The video of a white woman threatening a black man in Central Park illustrates exactly why I’m so relieved to be spending more time inside.
During a recent session conducted over Zoom, my therapist told me I was “glowing.” In the middle of a pandemic.
I struggled to explain why until she prodded, “No crazy experiences with white people this month?”
That’s when it became clear: I’m doing better these days because staying home alone and practicing social distancing has meant I’m avoiding many of the racist encounters that used to plague my daily life.
The video that circulated this weekend of a white woman calling the police with a false report about threats by a black man who simply asked her to leash her dog in Central Park illustrates exactly why I’m so happy to be spending more time inside.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” Amy Cooper is seen screaming at Christian Cooper (no relation) as she continues to approach him. She then emphasizes to the operator, “He’s African-American.” It’s impossible to watch the footage without concluding that she’s hopeful that racism, combined with her lies, will lead to Mr. Cooper’s being punished — and potentially even threaten his life. Her attitude is all too familiar to black people.
Quarantine has meant I don’t have to have interactions with people like Ms. Cooper. It’s meant I don’t even have to worry about having them. And that’s been life-changing.
Of course, I can’t ignore the more concrete reasons that I’m OK these days: I’ve been extraordinarily lucky — especially considering the way the virus has been ravaging black communities — not to be sick and not to lose anyone I love. I’m not an emergency medical worker, and unlike many Americans, I have everything I need to quarantine safely at home.
But in addition to these privileges, there’s another reason that over the past several weeks, I’ve been less anxious, less angry, less sad. It’s because I’ve spent less time simmering with humiliation and rage over offhand ignorant comments, wondering whether my race is the reason for poor treatment, being preoccupied with how to present myself to avoid or minimize discrimination.
Certainly most of what I experienced on a daily basis was not as extreme — or potentially life-threatening — as what Mr. Cooper faced in Central Park. But in addition to stories like his, in addition to the tragedy of the black jogger Ahmaud Arbery’s death at the hands of white men and in addition to the reports of black people being unfairly targeted for social-distancing violations, there are seemingly endless nonviolent, non-headline-making indignities. Black people are often made to feel we aren’t worthy of respect and don’t belong.
Most of the encounters I dealt with before quarantine could be described as “microaggressions,” which the psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” One study of 405 adults of color found a link between experiencing racial microaggressions and thoughts of suicide.
Racial microaggressions used to be a part of my daily life and a regular topic of my therapy sessions. Now they’re not. And I’m realizing that as a black queer man living in America, I’m often better off at home.
I don’t miss the panic I feel when I see a police car pass by me when I’m walking down the street alone. I don’t miss the way my palms get sweaty as a cashier requests to see multiple forms of ID when I make a credit card purchase. I don’t miss being asked questions about how I “got here” in a classroom of white students who weren’t asked the same. I don’t miss the way I can feel my whole face tense up when a white woman clutches her purse as we pass each other on the street.
All of this adds up. Quarantine has been protecting me not only from the coronavirus, but also from white people.
To be clear, the daily anxiety I experienced before social distancing was nothing compared with the suffering this pandemic has caused. I’d give up my newfound peace of mind without hesitation if it meant this virus would cease to exist, the deaths would stop, and all of us — including the many who have been economically devastated by stay-at-home orders — could return to daily life.
But I’m going to figure out new ways to “keep glowing,” as my therapist put it, when this crisis is over.
I think I’ll be shopping less at grocery stores in person because I’ve begun to recognize that a lot of the racist trauma I experienced during my childhood took place while simply shopping for food with my family. I will be working from home more and less in co-working spaces and public areas, where I often feel surveilled by white people. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in an online distance-learning program — I won’t miss the questions about whether I’m lost on campus and the racist-themed parties that haunted my undergraduate experience. Are these significant changes? Yes, but no more significant than living with the angst that comes with navigating daily indignities.
I don’t plan to stay inside all the time. Instead, I’m going to make it a point to seek out more black, queer spaces for leisure. I’ll look for opportunities to socialize in environments where I’m less likely to feel pressure to minimize, defend or explain my presence as a black man.
These months at home alone, surprisingly happy, have both revealed to me how much I was suffering and motivated me to create a life with more dignity and peace.
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World news – NG – Opinion | I Have Not Missed the Amy Coopers of the World