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The Year We Learned to Make Lemonade

Do you remember how you felt the day before you realized the pandemic was actually something serious? What were you worried about? What were you excited about? What were your plans? For some of us it may be things we couldn’t even imagine thinking about right now and for others it could be the same things we’re dealing with today. The point is there’s no right or wrong way to answer the question. It’s just the reality that a singular monumental event that happened to us all at the same time affected all of us differently. And now a year later everyone sees it differently too. This is the way I see it.

This pandemic exposed us in all the ways it possibly could. The first being that it revealed to us that the government had absolutely no idea how to handle a crisis this big and that most of us had never lived through such a deep time of the unknown. I remember being up late at night in the lockdown, during the time when there was so much misinformation going around about what this was, and thinking “No one actually has any answers.” Yes we were all going through this crazy thing together but no one actually knew how to protect themselves so we clung to each other even more. We facetimed, we drank wine at zoom parties, we caught up on shows. And for a while it was fun. It was like a surprise vacation we didn’t expect to see. And then the productivity monster starting creeping in. The “i must make something during this time or it will all count for nothing” monster invading our conversations with friends. Suddenly we weren’t allowed to be humans going through an unprecedented time. We had to be artists who suddenly got inspired by all this suffering happening around us. So in the middle of people creating and collaborating and showing that we were all in this together, we were reminded that not even a pandemic can change the deep rooted racism living in our country. We all had to see George Floyd’s brutal murder on national TV all day long. The second exposure. We’re dealing with two pandemics and one of them has been hiding in plain sight for centuries.

As a Black woman, this is when the pandemic became unbearable to me. The protests were non stop and I was getting flooded with apology messages from my non-Black friends hoping they had never put me in a position where I’d felt like I was being discriminated for my skin. It’s a weird thing to receive all these apologies just because I’m Black but its also a weird thing to be discriminated just because I’m Black. So I let these apologies come. At first they were so uncomfortable. Obviously I did not know George Floyd so at first they felt unwanted. But watching that video I recognized that same feeling I felt when I saw that facebook live video of Philando Castile being shot in the car in front of his girlfriend and her child. Something inside of me broke. There really are people who think we aren’t supposed to be on this earth, who judge us before we’ve done anything, and think it is their responsibility to take us out one by one. This only magnified when we found out about Ahmaud Arbery who was chased and murdered by two white men while he was on a run. Or when Elijah Mclain was racial profiled while he was walking home and the videos of his family being given the run around about what happened to him were resurfacing. But the worst of them all was the day we found out that Breonna Taylor’s killers would not be convicted. That was the day I had felt the weight of the loss. The protests, facebook posts, go-fund me’s, t-shirts, celebrity videos, news articles, everything, was falling on deaf ears.

That kind of trauma lived in me in a way I wasn’t aware of. That thing we call imposter syndrome, for me, is fueled by the notion that people don’t want me to succeed. People who don’t even know me think I’m not worth anything just because of the color of my skin. My ancestors before me who were filled with god-given gifts were not allowed to share them and even if they were they were treated less, paid less, and more disrespected than their white peers. This trauma, this insecurity, this imposter syndrome runs deep for people who look like me because of the weight of white supremacy keeping the “balance” in tact. If I don’t know how amazing I am then I can never be amazing. If I don’t know that I’m valuable then I can never be valued. This is how I understood the meaning of radical self-love. Feeling this pressure and this weight, and choosing to love myself anyway.

Identity. The third exposure. We live in a world where we let labels identify us. What we do, what we create, where we come from. The reason we do this is because it allows us to kind of live off of the same study-guide. If someone calls themselves a “creative” then by the definition of this study guide people will always expect them to create. People may also expect that they don’t have any money, but what it does to the person labeled as the creative is make them think that they have to be constantly living up to that identity in order to feel validated. “If that’s the way people see me that’s the way I am”. But to live in the parameters of the way people see you is to do a disservice to the expansiveness of all that you are. With social media, this doesn’t help. We try to come up with the perfect feeds and the perfect captions to let people know exactly what we are about. We’re told to build our brand so that people can identify with us. Maybe to sell a product or maybe to get a bunch of likes and become influencers. Either way, with the loss of physical contact because of the pandemic we have acquired this new normal that all that we are fits in these little squares. We must share everything that we’re doing now because we’ve lost that human connection. We’ve forgotten how it feels to be validated by our closest friends and our jobs so we’ve come to the internet to do it for us. We’ve come to rely on labels sort of as a comfort but we have no idea how much it belittles us and keeps us from reaching our full potential.

The last exposure, the one I think about constantly as we move away from lockdown life, is how much we hate living slowly. We really were given months and months of no deadlines, no responsibility other than grocery shopping, and if you’re anything like me, you tried to fill every moment of it. You convinced yourself that you had to fill the space instead of considering the space already filled. I chose to identify myself only by my work and the way people saw me, not by everything that makes up who I actually am and that’s something i’m avidly working on everyday. Losing my job forced me to take a good hard look at what I had without it. Was I happy with whatever was left or was I trying to find something else like a kid excited to come to class and show everyone his new toy? The hardest thing is to find value in the essence of who you are when it’s all stripped down. Maybe it’s because we fear that without the smoke and mirrors and glamour there really isn’t anything interesting left. But hasn’t this year taught us that human beings are the most interesting, beautiful, and valuable things on the planet when they are being uplifted and loved just for being who they really are?

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