The Revolution

“I don’t want to cook tonight,” I pleaded with Francis, a bit whinier than necessary. It was a balmy late August evening and I wanted to sit outside and pretend it was a normal summer night. I wanted to act as if everything was fine.

“The pizza place has places to sit outside. There isn’t table service so there’s no face-to-face interaction while we’re unmasked. We’ll go in, grab the food, and sit outside without any risks.”

We regularly ordered take out from many of our local restaurants, but this would be our first attempt at eating out.

“Plllllllleeeeeeeeaaaaassseeeeeeeeee? If it feels unsafe, we’ll just come home.”

The pizza place is two blocks away. As risks go, this seemed minimal. He nodded. Yippee.

A gentle breeze had broken the day’s summer stagnation and it tickled my tank-topped shoulders as we walked north. A residual warmth reverberated off the pavement like a terrycloth towel left on the beach all day, preserving the glow of August without the battle.

The picnicky wooden tables and benches set up in the parking spaces on Alberta Street felt downright luxurious to me and I marveled at the crispness of the wood-fired pizza crust as it crunched between my teeth. The pizza lady had given me an extra slice because someone had canceled their order right before we walked in. It felt like I had won the lottery and I rotated between my margherita slice and the free feta, olive, mushroom slice, yumming at each bite. Francis was “enjoying” his vegan slice and vegan garlic knots dredged in nooch. I don’t remember what we talked about. I only remember the salty whiffs of summer’s end.

Glutted and tranquil, we walked down Alberta toward our street and overheard,

“You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televised”

 

“Great song!” Francis cheered to the woman playing it.

“I know, isn’t it?” She was a beautiful person of color in her mid-20’s nodding intensely at the music coming out of her phone. She was wearing a light blue mini-dress and struck up a conversation immediately.

“It really is a great song.” She clung to our side like Saran Wrap. “Oh, I see you guys are walking down this street too. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“Of course not!” we both chimed in happily, feeling more receptive and neighborly than we had in the months of being locked down together.

Her music stopped.

“It’s just… I just had something happen… something happened and I don’t know if you are um fans of BLM but something… um…”

“Yes, we are very much in support of Bla…” I started to speak and then realized she was shaking and crying. “Oh my gosh, are you ok?”

“I was just assaulted on Alberta. A woman… she called me the N-word and a few other things… just a few blocks away.”

There was a whimpering that I realized belonged to me.  It suddenly seemed dark enough to be the dead of night, which it wasn’t. I know my arms flew up wide like a social justice Pterodactyl ready to protect this woman. And then the rage came uncontrollable instinctive red angry violent images of what I would do to someone that thinks they can speak this way to another human being. I hate violence. It’s so easy, so distracting, and so unresolving, but it dresses itself up like a solution.

“I live in the next block,” she choked her emotions back as she pointed, her short hair blooming into a corona while backlit by the street light. “Can I walk with you? I’d rather not walk alone.”

Flooded with the fear that she tried to tamp down, I felt like a child who had taken a wrong turn and was suddenly unaccompanied in an unfamiliar world. Where’s my mommy? Where’s my daddy? Where are the people who make us feel safe? The leaders… where did they go?

My arms stayed up in defense. Useless arms.

Francis and I blathered a mish-mash of outrage and sympathy. “Areyouok?Howdareanyone?Whatcanwedo?Iamsosorrythatthathappened.Areyousureyou’reok?Howcanthishappenhere?Whatcanwedotohelp?Areyougoingtobeok?Thisiswhereweliveifyoueverneedanything.I’msosorrythatthishappened.”

She stopped walking and raised the side of her dress to reveal a tattoo of a hanging on her thigh.

“I got this tattoo last year in honor of my ancestors who were lynched and beaten.” The fear in her eyes faded to pride as she stroked the image. “You see, I’ve put a heart where the head would be. A heart to replace the pain. I never thought I would feel this much fear in my everyday life.”

I nodded, trying to envisage recurring oppression, stretching to feel it deeply, while acknowledging that empathy is a long-distance second to experience.

“Oh my god,” I said. “This was right there on Alberta?” She had been assaulted half a block from our placid pizza picnic at about the same time too.

I kept apologizing. Because that seemed right, though I don’t align with anyone that could say that word or think those thoughts. I don’t think I do anyway. I pointed to our house which is across the street and a few doors down from hers. I said if there’s ever anything she needs, to knock. My gut wanted to clarify, “not because you’re a person of color, not because I think I’m stronger than you, not because of anything other than that I’m your neighbor and we’re in this together,” but stayed silent.

I am white, I am privileged, I know that I am naïve.

She thanked us. We couldn’t hug, though we all wanted to. Coronavirus.

 

When I Zoomed with my shrink the following week, I asked, “Did I tell you about the woman of color that was verbally assaulted in our neighborhood?”

My therapist couldn’t remember because she’d heard so many stories like this recently. She has heard this story so many times in the past month that my story didn’t stand out at all. I let that sink in.

I’m so naïve.

Because I didn’t think it would happen so close to my home and/ or I didn’t think it would happen so frequently and/or I didn’t think it would get more common than less and/or I don’t know how to help. How can we be moving backward so quickly?

 

Last week right before the fires started, I saw our neighbor as I was getting out of my car. She waved and I ran over to see how she was doing. She smiled and nodded.

“There was a Black Lives Matter protest a few nights a that ended on Alberta and I stood in the place, right in that spot where that lady said that word to me, and I embraced it and healed myself.” She was glowing and seemed about 12 feet tall. I saw the corona again, but there was no street light behind her this time.

I don’t know why I am fortunate enough to make friends with someone as accessible, forgiving, and willing to share her process as she is with me, but I will do everything in my power to prove myself worthy of it.

I WILL VOTE.

 

No recipe this week, just food for thought.

 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, by Gil Scott Heron

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre
And will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because
The revolution will not be televised, brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mae
Pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able predict the winner
At 8:32 on report from twenty-nine districts
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young
Being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still lifes of Roy Wilkins
Strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit
That he has been saving for just the proper occasion

“Green Acres”, “Beverly Hillbillies”, and “Hooterville Junction”
Will no longer be so damn relevant
And women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane
On “Search for Tomorrow”
Because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news
And no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists
And Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb or Francis Scott Keys
Nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash
Engelbert Humperdinck, or The Rare Earth
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back
After a message about a white tornado
White lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
The tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat

The revolution will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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