I am on a short vacation to visit mom in Connecticut. I need this time off, more than you know, and I thought it would be nice to see her for Mother’s Day. It’s been a busy few days, but enjoyable. Yesterday me, mom, and baby took a trip to Albany, NY for the Tulip Festival in Washington Park. They crowned the Tulip Queen, who, if I recall, will go on to head a literacy campaign and other interesting socially conscious stuff, along with her court. The mayor was there. Lots of vendors, with cool, interesting and frivolous wares for sale, food for which you want to take a laxative to get out of your system, thousands of gorgeous tulips, sun and hot and general happiness, a little lake where you could sit under trees and catch a breeze, adult beverages, people with kids in strollers, live music… It was nice.
There were also a couple of small but significant (at least to me) protests.
Just as the Tulip Queen was about to be announced a group of about 20 folks stepped forward to shout “Black Lives Matter!” They did this for about five minutes and moved along. This thrilled me. I mean, isn’t that a thing to be proud of? In the midst of tulip queen crowning there are still people who want to come out and remind us of the things that are truly important to the country and world at large. The Tulip crowning is important in the city of Albany, part of its Dutch heritage, and a vehicle for service for the young woman crowned, but there are things even larger than this. The brutality that young black men encounter on a day to day basis is enormous and tragic. Though the spotlight shines brightly on this issue now, it isn’t nearly bright enough, and it isn’t new. Modern tech has been said to make slaves of us, but I say it is a Godsend. There are few things more beautiful than a camera phone.
Later, as me and family strolled through Washington Park, I saw a group of elderly white folks also taking a stand for Black Lives. This struck me harder and deeper than even the first protest. I had to stop, take a picture or five or six, give them my thanks and a thumbs up. I know there are good people out there, but we (and by we, I mean, I) often expect the old guard to be out of step with current issues of race. Especially the old white guard. This is an erroneous concept, at least in part.
After this, I was stopped by the local press. Well, a man with a camera and a mic. “Can I ask you a few questions about what you saw over there (referring to the Black Lives Matter protest)?”
“Sure,” I told him. I’m sure he saw me and thought, this lady is a fortune in diversity. And, you know what? I’m happy to be.
He asked me what I thought of the protest. And also, “Have you ever experienced racism?”
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! That was the jackpot question of the day. And a slightly stupid one, if I may say. I’m African-American, I’m Muslim, and I’m a woman.
Have I ever experienced racism? Take a guess.
It’s easy to get caught up in our day to day busy. Our day to day busy quickly and easily becomes more important to us than the huge things that are happening out there in the world. Our car trouble, or the fact that we need to pick up eggs and milk for tomorrow’s breakfast, or the coffee stain on our work shirt, is eminently more pressing than say, the plight of the Palestinians, or hungry children in our own country, or the sexism women face in the workplace, or the lives of black men that are being stolen wholesale by the very people employed to protect and serve them.
This all made me think about a brief but very meaningful Twitter convo I had with a few friends recently about what it means to be an allie. Admittedly none of us had all of the answers, but I can say this. Being an allie is more than lip service. Being an allie is standing outside in the heat, holding up signs in silent protest, when everyone else is walking around drinking gallon size mugs of lemon aid. Being an allie is taking a chance at ruining everyone else’s good time to remind them that dammit, there are lives at risk out there and that it affects us ALL even though it may seem like it doesn’t. Being an allie is taking time out of your day to stand in the midst of a Tulip Festival only to be ignored and overlooked by everyone else. Except me.