By Dr. Trina Moore-Southall
When I was in college, I had no money to spare. I quickly recognized how much money it took to fill my gas tank, and how many miles I could drive until I was empty. I was also keenly aware that Betsy, my 1988 Ford Escort, could drive for 7 miles after she hit empty. I sometimes parked my car 3-4 miles away from my apartment or from my job, or campus, and I would walk to my destination. This was not a good decision for the overall maintenance of my car, and I often drove on empty. I found myself praying that I could get to the gas station if I was approaching 7 miles past empty.
In the last few weeks, I have been 7 miles past empty. There is no gas station in sight. Some of what has taken away from my tank, is being a mother of two Black men. The mileage required for this role is unexplainable. The visibility of racial inequity and injustice across multiple platforms and media has stolen from my tank. The gas required to show up in predominantly white spaces and continue to operate when I am mourning, sad, hurt, and defeated has emptied my tank.
Then it’s those last 7 miles. The demand for me to be the Black friend, the Black colleague, the Black comforter and assurer that the white people around me are not racist is the mileage I will not drive. The demand for conversations and invitations to address racism and social justice that are not new to me, but maybe new to some white people has taken more mileage than I can maintain. Everyone is so interested in this moment on what they can do to make the world a better place. People who have never given a second thought to the challenge it is for me or my children to exist as Black people in white spaces are now interested. I did not become Black in May of 2020. Police brutality, environmental racism, institutional racism, and systematic racism are the roads I have been driving for years. And yet, the white folks in my life have never listened to how frustrating and frightening it is to take these roads which are a mass detour to safety, success and stability.
Here is what I want for you to know. I am not ok. If you have people in your life of African descent and they told you they are fine, you probably never should have asked, “How are you?”.
Educate yourself. You have access to a wealth of information at your fingertips. Books, articles, podcasts, social media sites and youtube channels will give you multiple perspectives on various topics, including how taxing it is to be Black in America.
Do something that requires nothing of me. Send a card, text or email that doesn’t need a response. Make a thoughtful gesture. Do not be self-serving and self-righteous. This is not about you. Add to my tank instead of take from it.
Let me drive my last 7 miles. The emotions and feelings I am experiencing are real. I need space to clear my head on this drive. I need to process in different ways with different people. It is not about you, but sometimes -although rarely-I choose me. If I can’t get to a gas station, I will remain on empty. If I run out of gas completely, I will not be able to go anywhere-or pick you up for a drive.
Dr. Trina Moore-Southall is the director of equity and inclusion at Brentwood School.