Let Me Feel My Rage.
“I am so sorry this happened to you. We could have done more.” The message reads. “It’s a shame that you had to leave the foreign service. Please know that I always knew you were destined for something greater.”
“How does that make you feel?” My therapist asks me.
The left side of my chest is on fire. This is what I tell her.
I arrived in America, tripping over my own words, eyes glued to the ground. I had no choice.
How many others had no choice? Children to raise, lack of a solid support system, a roof over their head, food on the table? Even being able to leave trauma is a privilege. Job application after job application. You gotta get it. Secure that next job. It’s an entry level position. The exact façade you just escaped from- except this time you can wear jeans.
You’re overqualified? OK, so what. You still have to pay your bills.
It is a privilege to even have the time to think about your feelings while being Black in America.
I would like to know.
- If I wasn’t a former U.S. diplomat and I didn’t have a college degree, would you still read my story?
- Would you still care?
If one does everything correct by society’s standards and expectations, later to be elected to the highest office, why would their citizenship be questioned?
February 10, 2020 at 4:03pm was the last time I’ve been considered an employee. I lasted two months and five days.
“Tianna, are you still there?”
I can still taste my response on my tongue.
And it’s only June?
The mornings are the trickiest. I check my email to impersonal paragraphs of another denial email from a job I would have been great at. Just focus on school, I tell myself. Graduate. Just two more months. Focus on doing your best. And then??? Then???
Do you know what it is like to have a dream stolen from you?
The rug of financial security pulled from underneath you. You know that feeling of independence that you pride yourself on? The feeling of being so close, yet so far to the resources reserved for those with a head start?
Like… health insurance. A savings account. A one-bedroom apartment in downtown. The ability to climb to the highest level of Maslow’s Pyramid. To pause and ask yourself if something is a want or a need, and purchase it anyway. You sip your organic Kombucha, flipping through Dave Ramsey books on financial peace and literacy. You were almost on Baby Step #3. Then you would plan to save for a down payment on a home in a community that your children would inherit one day. A garden in the backyard with fresh vegetables. A place to call home. Obtain generational wealth so your children do not know what a student loan is and have no idea what it’s like to not own something.
Last year my brother and I saved our money for our dad’s birthday present. We watched Serena Williams’ match at the U.S. Open in a sold-out stadium in Flushing, New York. Somehow, we ended up on the stadium’s large screen tv, my dad’s friends texting him to say that they saw us smiling. The next day we could only swing tickets to enter the stadium grounds. Two and a half hours into watching Nadal’s match, a man leaving the arena kindly asked if we wanted his tickets for free. We thanked him profusely, watching the remaining two and a half hours of the match inside the stadium, cheering Nadal on. This was my dad’s dream. And we enjoyed every second.
Since this time last year, I’ve slept in five different places.
What a year.
The supportive messages are kind. Empathy is nice. However, it’s not fair for me to only acknowledge the positive and not the things that keep me up at night.
Do you know what it feels like to hold grief in your hands at 3:24 in the morning?
Do you ever wonder why you were educated in the schools you attended? Why you speak the way you do? Or why your mother and father drove 20 minutes once a week to another city for fresh produce at Trader Joe’s? Why stores label your Black hair products as “ethnic” or “multicultural” and place them in locked glass cabinets on a different aisle from the unlocked hair products for white women?
“Hi, yes, um, can you please, uh, unlock the cabinet so I can have…”
Do you ever wonder how tap water tastes in white neighborhoods? Why the police love to come visit your neighborhood and don’t even say hello? Why your father reminds you to “watch your back” when you leave the house? Why he disciplined you, your brother, and cousin for forgetting to lock the door behind you, until you all learned?
The American Tobacco Trail is literally a minute from your childhood home, but that area of the trail is not safe. It will be 18 years until you live in an area where you feel safe enough to walk. Where you have sidewalks.
You tell me I am not beautiful unless my hair is straightened with a flat iron. When I wear my hair proud and natural to a job interview, my curls bouncing and twisting and turning, you do not hire me.
At work, when I wear my hair the way it grows out of my head, you mention that I am unprofessional.
Do you ever wonder why the expectation is that you will code switch, dropping your own language and self at the door as you step into your place of employment?
Riding in the backseat as a child; watching the world spin around you. Police camping on corners, laundromats, Boost Mobile, liquor stores, Check Cashing/ Pay Day Loan Services, and McDonald’s.
Ever wonder why your childhood healthcare was Vicks Vaporub and Ginger Ale?
Growing up, if you broke a bone, could your parents afford it?
What a life.
The other day, my black friend told me that his great grandfather had high blood pressure. His grandfather had hypertension and prostate cancer. His father has diabetes with a history of several heart attacks.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to afford organic apples for your family of four? One organic Heirloom apple is $3.49 at the Whole Foods located 17 minutes from your house. But four apples are $13.96 total. Wouldn’t it be nice though?
You tell me what his body will become. You tell me who is paying $13.96 for four apples?
If a white man in power threatens to shoot me, I feel fear.
This is violence.
If a white man in power deprives me of access to healthy food, quality education and healthcare, and peace of mind, I feel rage.
This is violence.
Does systemic racism need to be vicious in order for others to pay attention to a black life?
If my sister or my brother can’t read or write, you tell me who will listen to them?
What is the American Dream if you don’t have a primary doctor that knows you by name, nutritious food on your table, tablets, new textbooks, and well paid teachers that want the best for you in your classroom, and a safe and quiet place to dream?
I continue to talk.
I miss my one-bedroom apartment with the yellow couch. The couch with the cushions that feel like a bowl of chili on a rainy day. The yellow couch has been on my vision board since 2017. Imagine how I felt when I assembled the couch when I first moved after Thanksgiving. There is no television here. It is peaceful. The 23 stairs leading to what was my peace of mind. Eyes closed on my balcony overlooking the stars that night, I asked myself if I could even afford to live here anymore. I already knew the answer. I’ve known for months. For the last four, the phone rings busy at the unemployment office, my claim still pending.
My father always told me you can’t count money until it’s in your hand.
How I no longer walk or run alone, how I don’t sleep through the night anymore, how all of my words just feel lost in my mouth, slowly stuttering and dragging to come out, how sometimes I just don’t want to get out of the bed on a Tuesday morning.
It’ll take me just a few more hours to call the property manager. He already knows.
When I sit down, I can feel it. It lives on the left side of my chest, right next to my heart. Most days, it’s quiet. Other times, I feel it all.
I have never felt safe enough to voice my own feelings or my own experience, without first thinking about how it will impact others. As a Black woman, it’s just too much. If I scream, surely something must be wrong, but you might ignore me and call a three-digit number that equals eleven. If I raise my fists, I am violent. If I speak up for myself, I am aggressive. Bossy. When I celebrate my acceptance letter for my master’s degree program, an older man tells me that I will never find a Black man to marry. These are reinforced narratives that women are to be seen, not heard, and damn sure not independent.
Be submissive. Make him feel like you need him. You know how to cook for a man, right?
What about who I am as a person?
When Oluwatoyin Salau, a Black woman, yells that she was harmed and does not feel safe, she ends up missing, later found murdered on the side of the road.
She was 19 years old.
Who protected her?
Grief. I feel it all. And anger and rage don’t feel productive. I repackage it with a nice fucking bow as something positive and just try to keep moving forward. I never feel like I have a choice not to. This is not something afforded to Black people. Time is a luxury and processing trauma is a daily event.
I held on as long as I could. Each day, each interaction chipped away at my soul until my body just simply gave up on me.
This is what I tell her.
“Tianna.” She pauses and looks at me directly. This woman is a gem. Our hair twists and curls the same way. When I tell her about life, I never have to explain in detail- she knows. She has skin like me.
“Anger is a secondary emotion. What is it that you are actually feeling?”
“I’m disappointed.” I say, pausing to take a deep breath. “Actually, I’m sad.”
When white men in power harass me for months, they intentionally choose to reduce me to nothing. How can I concentrate on doing my best at my place of employment when my country doesn’t love me?
They reach into my life and seize my peace, my joy, my financial independence that will change the course of generations, my career, my health insurance and access to counseling to continue to heal my trauma, my confidence, and my sense of purpose when I get dressed in the morning. They catch my security and release me back into a cycle of being one or two paychecks from losing it all.
I return to my community to leftovers, scraps, and throwaway apologies from those who had every responsibility and opportunity to stand up for me. To see me.
Why do I feel rage?
When a white man in power threatens me, you wonder why I didn’t obey. If I tell you that by this point, exhaustion lived in my bones, on my tongue, and in my soul, would you believe me?
Tell me what you did when I asked for protection? When I said I did not feel safe, your suggestions were futile. I knew that in order to cross bridges, I would need an escort like Ruby.
When I sat in your office and used my voice to tell you what happened, did you listen? Did you make a good faith effort to hold those accountable?
How often do you dream of a world where Amariyanna Copeny has clean water?
In your Kumbaya circle that lacks melanin, do you wonder the last time you’ve held a Black person’s hand? Do you wonder the last time you were invited to dinner at a Black person’s home? Do you wonder the last time your company hired a Black person for a position other than diversity and inclusion?
Do you wonder about all the Black people left behind and left for dead?
I explain all of this to my therapist. Then, I put my head in my hands and I weep.
The left side of my chest is still on fire.
GoFundMe link to donate to my community- https://www.gofundme.com/f/A-Love-Letter-To-Durham-North-Carolina