Reflections on a Small Town March in Texas
I looked down from my hilltop of nearly half a century, envious of the smooth young flesh on the long legs marching in front of me. The skin appeared bronze and copper, amber, gilded mahogany shone to gloss. Whiteness was temporarily lost in the slant of the evening southern sun, and all colors blurred, not to sameness, but to the oneness of the human race.
My son walked beside me, towering. The walk felt long in my fuddy-dud sneakers and my middle-aged frame, yet I knew the steps were nothing compared to the paths black Americans have walked their whole lives. I tried not to complain, my pain insignificant compared to their anguish. I kept striding and didn’t stop short until I saw a black mother, who could have been me, towering over her little boy, aged 4 or 5, who could have been mine (wasn’t it just yesterday my baby was that small?) with a tee-shirt like a white flag on a battlefield—
On it printed, Will I Be Next?
Earlier in the week, my son had taken part in both of the other Woodlands protests. On the first, a group of 20, mostly students and all white, stood on the bridge waving posters to passing cars. Some honked their support. Others shouted epithets. The second protest was slightly larger and only slightly less disappointing. They marched in the rain to the empty streets around the Waterway shopping plaza.
That afternoon, he came home wet and hoarse and utterly undefeated, recharged from being able to DO something in his own community.
He drove back and forth to Houston, shooting photos and joining his voice to the rallying cries. Meanwhile, I stayed home and chalked BLACK LIVES MATTER on our driveway. I pledged to match donations to the National Police Accountability fund. But not until I joined the protest on Friday evening, June 5, did I too feel like I was doing something.
Of course, it wasn’t enough. Even as I chanted their names, the question occurred to me, “Who am I marching for? For myself, to get off my couch and into the action? For my black college roommates, my high school boyfriend, my coworkers? For George and Breonna and every name on a list so long that a memorial in LA to all the victims spans over two miles? Or for the kids? My own, ages 20, 17, and 14, and the ones who made up the majority of the marchers that Friday, and the ones younger, the ones wearing the t-shirts, asking their mamas if they’ll ever grow up? Yes to all of the above and mostly for the kids. For what we owe them, a promise to make this better. We must make this better.
And we must make sure that none of them are next.
My poster read “May all beings be ONE,” the O colored to look like a mandala. I am a practicing yogi who prays the metta: “May all beings be healed. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be one.”
As my friend Susan pointed out, when I asked if she thought my sign could be misconstrued, “One-ness is not the same as sameness. If we were all the same, the world would be way less rich. The whole ‘color-blind thing’ is something people hide behind when they want to pretend that they don’t see difference, because they’re afraid and defensive.”
How I hope the words of the metta come true. How I desperately want for these anti-racist uprisings to bring about a oneness where all bodies walk together as one Body. I tell you what, though. The march brought out the non-pacifist in me too. We passed restaurants where patrons, eating out maybe for the first time since the lockdown, just stared at us, pasta forks and wine glasses raised midway to their mouths. Part of me wanted to jump on tables and disrupt dinners. My subconscious self, that little rabble-rouser left over from my college activism days, secretly hoped they choked on their Caesar salads. What would I have them do, abandon their tables and join our throng? In a word, Yes!
My ire rose even hotter when so, so many cars drove by with their windows rolled up and their air conditioning blasting as we sweated in the June swelter. Why not a honk, a smile of support, an acknowledgement, f.f.s.?
The next time you are driving by a protest, please remember that a fist in the air or peace sign fingers and a look in the direction of the human being outside, marching for justice, goes a long way. And thanks to all those folks who did just that. Who saw us. Who saw themselves in us. A big fat shaming tsk-tsk to those who didn’t.
Once we’d made our way to Town Green Park, we lay on the grass for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, listening silently while one of the organizers read out George Floyd’s last words. After that, chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ on the march back to our cars took on a whole new meaning.
One of the women in one of the cars on our route back did roll down her window, but not to cheer us on. Instead, she sneered, Go home. I said nothing. Perhaps I was still too stunned by the other voice heard while we had been bowing our heads in prayer at the end of the vigil.
Was it a black truck, a yellow truck? No one could say for sure where it had come from, but we all heard the words loud as gunshot. “No more n———”, a male voice had bellowed, cowardly speeding away.
I take that back - I do know where it came from; from ignorance and shame, from a breed of evil that cannot stand to look itself in the eye. It came from a place bereft and barren of empathy. In my hopeful heart, I want to believe there is nowhere so devoid of human kindness that understanding will never grow, but my rational mind, the one that reads the news and the psychology books, that has met enough and seen enough and studied history enough, knows that evil does exist and righteousness cannot bloom in a garden where the soil is thoroughly depleted. Where evil dwells is a kind of hell and I kind of wish the driver of that black or yellow truck would rot there. I kind of wish, but don’t tell my kids, or my fellow yogis, that when that women had told us to go home, I had looked directly at her and told her to Go to hell. Although that would have been unnecessary, for that’s where she already lives. At least I hope she lost sleep that night or at the very least choked on her Diet Coke.
When Hillary Clinton wore purple to a press engagement on that fateful day in November 2016, we all admired her symbolic gesture — a middle ground between red and blue. “Purple is the new black,” we coined. Now it’s 2020. Black is the new black.
There’s a sweet little shop in Tomball called the Neutral Nest where all the home decor and linen clothes are in shades of taupe and ecru. The shopkeeper gave me a t-shirt that read, “Don’t be left or right. Be NEUTRAL.” At a time in my life, I would have worn it proudly, summoning my yoga philosophies and arbitrating my children’s fights over the TV remote like Switzerland. The time to be Switzerland is over. The t-shirt is comfy but I can’t abide by its sentiment. On this issue, I am not neutral.
In the end, I know that no one can experience Oneness unless we all experience it together. In other words, all lives won’t matter until black lives matter. And if you’re on the wrong side of anti-racism, I am going to find it very hard to invite you to my birthday party. If you can’t get on board, I may even wish, in a very non-yogic moment, for you to choke on birthday cake.
May the sun shine upon us all and light us up so that our skin is bronze and blue and red and white and black and brown. May we lift our posters high and our voices higher. May we be at peace. May we be healed. May we be One.