One lost red baloon

It was 2020 and the internet was crying when they started to notice that black people were dying 

from violence inflicted by so called protectors in a system that was built to dismiss and neglect us.

While she lay silently asleep in her bed, a black woman in Kentucky was shot in the head. 

Stories like this started to flood our news feed; the face of a black man who said “I can’t breathe”.

Now white people spoke of anti-blackness, like chatter. A campaign blew up, it declared “Black Lives Matter”.

The conversation was so foreign it almost felt surreal and I didn’t know what I was entitled to feel.

It was hard to acknowledge I was part of a minority, I would shy away from black people who showed solidarity 

towards me or reached out to talk to me because truthfully I still didn’t know who I was.

I knew it was wrong but at times I felt white and calling myself black also didn’t feel right.

Should I too have been doing work and trying to do better? Should my page have been fuller? Should my eyes have been wetter?

Having others speculate about what racism meant to me, felt like I was being forced to define my identity.

I was uncomfortable trying to name this emotion, and just trying to breathe among all the commotion.

Friends asked how I was and my face would start burning. Couldn’t they see that I too was unlearning?

They were pointing a mic at me telling me to speak, I tried to respond but my voice was too weak.

When I spoke of inequality it had often been dismissed, so I had convinced myself that it didn’t exist. 

I held it inside and kept the details hazy, that way I didn’t feel like I was going crazy.

Now all of a sudden they created this space, which also reminded me that I had a place;

That no matter how hard I worked I’d remain at the bottom, a life of internalising couldn’t suddenly be forgotten.

I had trained myself for so long to quieten the voice, I told myself “it’s not fair but you don’t have a choice”.

I was glad they now spoke of racial awareness but it’s always been here, there’s always been unfairness.

The noise shook the defence system I took years to perfect. I had tried to blend in but now I was subject 

to marches and rallies and protests to boot, I felt like I was drowning searching for my truth. 

I began doing anything trying to mask the pain ,put up shields built from anger from fear and shame.

I was trying to wrap my head around this thing called race and there were so many realities I wasn’t ready to face.

And so through it all I remained silent, even when things on the news turned more violent.

I knew that my friend's questions weren’t malicious. But how could I explain that I felt suspicious?

Suspicious “the work” was not what it seemed. I wanted more than just posting on screens.

I was hurt by those who did not even try. But when they would approach me, I would start to cry.

Once you said “I don’t see colour and we’re all the same”. Now you’re walking with banners that read “say her name”

and posting on Instagram and blacking out pages. I wondered if this was just one of those phases. 

Was I supposed to be grateful for progress? Did being my friend make your work feel like success?

I didn’t know what I was expected to do. To grant absolution and say thank you too?

I recounted stories about racism that was overt, as if that was the only racism that hurt;

The times that were filled with disappointment and fear. Was this what the white people wanted to hear?

The campaigns were telling you to buy more black art. It confused me because I have been here from the start.

Did you only see my value because all these hashtags were trending? Or was your mind genuinely transcending?

The disparities between my white friends and I caused some tension and the words “white privilege” felt disloyal to mention.

Discussing our differences was riddled with strife. Did it mean I was denying that I’d too had a good life?

They looked at me like they were afraid to offend and I wanted all of the attention to end.

I’d open my mouth but have difficulty breathing and this wouldn't change until I finally began reading.

Was it guilt that was driving you to see me, why now? It would be some time until I began to allow  

myself to scream and to cry and to bleed and to ask my community for what I need.

One day I’d begin to face my own oppression in what would soon become an obsession.

Hearing other black voices helped validate that feeling, and accepting this truth meant that I could start healing.

I attended a protest the midst of the campaign, confusingly anxiously burdened with shame,

As I watched a balloon drifting up to the sky, I thought about how many more black people would die. 

The place we once rallied would soon become vacant and I wondered if the allies would then become complacent.

Would the world just move on or get consumed by fear? I wondered if they’d still remember we’re here.

It’s not too late to learn about the campaign, I’ve seen how staying silent perpetuates pain.

This isn’t just black people's fight to try to win, it's about disrupting the systems we’re in.

It’s anti racism vs racism, not black vs white. I’m asking you too to start doing what’s right. 

Will you choose comfort because action feels strange? Or will you too keep fighting for real system change?

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