
Understanding that history and how it has affected me personally is profound. It’s a trickling effect. Need some examples?
I moved into a new neighborhood recently, and I went into the local grocery store. I made my way over to the deli counter – and purposely mentioned to the grocery store clerk handling the hot food, how lovely her eyes looked. I told her that I loved her make-up. She then proceeded to tell me all about how she created the look – I pretend total interest. Her eyes looked ridiculous by the way, but I made her feel good. I made her feel comfortable with me. I let her know, I just moved in. I notated the time and day so next week; I’d make sure to see HER again. So, you know, we establish a connection, and she remembers me. Sounds normal, right?
When I go to get some milk, I look for another store clerk to ask where the dairy isle was. Clearly, I know exactly where it is, I had passed it earlier. No matter. The point is to make myself known in this new neighborhood grocery store so everyone will feel comfortable with me. I lavish people with compliments so their first reaction and remembrance of me is joy or positivity.
It’s a subtle thing, right? The fear of not being accepted. This is one of the ways I make an extra effort to be comfortable in my white surroundings. I subconsciously know I have to do certain “rounds” of introductions when I move into a new area. It’s not because I care to have any real relationships with these people, but it’s because I’ve been conditioned all my life to make sure no one fears me. You know, me, the scary black person in a mostly white neighborhood.
Same holds true for when I walk down the street. Doesn’t matter if I’m working out or just walking to the post office or some other errand – if two white folk are walking in the opposite direction towards me, even though I’m alone on that side walk – I will move out of their way. I’ll go onto the street or grass so they will not be disturbed by my…. what? My existence?
All of this has been subconscious. All of it part of living while Black/Brown in these United States. I just never knew how deep it was, how ingrained in my being it has always been…my actions were guided by a fear of being viewed as scary or feared because of the color of my skin. This is so sad on so many levels.
Something very similar happens when it comes to pain and doctors.
During the pandemic, my “leg/hip” pain returned with a vengeance. On and off for the past 20 years or so, I’ve had faint to moderate pain and my answer to that was always to take aspirin or just stop running or doing anything for a week or so. I don’t talk about my dancing years much nor do I talk about the injury that ended that career path for me, but it’s always been THERE. Just bubbling up below the surface of my heart. But I learned, long ago, it’s better never to complain about pain, any pain at all. It’s easier to just suck it up, than to be told “you’re just imagining it” or told to “shake it off” – which is what I was told for many years as a kid.
In 2020, the pain got so bad it was unbearable. The limp, that I’d hidden so brilliantly all these years, was now noticeable and obvious. The excruciating pain would sometimes be alleviated by a couple of glasses of wine or a few cocktails and considering I’m not a big drinker at all, it was a huge tell. I knew I had to finally deal with this pain and yes, so many years later, finally see a doctor.
And this is the hard part to explain. The idea that I would seek medical help for anything other than a life-threatening matter is non-existent in my world. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this – poor folk, uninsured folk been dealing with this issue forever. When you don’t have easy access to decent insurance, when you don’t have the extra funds for co-pays and “out of pocket” costs, you numb yourself to the pain or whatever’s ailing you and that’s that! Going to the doctor for every troubling ache and pain is not a normal way for most regular folk – at least not how I grew up anyways.
Being a person of color who grew up poor, I’ve always known that hesitance with doctors. But there’s something else at work here too – it’s the same reason why I move out of the way when two white folk are walking on the sidewalk from the opposite direction. It’s the same way, when I move into a new apartment and neighborhood, I feel the need to let everyone know who I am – I’m one of the ‘good ones’. Please like me. Please help me, please don’t hate me, please, I’m so worthy.
It sickens me to write that. But it’s all true.
I mentioned to someone the other day that I’d been to more “doctor’s appointments” in the last three months than I had in my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration, it’s fact. Between X-Rays, Pre-clearance exams, Anesthesiology consults, Physical Therapy and everything else, it’s been a bit overwhelming for me. I’m nervous, I get real quiet, sweaty, fidgety. I feel so out of my element. A fish out of water. My discomfort is palpable. In all those medical visits, not one doctor is/was an African-American or Latino. In my entire life, they never have been. It matters because I never questioned it all before. Just like I never questioned how I walked down the street and moved out of white folks way or how I make sure the entire neighborhood knows me, just so they won’t fear me… I never understood some of my angst, but now it’s all starting to unravel….in layers like an onion.
Racism has damaged so much of all of us. It breaks my heart. How do we not all GET that?
But with my new-found understanding of it all, I’m slowly starting to see things differently. I’m changing my behavior so it’s not from a place of fear of not being accepted, but from a solid place of self-worth. I’m working to rectify my part in this ever-on-going drama that is racism in these United States of America.
My surgeon seems cool. I don’t know him at all and I guess that’s how most surgeon’s function – keeping a distance from their patients is the norm, I’ve been told? After my first cortisol shot, I told him how grateful I was for the relief from pain. I cried, I was so happy to feel normal again! Even behind his mask, I could see him smiling. He delivered the second shot into my hip joint that same day with such deftness I didn’t feel a thing. And for a couple of months, I lived without a crippling pain I’ve known for way too long. Imagine if there was a shot that could relieve me, all of us, from the pain of racism? Even just for a couple of months…
Anyways, say a prayer for my surgeon and his staff, will you? If you’re not religious, send good vibes his way. Selfishly, I hope he’s enjoying a lovely holiday weekend with his family and friends and comes in Tuesday morning joyful as ever to do the work he’s clearly beyond gifted to do. And yaaas, please say a little something to whatever God you believe in – FOR ME! Just pray that I get through this easily and with much success and the easiest of healing pain EVER. I’d appreciate that! And then, if you can spare it, say a prayer that someday soon we find our way through this hateful mess called racism. Imagine what our wonderful world would look like without it? It’s so hard to imagine, isn’t it?
With so much hope,