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  • Writer's pictureRebecca B.

A Slap in the Face and a Welcome Home

It's a very auspicious time to call Harlem home. I've felt pretty numb and let down these past four years, but that video of George Floyd slapped me awake and affected me as a mother.

My family has been away from NYC for a bit, trying to shelter in place with more square space, and returned just as the curfew was starting. That first night back I sat on our back deck, and did some heavy reflection on how to proceed as a responsible citizen. At 8:30 I heard the police telling everyone on Frederick Douglass to go home, over bullhorns. There was music coming from the yard to the east. Those neighbors, a black family, welcomed us back, over our shared fence, saying they were worried where we had been, telling my two-year-old how beautiful he is. Our neighbor to the west, a black man, was on the phone helping his nephew set up his Nintendo Switch. He just got a dog named Goya and asked us if she was a bother. To the north, there is often band practice, but not that night. It was quiet. There was a cat on a fence two yards down and the fire flies were coming out.

Growing up in the south I was surrounded by racism, but prided myself in being above that, seeing everyone as “the same.” Struggles may be different, but I thought in America, anyone could succeed if they put in the work. I have been aware as an adult that being blind to race should never be the goal. Seeing someone as the same allows no room to celebrate difference, and groups who have been discriminated against need more support to make it out of the hole discrimination has put them in. Yet talking about the hole has seemed somehow uncouth. I haven't wanted to mention the hole in case someone didn't think there was a hole. Who am I, as a white woman, to name the hole? And does naming the whole push people deeper into it? These last few weeks I've heard many white people admit to this same thinking.

I am so thankful that the hole has been named. I recognize I've been part of the problem and that there are very tangible actions I can take to be an ally to black people. The system in place that has failed us all, that is responsible for making a narcissistic idiot the leader of the free world, that has allowed senseless murders of black people by the very people who maintain law and order, is a white man's system. We will all benefit when we change it. We all should be voicing rage, even if picking the right words to do it is uncomfortable. My black friends have been amazingly gracious in helping me into the conversation. We need each other to have a unified voice, and that voice should be so deafening at this point that it is impossible to turn away.

This week, my son cheered on his first protest and we talked about there being more. I feel the revolution. Along with the new system we are fighting for, may we raise global citizens and community members, who will always welcome you home, like my neighbors have done for me. Thank you, Harlem.

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