To Freely Breathe

It feels strange writing after so long of feeling utterly silent. Even more so, it feels strange writing about something other than animal welfare. But right now I have a hard time writing about animals when there feels to be this weight on my chest of heartache over my own species. This sickening feeling of not being able to swallow from the lump in my throat.

Almost as if I can’t breathe.

But I can breathe. Quite freely, actually. You could even say I’m privileged enough to freely breathe. And I have a gut feeling that, that is what the weight on my chest really is right now.

Privilege.

And if you are reading this as a fellow white human right now, I think you should feel that weight, too.

As a deep rooted empath, I take on other’s emotions. I feel for EVERYTHING. So, a long time ago, I developed a wall that helped me not feel totally and completely exhausted with empathy all the time. I “stayed the course”. I focused on animals, and left everything else to others working hard to better the world. I have been called to become “side tracked” by issues that I longed to help with in the past. But I always seemed to bring myself to “stay the course”, focus on what I chose to put my efforts into; don’t get side tracked and let someone else handle the other stuff.

But let me tell you, as I sit here with this white privilege weight on my chest, only one thing comes to mind…

Fuck the course.

I was a freshman at The University of Alabama when I saw first hand the blatant, disgusting racism that is still so evident to this very second.

Some friends and I were walking home to our dorms through Fraternity row. We were walking across a lawn of a frat house when I heard a drunken, slurring voice come over the loud speaker of the house, “Get those God damn niggers off our lawn”.

I refuse to put “*s” to replace the letters of that word because I hope you read that sentence and your hands start to shake. I hope you read that and your teeth grind and your palms sweat with anger.

I hope you get mad.

I was mad.

My white privileged, drunk college sorority girl self started yelling back at the house. I wanted to fight. How dare they? And as a privileged white girl I was shocked that my friends didn’t react the same way.

Instead, they told me to follow them off the grass, and keep walking. They said that it wasn’t worth it, and that that was why they didn’t walk down Fraternity Row. If they reacted, they would likely have been arrested, and I would have been escorted back to my dorm room. Even more gut wrenching, if they DIDN’T react, and I DID, they still probably would have been the ones arrested and I would have still escorted back to my dorm room. Just a slap on the wrist.

This profound moment that I didn’t experience until I was 18 years old, was a drop in the bucket to my black friends that had spent 18 years experiencing this hatred every damn day.

I called my dad that night and sobbed uncontrollably for an hour. I was heartbroken and angry. Surely, this wasn’t how things were.

But, as the story goes, the next day I probably went about business as normal. I most likely went to class without anyone taking a second look at me. I walked to my dorm without having to brush off the fact that a group of girls crossed the street in order to avert any possible contact. I rode the elevator without having the person next to me hold their books closer to their chest. You know, just in case.

Why? Because I’m privileged to do so.

That one night in college was just that for me, one night. For my friends who were walking by my side that evening, it was just another night of being a black person walking on a lawn.

I think the main reason for this weight on my chest of privilege stems from years of silence and complacency.

I’m disgusted in myself, quite honestly.

I’m disgusted that I have let my black family and friends down by not using my privilege to speak the words that go unheard by them. I’m disgusted that I have watched acts of racism every day, and thought to myself that, “This is just the way it is”. I’m disgusted in myself for previously playing devils advocate for the police when they beat and murdered unarmed black men time after time again. Im disgusted in myself for thinking that being “Not Racist” was enough. I’m disgusted in myself for staying silent because there was simply, “Nothing I could do that would change anything”.

I’m so unbelievably sorry.

I’m sorry that people like myself who claim to be your friend have failed you. I’m sorry that you live in a world where you fear for your life daily. I’m sorry you live in a world where even after everything, people still find the wrong YOU are doing instead of looking in the mirror. I’m sorry that I have known for my entire life that you live in a world filled with injustice, and just now am finding the voice to speak up. I’m sorry that I have been a chameleon to boyfriends and friends and family members who have made racist comments and I stood by in order not to start confrontation. I’m sorry that many will read this and still find a way to make you look like the problem

I promise to do more.

I promise to not be swayed like I have been so many times before by friends and family who think that your protests are too violent, but the daily brutality shown towards you can be swept under the rug. I promise to take my blinders off, and start using my empathy to take on your pain to be better. I promise to change the course, instead of staying on the one I rode for far too long. How can I cast stones at the people who stood by and watched as Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd, if I stand by and watch it all happen around me without action myself?

I promise I will never fully understand all that you endure every day. I promise I know that I’m just as ignorant and clueless as the next white privileged female. But I most definitely promise that I will work every day to do better. Not just for the lives lost on camera, but for the lives taken that never got the chance to be heard in the first place.

For the ones who have never been heard, let’s start listening.

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