We Need More Than Outrage

by Déjà Baptiste

This week has been a challenge.

Whenever violence erupts and floods our streets, floods our airwaves, I know I may have to get creative about ways to meet my basic needs and function well enough to hold onto some kind of security in my life.

It’s exponentially more complicated because I already occupy tenuous, vulnerable spaces in society.

My being employed and welcomed in social circles and public spaces are already treated as favors extended to me, rather than basic human decency. I am Black, I am trans, I am Haitian and an immigrant, I am fat and dark-skinned. This doesn’t only mean I am excluded—it comes with trauma every single time someone recognizes any one of the ways I am “different” from the norm. It means I bear the weight of my own feelings about myself, which pale in comparison to the sheer volume of people’s reactions and internal struggles about how to treat me, how much humanity to afford someone who flies in the face of all we are told is worthy, is human—is loved by the Divine, even.

It means I bear the weight of my own feelings about myself, which pale in comparison to the sheer volume of people’s reactions and internal struggles about how to treat me, how much humanity to afford someone who flies in the face of all we are told is worthy, is human—is loved by the Divine, even.

There is an element of what makes me so…remarkable, to people, that can seem like fascination. As if voyeurs are in awe that someone so far removed from what makes life worthwhile and possible (to be thin or slim, presumably able bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, White, wealthy, Christian, and monied), can find a way not only to survive but to thrive.

I am something of a miracle in their eyes.

Someone who clearly doesn’t meet the criteria and yet functions at levels comparable if not surpassing their own.

That shock, that unfamiliarity, that distance that people believe exists between how I process life and engage reality (as compared to how they, “normal” people do) is its own kind of violence. That is a violence I am somewhat inured to and largely doesn’t even factor into what I face on any given day. It simply is.

With a week, a month, a year, like I have had, however, every microaggression seems sharpened and aimed specifically for the weakest chinks in my armor: everywhere. Every blatant and subtle claim that pain affects me differently, that healing is automatic in my case, that I am so much more (or less) than the “norm” that I am not human hits with the precision of a scalpel and the force of a sledgehammer.

When every news feed and social media outlet and errand I run forces me to parse through demeaning messages and themes on several levels all at once, I lose my sharpness and acuity in identifying and deflecting individual barbed insinuations and hate.

It becomes a wall, a tidal wave, encroaching on everything that I find sacred and that can bring me peace.

Reading loses its luster as entertainment and becomes necessary escapism. Food becomes less and less a matter of joy and community and instead simple nutrition and fuel…when I don’t lose the battle to get up and prepare it myself in the first place. Social relationships become less about celebrating ourselves, our journeys, and morph into check-ins: are you still here, are you still functioning, anything we can actually do that won’t just be pipe dreams to keep each other complacent.

What I have needed and what I have used to get me through times like this in the past has been the dedicated support of a select few and the informed support of the masses. What I have needed was more than sympathy or condolences for what I go through—it’s someone to step into the trenches with me. Figuratively, of course. We can’t take on each other’s identities and walk an actual mile in their shoes. What we can do is position ourselves as vehicles to ease someone else who has to navigate challenges and obstacles which don’t bar or hinder us in the same ways.

Showing up with grocery essentials and staples, which in my household include rice, various meats and proteins, veggies, eggs and breakfast foods, as well as ready made meals and frozen dinners for when cooking is just too much to contemplate, much less act on. Offering rides and company to attend to necessary tasks to manage household and personal accounts, company to the DMV and the courthouse and the bank, to the library and the grocery store and nail salon—all institutions and spaces that are subtly and overtly unwelcoming to anyone who is read as dangerous or risky or counterculture, which I am for any one of my identities, much less the sum of them.

Paying for Lyft and Postmates and GrubHub and other conveniences which definitely escape the budget of anyone struggling to make ends meet and also can take a load off of someone who has already exhausted their means and ability to be vigilant and plan ahead for every contingency.

What quickly becomes overwhelming about situations where we are dehumanized, where our existence and right to live is contested and debated, isn’t necessarily making sense of any arguments and finding rebuttals.

It’s not the intellectual or cerebral processing.

It’s that the pervasiveness of these ideas prevents any of us from basic human necessities. It prevents us from freely accessing functions and systems that we require to live healthy, balanced lives. It impacts how we are treated in the pursuit of our dreams, in navigating bureaucratic systems which aren’t built to make anyone’s experiences smooth and easy, in maintaining and advancing professionally and spiritually and socially.

What I need this week is communication that isn’t about anyone else’s feelings of shock or even outrage—that feels all too familiar to me. The sentiments may be polar opposites, but the expressions and the attitudes are too close to home in the wake of torches and pitchforks and automatic rifles being defended for their RIGHT to march to prove I have less and less right to live.

What I need this week is people willing to be advocates for what I say I need, not what they believe is missing from my worldview or my understanding of life. What I need this week are shares and donations of my YouCaring fundraiser, which will always be distributed to sustain not only my own livelihood but also that of others who have hit upon desperate times and need emergency funds.

I am weary of being vigilant, of fighting through my pain and terror.

I am weary of holding my head high and denying anything can affect me. I am weary of building myself up, building up my image and my legacy and relying on all the right rhetoric to give me a second and third and twentieth wind when something that is normalized in society at this point knocks the wind out of my sails and steals the breath from my body.

I need rest, I need peace, and in the pursuit of all of that, I need others who are willing to become the vehicles to the services and function I still need in order to live to make themselves available and ask first, “What do you need? How can I (an individual) help you (an individual)?”

Photo by Elvert Barnes