We’re all shook, aren’t we? But what has got you shook the most? Yes, we’re overwhelmed and angry and fearful of what we’ve seen in 2016, and the early months of this year. If it wasn’t unarmed Black men being shot and killed by police for having a broken tail light, or running away from them with their hands up, and your workmates gaslighting you with statements like, “well, if only he had complied…” that shook you the most, then maybe it was the election and its aftermath of Executive Orders that will keep A Tribe Called Quest’s “We The People” all too relevant for quite some time, and if it’s not that, perhaps it’s the swell of hate crimes since November 8th, or the never-ending feed of articles and tweets that tell us we’re clearly doomed, or that things aren’t that bad, or that this is true, and that’s an alternative fact.
Yet, these things are all out there on the grand scale and so the horrible sometimes feels surreal, feels so how can this be? Yes, all these things have me shook. But, what is really shaking me is the infiltration of these things into our daily reality. It is no longer “out there.” It is right beside me. And it’s not that I’ve been living in my white bubble and am now, after the election, just noticing that things have been shook for Black people for centuries, and immigrants, and Native people, and the LGBTQ community, and women, and that I don’t know my white privilege has afforded me the space and distance to not be affected by the daily micro-agressions, and the larger impacts of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve been educating myself and making sure I am not ignorant of the realities of people whose skin doesn’t look like mine, or who came here seeking asylum, or who want to love who they love, have to face on a daily basis. My focus in life now is to work to not be complicit in all of this, and to work to break down the structures of white supremacy and oppression. Still I have white skin, and I have not had to feel shook like they have. Though I am Jewish, and I have felt shook by what happened to my people during World War II, and have had several moments of feeling fire run through my veins with the news of recent anti-Semitic actions, the thing that truly shook me is something that occurred last week at my favorite coffee shop.
Every day I walk or drive the few blocks to Coffee Exchange at the bottom of Wickenden Street. The wonderful baristas greet me cheerfully. I order my medium spicy chai with almond milk. When Olivia is working she’ll often inscribe my cup with the words Wendy Darling across the middle, and sometimes even draw a sprinkle of hearts or stars around it for added delight. I wait by the side of the counter for the 4-minute tea steep, in the warmth of this dimly-lit, wooden nest of a cafe. I’ve always welcomed the wait because from morning on, the cramped rows of tables are always bustling with neighborhood regulars, with contractors, lawyers, Brown professors, artists, college students, making it a perfect spot for eavesdropping on the lively and varied discourse all around me.
Last week though, at my 6:30 in the morning chai stop before work, it was still quiet inside, just me and three or four other men who are always there too, sitting at their usual spots by the window, or the row of tables lining the adjacent beadboard wall. I placed my order and stood by the side of the coffee bean bins. The retired public high school teacher with the loud booming voice who I knew to be a Trump supporter stood up to leave. I hadn’t caught any of the prior conversation between him and the slender, artistic-looking man with the fluffy grey hair that I always think looks like he was plucked from a cafe seat in my old East Village neighborhood. I’ve never spoken to him but imagine him as someone who would be interesting to talk to. He’s almost always reading The New York Times. The teacher, who is over six feet, bald on top, and broad, walks up to the other man’s table and says, “I know you like Obama, but, you know a lot of his policies did a lot of damage, and it’s going to take a long time for all that to be fixed. There’s a lot of bad things festering as a result of what he did. And, that Elizabeth Warren, the nerve of her and what she did last night…” The teacher started to walk away, heading toward the door…”I wish people would just move on. I mean, I’m tired of it…all of this should have ended November 8th.” and out the door he went.
The man with the fluffy grey hair looked up at the man throughout the exchange, and if he said anything at all, I could not hear from where I was standing. His voice, when I’ve heard it, is soft. Much softer than the teacher’s. The teacher’s manner in that moment was threatening. It felt like a warning. Like, I’m sick of you East Side liberals, and you’re disrespect for the new President, and all the good things he’s trying to do after Obama messed everything up. And the man with the fluffy grey hair knew there was nothing he could say in that moment. The teacher didn’t give him a chance to. The man, after exchanging a nervous chuckle with the other regular sitting at the table across from him, let out a big sigh, and simply said, “I need a vacation.”
I wanted to go up to the man and commiserate with him, tell him I admired his grace in such a situation, and to apologize for the threatening manner of the teacher. I wanted to let him know that I felt a boundary had been crossed. Ask him if he felt violated. I know I did. But, Olivia called out that my chai was ready, and instead I retrieved my daily cup of morning joy, and left.
I know we have much to be hopeful for. We can be hopeful for all the resisters who are showing up to protest the hateful actions this new administration is trying to push upon it’s people. We can be hopeful that beyond protesting, people are organizing at the community and national level to make sure this country finally stands up for what is right for ALL people. Above I tried to show how I was woke enough to not just be waking up after November 8th, to win some kind of points for that. I admit I did that thing us white people do to show we are not ignorant to our privilege. I am sorry. I also told you I was Jewish, to gain some more points, for sharing that my people, too, have been oppressed. Again, I am sorry for trying too hard to be that perfect white person. But, in this time, I am hopeful that we will not look to what separates us, or look out for solely our own interests that we fear are being taken from us, and that we will unify, and do that in a way that does not erase people of color, or other marginalized groups of people, or puts them on the back burner for other causes, but in a way that brings us together to fight for the good of humanity, and equality, and justice, and love for all people.
Happy Valentines Day. It is the 5th Anniversary of Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake. I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of this community, for reading and supporting my work over the years, and for caring about Black people and race relations, and for taking a look at yourself, and what matter of importance you give to race and racial equality in your life.
What has you shook? Please share in the Comments below.