• Jaime Pollard-Smith

In Her Corner

Our job as writers is to listen, to come home to the four corners of the earth.

Natalie Goldberg


A friend and colleague approached me about being a guest blogger at Unbecoming. She had something important she needed to say, but she needed somewhere to say it.


The idea of hosting other writers never crossed my mind. I have a monthly featured guest for J’aime La Vie, but the rest of the posts are ramblings from my own messy mind. My friend’s request reminded me of what I tell my writing students every semester: “Read as listeners— the world needs more good listeners.” I realized that if I needed to stop and truly hear her story, other people did too.


There are issues I grapple with and want to discuss, but oftentimes my voice is not the one that needs to be heard. As a friend of mine recently said, she can tell when a writer has done good research but never touched a painful experience up close. We need voices— all the voices— so we can hear from those who have touched, cradled, wept and nursed their story close to home and heart.


If Mary Oliver instructs us to live by paying attention and telling about it, I would add that a large part of this attention involves listening. As writers we are called to be good observers and listeners. For this reason, I want to offer a space where other voices can share their experiences. Tenured experts in living appear from all four corners of the earth. It is our responsibility to offer them the stage and to truly hear what they have to tell us.


In Her Corner will be a space where other voices can “come home” to share their story. It will be a soft place to land where listeners gather with open hearts and minds in an effort to build a potent force for change.


Without further ado, help me welcome my first visitor, Dr. Kris DeAngelis. She is a full-time faculty member at Central Piedmont Community College, mother of two adorable boys and all-around badass. Let’s gather in her corner to listen with the same intensity with which we hope to be heard.


-JPS


Riots in the Time of COVID

by Dr. Kris DeAngelis


I have two adorable young children. The big one has a head full of fluffy, curly hair and a warm, genuine smile missing two teeth in the front. The little one has incredibly expressive eyebrows and a tendency to sing or imitate noises rather than talk. No one could possibly consider these two cuddly boys dangerous or scary.

When does that change? Is it when the big one is taller than his classmates and has a shadow of a mustache? Because this is already true, and he’s only six. Is it when the little one gets a bit aggressive if he doesn’t get his way? Because he’s only three and has righteous anger down pat.

My boys will be judged based on their skin color. It doesn’t matter that we’ve already had many conversations about the differences between mommy and daddy. They know that mommy’s skin is light, daddy’s skin is dark, and their skin is in between. They also know that mommy’s hair is long, daddy’s hair is short, and theirs is in between. They’re young. So far, our conversations about race focus on how race is another difference between people that makes life more interesting, like how some people are good at baseball and others prefer art.


The big one and I went a bit further than that this past week on Memorial Day in a pandemic-school lesson about various wars. He was familiar with the idea of slavery during the Civil War, but he couldn’t articulate the reason some people were slaves while others were plantation owners. I made him look through multiple pictures until he finally made the connection: people with skin like daddy’s were slaves while people with skin like mommy’s were in charge. Even at six, he was a bit confused about why skin color was the determining factor.


I’m struggling to figure out how to address this with my boys when they get older. My plan is to concentrate on honesty and kindness, like I try to do with everything else they ask about. Slavery and the Civil War are historical truths.


But how do I talk to my kids – my innocent, sweet young men – about what’s going on in America right now? It’s one thing to discuss racism in a historical context and within the societal confines of the past. It’s quite another to tell my boys that people they meet in their lives will judge them based solely on their skin color. That others (not all, not even most, but enough) will see their skin color rather than them. My boys’ beautiful skin, unruly curly hair, and deep brown eyes will make them targets. These physical traits that they inherited and that tell others so little about them will be their defining characteristics for a small and terrible group of people.


We’re lucky. Several relatives work in law enforcement, and the police who patrol our neighborhood also come to our pot lucks. My kids know police officers as people. They’ve shared dinner tables, basketball courts, and Minecraft tips with officers, but I still lecture the boys about being polite and respectful towards the police. As the kids get older, these conversations will become more complex and less light-hearted. What do I say then when my boys ask why skin color is so important?


As a country, we need to examine policies related to our police force, particularly in regards to use of force. Implementation of practical, concrete, and proven strategies can benefit every citizen, transcending race and political party. Yes, ensuring impartial police practices will have a larger positive impact on Black lives as Black lives are the ones most at risk. Many people and organizations with more experience and knowledge than I possess are working on this; I defer to them for specifics. (My current favorite is Campaign Zero, the group behind 8 Can’t Wait.)


What I want to say is that I see you. I see you, peaceful yet infuriated protestors, marching in solidarity and support, using your Constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully to amplify your voices for needed reform. I see you, steadfast and good-hearted police officers, navigating your own outrage and anger towards others wearing your uniform while standing in solidarity to protect the rights of citizens, even those protesting against you.


I see you, parents and partners and children, waiting anxiously at home while your loved ones are in the streets. I see you hoping for their safe return, whether they are carrying homemade signs with slogans or wearing riot gear. We are all praying that the tear gas and rubber bullets remain unused and that the fireworks and rocks remain unthrown.


I see you, benign bystanders watching this unfold from the comfort of your homes, removed from direct involvement and genuinely puzzled by current events. At one point, I had the same luxury. Right now, though, is the time to get involved. Listen openly and without interruption, and truly try to understand. Search for unbiased, reliable news sources. Be a witness in your own community. Record what you witness. Take a break from social media. Educate yourself. Vote.


I also see you, instigators. I see you using a sacred text as a prop. I see you responding to worldwide pleas for less police brutality with yet more, and I see you taking advantage of others’ pain to create more havoc, violence, and confusion. But you’re outnumbered, and the decent people in our country will come together to make lasting change.

Because no mother should struggle with the best way to tell her children that their skin color will make them targets, just as no mother should worry that her work uniform will take her from her children.


America, fix this. Fix this so that mothers can approach discussions about race and police brutality as a part of our history rather than as a current event.



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