Every so often my husband falls asleep somewhere that is not our bed. Living room couch, basement couch, you get the idea. It's important to note that my husband is a sound sleeper. Like, could sleep through a major disaster kind of sleeper. So, every so often, when he falls asleep in a place that isn't his bed I am left with the formidable task of waking the beast and convincing it to move.
I begin gently. I speak softly. I say things like, "Jes, it's time to go to bed." I tap his shoulder. This part never works, but for awhile I would still always start there. Just in case.
Then I speak louder. "Jes! Wake up!" A more firm shoulder poke. A gentle shoulder shake.
This can go on for awhile.
Inevitably I end up yelling. Loudly. To someone who missed the first eight phases of the wake-up routine it would seem alarming, and so it does to Jes. He wakes up incredibly confused about why I'm yelling at him, why I'm always so angry, and he gets mad at me. It's all my fault. This yelling came out of nowhere.
You can imagine how I feel, right? I had tried every peaceful, non-violent means of waking him up only to be left with yelling and pushing and for crying out loud it's all just to make sure he doesn't sleep all night bent over and wakes up needing to go to the chiropractor.
Jesse's inability to be awoken demanded greater force just to get his attention - so that when he was finally paying attention he was only seeing my anger and had no idea what all had come before. He had no idea how I had tried to gently wake him or how long I had been trying.
And I end up feeling damned if I do and damned if I don't. I'm told to just "speak softly" and "tap my shoulder" as though I hadn't been doing that to start with - so I feel a sort of mini-despair. I had been trying to do things the right way - to get his attention the right way - but it never worked, so I had to yell. Yelling loudly was the only thing that would wake him up. And then I'm the problem for yelling.
You can see where I'm going with this, right? That this story isn't really about this stupid little play that unfolds every so often in my house?
I'm existentially exhausted by the collective response to any person of color who stands up and speaks out - whether it's with their words or their actions - against the systemic racism in our country, the vitriolic hatred that runs deep in our collective bones, and is vilified for it.
So Colin Kaepernick exercised his right as a free citizen to not stand up during a song that talks about this nation being a land of the free despite this nation's systemic oppression of minorities. He did something that was peaceful, quiet, and yet visible. He spoke well of his reasons and defended his actions appropriately.
He has spoken gently. He has tapped our shoulder.
And America's collective response, initially at least, was to FREAK THE F&%$ OUT. People shamed him. People called him unAmerican. People called him a brat. People called him every name imaginable. How dare he! Middle-aged white women living in middle America were disrespected by this. Disrespected. How dare he.
I don't know about any of you, but I am screaming inside. I am screaming at America. I am screaming at the top of my lungs and my heart is bursting. And I'm just a white woman living in a nice town in the midwest. But since we belong to each other and there's no such thing as other people's children, I am a part of this. And when someone who belongs to me isn't being heard, isn't even being acknowledged, and is getting the shit kicked out of them as a result, I can't sit idly by.
You realize I'm not just talking about Kaepernick, right?
Our brothers and sisters of color are being profiled. Targeted. Oppressed. Beaten. Murdered. And I'm not saying that a white person is never unfairly targeted or wrongfully accused. But I am saying that it's not because they're white, systemically, by the very systems put in place to protect and uplift them.
Our response to our brothers and sisters reminds me of my husband's response to me when he finally wakes up to my not-so-gentle JESSE WAKE UP WAKE UP JESSE GOD DAMMIT WAKE UP. And yet you can see that the easy solution to this situation at home is for me to just let him sleep, right? What's the big deal? He's a grown-up and he can deal with a crick in his neck.
That's basically what we're telling our sisters and brothers to do. To stay quiet. To accept oppression. To stop shaking the boat. To let us white people keep on keepin' on as though everything is fine, because for us it is. But since we belong to each other, when someone isn't fine things aren't really fine for the rest of us. It's a poison and it's spreading. We can't expect them to stop trying to wake us. To let us sleep. We need to be woken up.
So maybe you don't think systemic racism is a thing. Maybe you don't think racial profiling is a thing. Maybe you think every black person shot and killed, or beaten to death, by a police officer deserved it. I obviously disagree, but I'm not here to convince you otherwise. I'm just asking you to listen.
Just wake up. And when you do, just listen. Listen to what has been happening while you were asleep.