It’s my birthday this week.
I love birthdays. I love celebrating, literally, anything. I believe that life is for living in the moment, and I’m a proponent for always finding the silver lining on even the darkest of days. However this particular year, it feels tone-deaf for me to celebrate. Especially when there are atrocities happening to people who look just like me.
In case you hadn’t guessed it, hi, my name is Danai, and I am living while black and female.
It is likely by now that you have heard about the tragic and brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd all in a matter of weeks within each other in the United States.
A little closer to home, a week ago, a video went viral of Amy Cooper, a white (Canadian) woman, calling the NYPD screaming false accusations that a Black man, Christian Cooper (in cosmic irony, they share a name, but are not related) was threatening her life. Amy was walking her dog unleashed in a protected area of New York City’s Central Park when Christian asked her to leash her dog. Christian was in the park to bird watch, an activity he avidly partakes in. Bird watching. Bird. Watching. I can’t think of a more peaceful thing one could possibly do. Had he not captured her ludicrous accusation as she made that call, Christian Cooper may have ended up in a correctional system routinely known for locking up people of colour who then have their lives ruined, by just an arrest.
A mere two days later, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black woman in Toronto, fell 24 floors from her apartment window to her death after police were called to her home. Her family suspects that the police had some involvement in her death, and her case is currently being investigated. It was revealed in a statement that her last words were, “Mom, help.”
This is happening, and it’s happening in our backyards. This is not a story about American history in times of oppression, no this is happening in Canada, today. Just last week I experienced a very blatant microaggression while in a grocery store, an occurrence I’m ashamed to admit happens more frequently than not. Seldom do I retaliate so as not to perpetuate the stereotypes of the angry black female, but I’m angry. Who wouldn’t be? I’m tired. No, I’m exhausted. And I will not be compliant in my silence to appease a situation any longer. I implore you to do the same.
It’s encouraging to see the tremendous outpouring of posts and dedication from non-black allies in my digital community, who like many others, admit their wrong-doing in not standing up against anti-black racism. I’d naively love to believe that this exposure through social media outreach is enough, but the truth is, I don’t care whether or not you post a 28-slide Instagram story about this or not. What I care about is changed behaviour. What I care about is not feeling my body tense up when I’m out in public, feeling judged for the way that I look. What I care about is needing to say a prayer every time my brother tells me he’s going out for a run at night for fear that something might happen to him. What I care about is the need to feel personally responsible to fight for equality in every job I’ve had, and practically beg for pro-black activism in the workplace.
What I want to see are hearts restored from all the hatred that lives inside of them. What I want to see is financial resources being utilized to support initiatives in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. What I want to see is non-black allies investing time to educate themselves and have meaningful conversations that will lead to understanding. What I want to see is radical and systemic change for future generations. That’s what I want to see.
Even as a full-grown adult who has lived in this body for all of my life, I’m still learning how to love myself in a world that tells me not to. I’m still learning to live in a society that deems people who look like me as dispensable. But I’m also still learning to trust that while today doesn’t look so hopeful, that tomorrow is a new day. It’s a big challenge, one that I can’t take on alone. I don’t have all the answers, and I am overwhelmed by all the work we (yes, a collective we) have to do. But we have to start somewhere.
It’s like Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ It’s time for us to do better. Then do better. Then do better.
Check in on your black friends, your black family members, your black colleagues. Speak up when they’re not around. Educate yourself, ask questions, listen, do your research, and take a hard, deep long look in the mirror to identify the subconscious biases you may have in your heart and learn how you can change those. This isn’t something that you can politely disregard after feeling vindicated by liking a post or sharing a hashtag. Because guess what, tomorrow I still have to wake up, black. I don’t get to choose to forget.
Your fear for saying the wrong thing isn’t enough. Fuck your political correctness, and stand up for what is right. Because if you don’t, you’re taking the stance of the oppressor. It’s that simple.
Please consider donating to Black Lives Matter Toronto. It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another to be about it. I’ve got a birthday to celebrate.