The Friday before couldn’t have been described as anything other than ordinary. I hit the snooze button on the first three alarms before waking up in a panic. I scrambled to shower, to get dressed, to grab food, and to successfully catch the 7:17 train.
I ate half a blueberry muffin on the way there and instantly regretted it. The day came and went without issue and without cause for alarm.
The next day, I woke up with a pain in my neck that progressed from my shoulders to my arm, back, fingers, and all the way down the length of my spine.
Two fingers on my left hand were almost completely numb, and there was a pain in my arm that seemed to start at the vein and stretch down to the ends of my tingling fingertips.
At first, it was hard to sit still or write. Then it was hard to sit up straight. Then it was hard to eat, drink, read, walk, or concentrate. The pain made it hard to sleep, so I stayed up for most of the night wondering what was wrong with me.
On Sunday, less than 24 hours after the symptoms first started, I could barely get out of bed.
Since April 1st, I’ve been to the doctor at least six times. They said it was a pinched nerve, and that I shouldn’t worry. Nerve pain takes time heal. They gave me a few prescriptions and told me to do some neck stretches consistently.
Closer to May, I went back for another check-up.
I’d panicked that weekend because my hand with the numb-tingling fingers had started to get cold. Colder than the other hand. It felt like I was holding a bag of ice in one hand, but nothing in the other.
There was a miscommunication after the X-rays, so I headed home instead of going back to see the specialist.
She called me a few hours later with the news.
“You have arthritis in your spine. We’re referring you to a neurologist for the coldness you’re experiencing in your hand. The arthritis in your spine is permanent, but the pain you’re experiencing should eventually go away. There is a slight chance, however, that it never will.
This chance is only slight, but it is a possibility. Nerve pain takes time to heal, so we want to pursue more conservative treatments before we conclude whether spinal surgery is needed. You’ll get an MRI when you see the neurologist, and then we’ll determine whether it’s best to see a chiropractor or physical therapist.
If that doesn’t work— although we hope it will, but if it doesn’t—we’d need to have a conversation about surgery on your spine.”
I took a few deep breaths and hung up the phone with my one cold hand. My fingers were still tingling.
Learning to understand racism is kind of like receiving a bad health prognosis.
We grow in our understanding of race and racism much like this:
ONE: If we’re lucky, we go on about our days—we go on about our lives—completely unaffected.
TWO: Perhaps completely out of the blue, we have an experience. Or a moment. Or a confrontation. We experience or we feel something that makes us believe that everything is not all right—no matter how much we might wish it.
THREE: We start to replay old memories in our mind. We hunt for clues; we hunt for evidence that things have always been this way. Were there no warning signs? What did we miss?
FOUR: Perhaps– though I imagine it’s not the same for everyone– we go through a brief period of mourning (but we don’t think of it as that). We start to think about things that we may longer get to experience or things that we may be kept from. We start to think whether we should still pursue certain things—perhaps the barriers against it will be too great for the reward. We start to think about the people whom we love who may no longer care for us because of it.
FIVE: And then, although I think this comes much much later, we start to realize that we are more than this one thing about us. We’re more than whatever good or bad may come from it. There is still time. We can defeat it.
SIX: We may start to look at other people differently. Perhaps we’re kinder or more patient. Perhaps we’re more gracious or generous because it occurs to us (although it’s occurred to us before) that other people are fighting battles of their own that we can’t quite see. Perhaps we’re even more loving.
SEVEN: We can become angry and hostile. We can lose our ability to function in the world as we did before. We may have to figure out a new way to exist in the world, given the knowledge of our new reality.
EIGHT: We may begin to advocate aggressively on behalf of other people who may also be struggling.
NINE: We may give up and decide it is easier and best to live as if we never went to see the doctor.
TEN: Every now and then, when we’re feeling really good, we may forget that this problem has ever existed. We may do what we’ve always done without issue or cause for alarm. We may even forget that the diagnosis was permanent.
Not everyone is ready to have a conversation about race.
Not everyone even wants to.
I understand, but I don’t empathize.
The conversation is important.
At the heart of it, I understand that we say and do many things for the sake of self-preservation. It’s not always about who we’re against, but the fact that we’re for ourselves.
It may look like selfishness, but we don’t call it that. Perhaps we just want to do what’s best for our children. Even if what’s best for our children is unfair to other people’s children.
Like in The Walking Dead.
Just like that.
Some people think it’s pointless because we’re all supposed to be the same. We’re all a part of the human race, after all.
Some people think it’s pointless because they believe they’re better than other people and that others should be beneath them.
Some people just don’t believe that anyone will ever change their mind.
Some people just don’t have the emotional sensitivity, the patience, or the grace.
At different times in my life (and probably tomorrow), I’ve been one of those people.
For these reasons and so many more, we need to have a conversation about race.
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