Sitting in the Cesspool: Unprocessed thoughts from this week

It’s been a difficult and overwhelming week.

I was scheduled to write a blog post today. But with all that’s been happening in the last week to expose the ongoing legacy of white supremacy in this country, I had a difficult time figuring out what to write on. There was too much to say. So much stirred up. Too many tensions. “It’s too complicated,” I told my husband and housemate, when they asked me what I really wanted to write about.

Somehow, it feels like we are all part of a large cesspool, filled with the shit of white supremacy. There’s new shit that’s put into the cesspool every day, and also the shit that has accumulated over generations.

A toxic manure pool at Smithfield Farms

Some of us are just hanging outside of the pool, knowing there are people swimming in the mess we made. Some are at the top of the pool, where there’s a little bit of surface scum, but not much else. Others of us are pushed down to the bottom, drowning in the shit, and have been for generations.

And when incidents happen, when the pool is stirred up and all of the sediments and shit come swirling up to the surface, people who are sitting outside are momentarily distracted, peering over to see what’s happening and complaining about the stench. Those closer to the surface say, “My God, we are sitting in a lot of shit! It’s deeper than I realized!” Those at the bottom of the cesspool can’t breathe. But then time passes, the particles settle a bit, and people forget, until it happens all over again. The cesspool never actually gets cleaned up. People are still drowning.

Things have been stirred up this week. And there’s a lot I’m processing-both new shit and old.

Here’s what I’ve been sitting in this week:

  • Watching the PBS documentary on Asian Americans and watching the trauma of internment unfold, feeling the pain of always being “other” and the need to appear as “good Americans” for the sake of survival. Reading about a woman in San Leandro posting notes on the doors of Asian households in San Leandro, saying “In this place, no Asian allowed.” Hearing that she got arrested, and did the same thing again a day later.
Woman posting racist flyers in San Leandro
  • Reading about the total deaths from covid-19 surpassing 100,000 and that Bay Area is experiencing a surge. Knowing that black, brown, and Native communities are being hit the hardest from covid-19. Seeing the reality of that in people I know and love who have tested positive and are dealing with compounded stress due to race, class, immigration status, and mental health.
  • Learning about George Floyd’s death and subsequent firing of cops. All of the echoes of Eric Garner playing in my mind. All of the pain and mourning of my black siblings exploited for mass consumption. All of the fear around whether this could happen to my husband some day. A flurry of social media posts from non-black folks (myself included), trying desperately to make sense of things. Wondering why so many people who haven’t spoken up before are choosing to do so now. Christians who say they are “praying.” Feeling angry that prayer doesn’t feel like enough.
Minneapolis police firing tear gas cannisters at protesters
  • The juxtaposed images of white people freely protesting with assault rifles about their right to “individual liberty” in the face of a pandemic, while black protesters in Minnesota are being tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets for practicing that same liberty. All the echoes of Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles, playing in my mind. Knowing that the language of “riots” is used as a forms of violence against black protest. The words of a mentor echoing in my head, saying “Evil can never create anything. It can only repeat itself.Recalling my time in Ferguson in 2016.
  • Watching the conflict between Molly and Victor (Andrew’s brother) on HBO’s Insecure and feelings of distress around the complexity and pain in black-Asian relationship. Having images of Tou Thao as a silent bystander in George Floyd’s killing fill my feed and feeling ashamed. Realizing that Asian Americans can both be harmed by white supremacy and perpetuate it, that anti-blackness and Asian American self-hatred are tied together. Learning that Thao has actually been cited for excessive use of force in the past.
Tou Thao- Minneapolis Police
  • Following the ridiculousness of Amy Cooper, Thinking about the “spirit of the Cooper plantation” rising up in that moment, and the politics of a “blameless victim.” Fearing that taking only punitive measures in these cases (firing) will just lead to more silent and hidden racism, rather than fostering antiracist efforts. Grieving the “unbearable perfection of blackness” that comes up in racialized incidents. Simultaneously longing for restorative justice and also for vengeance.
  • Participating in ongoing clergy efforts to respond to Steven Taylor’s murder by San Leandro police. Learning about another incident of brutality at the hands of San Leandro Police, against a black, pregnant mother -Emerald Black- who miscarried her baby after the incident. Feeling rage. Realizing that Michael is supposed to have another phone call with the San Leandro police chief next week.
  • Picking up my copy of Minor Feelings again. Reading Bianca Mabute-Louie’s piece on racial melancholia. Talking to my housemate about this lecture from the authors of the term. Reflecting on all the ways that this week triggered my own feelings of dissociation and self condemnation. Worrying that I was centering my experience too much.

While I wanted to write a blog post with some concrete next steps, profound thoughts, easy answers, prophetic truths, and meaningful prayers for this moment, I don’t really have anything tidy and packaged to share in this moment.

These are the things that I’m sitting in. The realities that swirl around me. The impacts of white supremacy that I am thinking about, grieving, processing.

It’s a lot. The shit is real. White supremacy made it, we’re all swimming in it and black folks are drowning.

We need to clean it up. We need a new way of living and being. As Fannie Lou Hamer says: “Nobody is free until everyone’s free.”

Co-Pastor @bethelcommunitysl | Director of Advocacy @fphayward | pastor, activist, writer | married to @eubanksme | co-author of @lentenlament | she/her

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