“ I long to exist in places where I am understood as I am , not as I am perceived to be .”
FOR MANY , stay-at-home orders and social distancing are about creating a protective space between oneself and others who may be carriers of the coronavirus . For me , and I would venture to guess many others like me , these measures have created a protective space of another kind — one that is about creating distance between myself and others who have been socialized by dominant understandings of race .
I ’ m not the first person to discuss the double pandemic of racism and the coronavirus . Black people are five times as likely to contract COVID-19 as White people in the U . S . We are also three times more likely to be murdered by police . We have 5 % of the wealth of White Americans and have been politically , socially , culturally , and economically disenfranchised in this country for centuries . The recent social uprisings in response to George Floyd ’ s murder brought this to the world ’ s attention , but the lived realities that led to this incident are far from new . Scholars and activists have long discussed the emotional , physiological , and psychological impact of racism on Black people .
While these issues often feel insurmountable , lately I ’ ve found myself reveling in the reprieve social distancing has created . I recognize that social distance is just that — limited to the realm of social practices and relationships . I cannot escape the larger systems at play by staying home , nor would I want to . I ’ ve dedicated my intellect and my labor to changing these systems . Yet , like all people , I long to exist in places where I am understood as I am , not as I am perceived to be .
When Breonna Taylor was murdered by police in her home on March 13 th , I felt the same sense of anger and devastation as I do now mourning George Floyd . However , my ability to process those emotions where , when and with whom I wanted was limited . For better or worse , I often choose to compartmentalize these feelings so I can deal with them on my own terms and in my own time . This was never a true possibility when I had to be physically and emotionally present at work each day . Being one of few Black coworkers means people often perceive me as the go-to person to talk about their feelings on racism . Even if the person asking for my time shares my views , the divide between our experiences means these conversations demand emotional labor , often when I barely have the emotional energy to get through the day . Right now , the wider response to the pandemic means my choice to be selective about when and with whom I engage , in person or online , is more widely understood and accepted . I ’ ve used this time to foster a space where I can exist outside of the world ’ s racializing gaze . I can invite whomever I would like into that space and , in this sense , create a kind of community I hadn ’ t previously imagined possible .
One might think that approaching the world in this way is lonely , antisocial even . I suppose in some ways it is . However , that loneliness stems from the reality that there are few spaces in which people like me can exist freely . It is not the enclave of my small community that is lonely , but rather loneliness that makes this enclave necessary . I cannot count the number of times I have felt utterly alone as the only Black person in predominantly White spaces . And while the community I am creating now offers a refuge , I know I cannot retreat from these other spaces . Change will happen because I am in those rooms . Yet , even if seen only by a handful of people , I cannot keep being seen as “ the other ” without also being seen and understood as myself .
I often find myself thinking about how to sustain such protective measures , especially now that I have moved back to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area , where I grew up . In many ways , the Twin Cities exemplify the contradictions of U . S . life being protested right now . The Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area is consistently ranked one of the top five worst cities for Black Americans . This is due in large part to the widespread geographic segregation and economic disparities that characterize the cities . According to the most recent Census