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!”
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.