The first time someone said it in my presence was at a friend’s birthday party.
The first time. You always remember the first time. You always remember every time.
I had gone 30 years without ever hearing someone white say it in my real life. I was lucky right? To have gone so long? Some people hear it every day. My dad spent his entire youth having it spit in his direction.
I’m lucky. This is what luck looks like right?
In a room full of my friend’s family members and it just rolled off of a woman’s lips. And everyone froze up. I froze up. I stared at my phone. I could feel the discomfort in the room. It was thick. I couldn’t breathe.
Was anyone going to speak for me? Was I going to speak for myself?
They didn’t. I couldn’t.
Everyone was so uncomfortable so I left the room.
Let me repeat. I. Left. The. Room.
I left so everyone else could exhale as I kept holding my breath.
And it kept rolling into a dust storm.
“This is just something we’ve always said in my family.”
I can’t breathe.
“I didn’t mean it in an offensive way.”
I can’t breathe.
“Can you come back in the room and tell everyone you’re ok about this?”
I. Can. Not. Breathe.
But I did it. I sang the song. I danced the dance.
Because isn’t this what we’re taught as women? As black women?
Diffuse the situation. Don’t get angry. Smile. Don’t get angry. Downplay it all. Don’t get angry. Make it easy on everyone. Make yourself small and easy.
Do not be that woman, that angry black woman. Don’t let them turn it on you.
Don’t let them blame you for the wounds they inflicted.
Do. Not. Be. Angry.
But I wasn’t even angry. I was sad. Sad I got to be so lucky.
But now I’m glad I got to be so lucky.
Because every time this happens I can actually feel my roots firmly planted around me.
And they connect to me to all of the others, who are constantly pumping life into me.
At times like these literally breathing for me when I can not exhale. Telling me it’s ok to be angry.
Its ok to be anything. It’s ok to be me.