On Pregnancy, #Ferguson, And Feeling Like a Whale

Tuesday morning, while wandering around eight months pregnant and high on hormones, I had sensory (well, sorrow) overload. The outright murder of an unarmed teen in Ferguson wouldn’t be punished with even an hour in jail, and everyone here in Charlottesville, VA is hushing hushing the question, “Did you read the Rolling Stone article?” What they’re really asking is, “Did you know that rape goes unpunished here at UVA?”

From imagining the girl who bought rope to hang herself after a gang rape to the picture of Michael Brown’s father, wailing in heartbreak and grief, it appears that it is functionally legal to either rape women or kill men of color in this country.  

As I waddled into the gym swimming pool, a big whale of a woman, I couldn’t help but be very, very sad. I drifted into the water, and floated. I didn’t swim fast, I just waded. And waited.

For the sadness to pass.

I looked up and everywhere around me saw caricature pictures of these wrongdoings. I saw lifeguards and thought of the female lifeguards in the Rolling Stone story, avoiding her rapist; I saw the black man in the jacuzzi that no one will sit by, because this is the South. Amongst the gurgling of the water, I pondered the fact that this is the world I'm bringing my child into. 

I thought long and hard about this as I did laps. As I swam up and down the pool, my mind released whale moans of mourning and disgust. I became uncomfortable with how sad I was, and unconsciously started self-policing thoughts like, “Stop being so sensitive", and "Don't be sentimental." Ironically enough, isn’t that always the accusation? That women and people of color get upset – and do things like cry, or loot – because they are irrational creatures driven by their hearts, not their heads?

But what if the “logical” way to approach this rendered nothing?

What do we do about a culture of violence and death and apathy when every institution there to prevent it – including the law itself – has failed? What sort of protest do you conduct when every conceivable type of participation has been ignored? Do you engage artists in a “campaign for change”? No, that failed. Do you go to the streets? No, that failed. Do you even go so far as to engage the White House in local state indictments?

No.

Because even that failed.

Maybe my heart was so heavy because all the rhetoric that we .org-ers practice failed yesterday. Because the culture we seek to change is so much bigger than us. Because all the things we do don’t work.

Because Michael Brown is still dead anyway.

In light of legal justice, the only thing respecting Brown is this enormous tapestry of outrage – of feelings, of output, of loss. There is an emotional map of how much this matters to some Americans, and that map resides in a startlingly different territory than our justice system. That gap is astonishing. And frightening.

So, what do we do? What do we do with all these “feelings”, these sentiments?

I don’t know.

That’s my honest answer: I really don’t know.

But I do know that they serve for something – even if it’s as internal alarm clocks telling us to do more, do better, but above all, do differently.

As I walked out of the pool, I came to the realization that not knowing is okay. And grief is okay. It's brave to hold space, and feel feelings; maybe one day, with them, we’ll know and do things differently.