Three Words Matter

I was surprised by how shaken I was by 3 words. I had walked into the office, mid-conversation among my colleagues. My stomach seized. I turned to exit quickly. Even now, in the reshaping of memory, I can sense how someone might wonder if I were being overdramatic.

Was it the tone? Was it the certainty? Was it the repetition? Or did the words seem more forceful because they revealed a willful dismissal of my personhood and many others?

“All Lives Matter!”

“Yeah, all lives matter!”

“Everybody knows all lives matter!”

“Right.”

Tossed from person to person like a football snap. The way they were standing, circular.

My first call was to an old friend, a solid friend, but a white friend. I knew other friends would validate more completely with unspoken understanding, but I wanted to talk to someone who offered personal support, not necessarily political.

Her skepticism was buried deeply in concern as she listened. But the somewhat halting conversation built the foundation for the courage to consider direct action.

Of course, my second and third calls were to people who unequivocally WTFed what had happened in the office. When you have brown skin and are surrounded by white people, this kind of support is life.

I sent an email to the one person who had spoken with whom I felt I could salvage a connection with a phone call.

“Do you have time to chat?”

Her voicemail the next day was cheerful. I called back and caught her on the way to the beach with her family. I was on speaker phone.

“Visiting friends at the lake . . . great weather . . . You know how it is, you have to reach those 10,000 steps . . . “

“The reason I called, I was wondering if it might be better off speaker.” She quickly clicked to phone only.

She listened, then recounted her understanding of the conversation honestly. The people in the office had not been joking.

At the same time, she said she has been learning. She had seen a Facebook post which attempted to explain using the analogy of a white child’s funeral in which people callously commented, “all children matter.”

I countered with a time when I failed to recognize the heartbreak of miscarriage (I’ve never had one) and had wondered why a year later, someone might bring up the anniversary of having lost a pregnancy. I hadn’t fully grasped the pain of this loss since it was outside my experience. Since that time, I have come to understand the significance even after a child is born.

She laughed in recognition as I confessed, “I was a jacka$$.”

I still haven’t called any of the others. I’m still trying to figure out what’s next.

I’m not alone.

About jaclynfre

Tech integration specialist, recipe adventurer, fast walker, sporadic writer, aunt, sister and daughter
This entry was posted in Life and Culture, Slice of Life. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Three Words Matter

  1. Thank you for your courage! Thank you for daring to have these hard conversations! I am so sad that they must be had. I like the retort, “yes – all lives matter when Black lives matter.” Certainly, this horror of the police murder of George Floyd opens white eyes to how different life is for people of color.

    • jaclynfre says:

      I appreciate the retort you shared since it is truly the best way to differentiate between these 2 phrases. However, it all hinges on whether people believe what Black people have been saying for hundreds of years. Sadly, internalized racial superiority is so blinding that it screens out any pain associated with it. Thanks so much for your reply!

  2. Ugh. Just ugh. I hope your post inspires some reflection. White people have GOT to do better. That would have been the time for one of the white people in that group to speak up and do the teaching and the push back. I am mystified why 400 years of history hasn’t been enough to open white eyes? But they’re here now so…. Anyway. I also really appreciated your craft here. I felt anxious and constricted as I was reading, and that’s thanks not just to the story, which I found painful to read, but to the way you crafted and told it.

    • jaclynfre says:

      Thank you for your kind reply. Part of the extreme disappointment in hearing uninformed slogans like the ones I encountered at my school is, yes, the by-standers almost make me angrier, aside from the personal dismissal of the voices of people who are suffering. It also feels a lot like encountering an adult who does not know how to subtract with regrouping. Hearing “All Lives Matter” is like hearing an adult say that 40-35=15. You think, “Wow! After all this time and you still were not taught to regroup the ones place?!” So much work to do!

      The difference, of course, is that not knowing how to regroup might cause embarrassment, but ALM is a point of defiance, which is really concerning.

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