I got a text from my friend Megan, asking if I wanted to join her.
Some local students had organized a seven mile Black Lives Matter protest march, and they would be passing near Megan’s house. She was planning to stand along the route and pass out water to protesters in the 90 degree heat.
Yes. Yes, I would like to do that. And I was grateful that Megan had thought of a concrete way to DO something, while I’ve just been over here completely in my head about everything.
So I brought my daughter and two of her friends to join Megan, her husband, her sons, and our friend Kathy and her daughter to set up our little water station alongside the road and wait for the marchers.
Not long before they arrived, the police began closing down our section of the street to allow the marchers safe passage. We watched as cars approached only to be directed to turn around. We joked about rating them all on their u-turn capabilities, but what wasn’t funny was some of the reactions we witnessed. One lady rolled down her window and exasperatedly yelled to us, “What’s going on? Why are we stopped?” My daughter told her that a protest march was coming through, to which the woman screamed, “OH, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” Then she continued grumbling explatives as she turned around. I was not sorry for her inconvenience. I felt proud of myself, of my friends, that we were sitting where we were, instead of where she was.
Then the protesters reached us, and I felt less sure of myself.
It was a powerful sight to behold. This mass of people, so charged with passion, even after having walked miles in the heat. I almost immediately felt ashamed that I was on the sidelines instead of in the thick of it. The second-guessing just snowballed from there.
Should I stand or take a knee?
Should I chant along with them or simply hand out water?
Can they tell I am smiling at them under my mask?
I said “You’re welcome” when they thanked me. Maybe I should have said, “Thank YOU.” Or “God bless you.” Or something else.
Before I knew it, they had all passed. A lone gentleman in a car signaled the end, and he stopped to take our picture. I was holding a trash bag in case the protesters had empty bottles to discard, and I instinctively propped it up goofily for the photo. He smiled at me, but I felt dumb. This was a serious, somber, meaningful occasion, and I was worried I had just made light of it.
Walking back after it was over, Megan and I agreed we were happy we came, and even happier we brought the kids with us. But we both expressed uncertainty over the list of “should haves” or opportunities we squandered.
I continued pondering late into the night as I tried to fall asleep. When it came down to it, I was uncomfortable as hell during the whole thing. And I was so disappointed in myself for being uncomfortable.
Then, there in bed, out of nowhere, my mind just yelled STOP!
It’s not about me.
It doesn’t matter that I was uncomfortable.
On the drive home, I asked my daughter and her friends what they thought of the experience. One of the girls said she was so glad she joined us, but it made her sad we had to do this at all. Well, we have to do this because white girls like me haven’t been willing to be uncomfortable. We’ve been too comfortable in our assumption that simply knowing things are wrong is enough. But the price of avoiding discomfort is lives lost, broken status quos maintained, and another generation coming into adulthood afraid to confront the things that make them uncomfortable.
I was the uncomfortable white girl at the Black Lives Matter protest. And it didn’t kill me. It made me better.
Photo of the BLM march taken by my friend Kathy.