My name is Shirley and this is a text about things that no longer exist but weigh on us. That do not exist, but cast a shadow in all the paths I trace and in everything that I am - how to separate from us the shadow of what we really are?
I write not only because times oblige me, but because there is an urgent need to dialogue with me and with the “me’s” that exist both in me and beyond me, perhaps in the hope of rescuing a little bit of us. I am the intersection of multiple black people and it is to and for them that I am here today.
Now that you are willing to listen, I no longer need you to speak for me. In fact, I never did. Allow me first to invite you to a toast: Let us toast to the days when I was uncomfortable and toast to the days when I cringed to fit in places where I was made to believe that only this way I would fit.
Basically, let’s toast to the days when I was becoming more the less I was me so that you are aware that, from now on, we will only toast to the days when we will all be the change.
I was born black, and by being so it was not long before there were times in my life when, many times, I merged with black, the color, as its definition in the dictionary shows: That receives the light and does not reflect it.
So, out of the blue, I was immediately dictated at birth what was seen by many as a sentence and which I, too, was slow to see as an inheritance.
I learned early that not seeing color, in fact, was not seeing myself either. It was not recognizing myself as a black woman until I was forced to do so: I was forced to such when, as a child, they pointed at my skin and immediately established the barrier that I was not allowed to overcome when saying "sorry, but people with this skin tone cannot play with us”. I found myself forced to recognize me as a black woman when, visiting my white friends’ houses, a family member asked me if I was the baby's nurse or, my favorite, when in a job where I had to deliver to the at the person's door, I ran up the stairs and the team leader says to me: “considering your skin tone, I don't advise you to go running” - but, note, do not be afraid cause Portugal is not a racist country.
Let us rest, briefly, when looking at our small garden planted by the sea knowing in advance that this only happens there in the United States and Portugal is not the United States, is it?
In Portugal, we did not have a group of skinheads to beat a black man to death, we do not have police forces abusing the authority entrusted to them to mistreat black people while giving racist insults, much less if there is a deputy in the Assembly of the Republic who defended the specific confinement for the Romani community or suggested that a black deputy were “returned” to her homeland.
After returning to normality, there are many examples of the ill-resolved ghosts of the past with which we did not make peace as a society, either because it was comfortable for us or because the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
The assassination of black citizens by the hands of police officers in the United States of America is not new, neither are the movements that were generated in a tone of solidarity and revolt. Be amazed the inattentive ones who look at events with surprise: what is happening is not the result of an isolated case, it is the culmination of years of oppression, it is the cleaning of the dust that has always been thrown under the carpet and now that, finally, we decided to get it up we are forced to deal with the dust and also we cannot breathe. It says a lot about the troubled era in which we live, the fact that, surprised, we find strange all the police action that is not violent. To the point of applauding it as if it was not just their job. It is important to know: after all, what is normal about the way that racism became a landscape and has naturalized itself in speeches?
For the first time, people who saw no color are emerging from the bubble of privilege in which that speech was submerged and observing what a skin tone is worth when it comes to saving a life or, on the other hand, losing it.
The recent events have brought to the surface the importance of being the black friend. This part-time that has been assigned to me carries with it many responsibilities: if, on the one hand, I feel the duty to speak and to position myself so that it is clear that it also hurts me, on the other hand, it is exhausting to be here to fight for rights that arrive late when words are running out in themselves. It came to remember how urgent it is to speak and occupy spaces without abandoning our blackness, alongside our friends, our family, in schools, universities, in the media and in politics. We went from being object of instrumentalization to being subjects who are finally making themselves heard and, above all, are being heard.
Time has done little for us and it has come for us to do something with time, and so it will be, we will create another: the time of rupture. Let the old habits be broken, which in no way have helped us when we wanted to reach new places.
Although the assassination of George Floyd may have shocked some, there is a set of George Floyds that have not been overlooked. Each of these names, from Eric Garner to Sandra Bland, are the vehicle that drives the strength of the black movement.
If there are some who can afford to be perplexed by the prevalence of racial injustices in contemporary times, on the other side of the coin there are those who have spent their entire lives having it as a companion, being shaped by it in all aspects of their growth as a person. For some of us, the whole existence has always been not only political but a stage of resistance and the daily life presents itself as a daily battle.
In these last days I am nothing more than a tight heart, although talking about the last days is talking about my whole life and that of so many others. And it is tiring to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders.
It is remembering the times in which we were a stereotype and little more, the times when we were a fetish, the times when we did not feel represented, the times when we had to subject to silence and invisibility in order not to cause embarrassment even if it costed our mental health. It is the lonely look of someone who has always seen him/herself as a person and has clung to that conviction with claws and teeth to defend their existence, even if with their voice shaking and subject to being muffled by “now everything is racism” - when evil is not something new now, it comes from a long time.
It is assumed that we must return to the past, not to remain there, but to pick up the wreckage left by the present with an informed eye.
The word was finally given to someone who had been taken hostage by the silence: bodies to occupy, to report, to define their own narrative, to be the spokespersons and not the puppets of their own history.
The rubble left by colonialism, which we still face today, makes it impossible to build the house that is - or should be - the black collective conscience. The anti-racist struggle has to start in us, it involves recognizing an uncomfortable past until its confrontation and exposure in our personal circles and everyday attitudes. Our comfort zone has to be moved into the background. There will be nothing comfortable in positioning ourselves against injustices, however, nothing comfortable exists in living as a victim of them.
I still look forward to the day when, as Solange said, our Seat At The Table is recognized. However, as I told you initially, this is a text about things that do not exist but that weigh and shade, who knows how…
A text by our volunteer Shirley Van-Dúnem
June 6 th 2020, espalhafactos.com - TRANSLATED VERSION