Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.

I spend my summers teaching children. It’s my fourth summer working at the same camp. It’s the closest thing to a permanent job that I have in my life.

Almost two years ago, I watched the footage of Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson. August 2014. I sat with my boss and streamed CNN on my laptop. We covered our mouths with our hands in horror as we watched. Then, because it is a summer camp for children, I walked onstage to lead a giant dance party with a bunch of kids to Pharell’s “Happy.”

The following November, I wrote a viral post about beginning to understand white privilege. I admonished my fellow white people to say something. Anything. To recognize that what was happening in Ferguson was happening to all of us.

Since then, here’s what else has happened. Akai Gurley died in Brooklyn while walking into his apartment building. Laquan McDonald was shot in Chicago. John Crawford was shot in a Wal-Mart in Ohio after removing an air rifle from a shelf. Levar Jones was shot in South Carolina after being pulled over for a seat belt violation. Tamir Rice died in Cleveland when police mistook his toy gun for the real thing. Rumain Brisbon died in Phoenix after a pill bottle was mistaken for a weapon. Jerame Reid died after a traffic stop in New Jersey. Walter Scott was shot in the back in Charleston, South Carolina. Freddie Gray died of a spinal cord injury in Baltimore. A fifteen-year-old girl was slammed violently to the ground by a white police officer at a pool party in Texas.

In June of 2015, I watched on my laptop as Dylan Roof was apprehended after murdering nine black churchgoers at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina in the hopes of igniting a race war. Then I walked onstage to lead a giant dance party with a bunch of kids to Pharell’s “Happy.”

Sandra Bland died in her jail cell a few weeks after that.

There’s a lot more that happened after that, too. I’m going to let you look at the numbers yourself.

This week, Alton Sterling was shot and killed after a confrontation with police officers in Louisiana. A day later, Philando Castile was killed in his car. I watched the video of his fiancee narrating his death, her daughter in the back seat.

He worked with kids at a Minnesota preschool. I listened on the radio as his coworker described him as a man who knew the names of all 500+ kids. The guy that would fist-bump and high-five, the guy who would sneak extra food to the kids who didn’t have anything at home.

He was one of us, I thought, as I drove to work. I know all my kids’ names, too.

 

And then I walked onstage to lead a giant dance party to Pharell’s “Happy.” They’re somehow not tired of that song yet. It’s like “Free Bird” for nine-year-olds.

This week, I listened to a few of my students compare their respective school’s versions of active shooter drills. Making casual conversation about it while they glued construction paper to cardboard boxes. The next day, a gunman opened fire on a peaceful protest in Dallas, killing five police officers. I learned that news as I was high-fiving my kids after their performance of a play that they wrote. It was about books. It was super cute. I was so proud of them.

Today, it is Saturday, and I don’t have to go to camp.

So I re-read that post I wrote in 2014, and I re-read the section about how as a white person, I needed to say something, and I shuddered as I read it, because I just don’t know what the fuck is left to say. And I’ve only been saying things like “Stop killing black people” for two years, and I’m exhausted from having to say it, and that is also privilege. That is so much privilege. So many others have had to say this their entire lives. That is a long time to sustain anger and outrage. I couldn’t do it. I could’t even make it two years before anger and outrage subsided into detached, empty numbness. I’m no longer shocked. I’m just a different, hollow, sad, lost kind of angry. And I don’t want to pound the keyboard with my anger anymore, and I don’t want to sit down with another white friend to explain what systemic racism is anymore, and I don’t have the patience anymore to explain why “All Lives Matter!” is a stupid thing to say. There is no room inside me right now for the vast amount of patience and empathy that is required in order to explain to my fellow white people that the system is very broken, and that there is nothing to be lost if equality is achieved.

But I’ll do it. I’ll talk, and I’ll write, and I’ll try to explain. Because it’s what I do, it’s what I can do. I’m hollow and empty and lost because it just doesn’t feel like enough. I keep writing the same argument with different words, over and over and over again, and I have absolutely no right to complain about that, that I’m angry about still having to argue that black people are humans. My friends of color are angry about being shot. So I will write. I will talk to my white relatives and friends who will need to be reminded of this fact. I will reaffirm the humanity of people of color, remind those who do not see it that people of color live in fear in a way that white people do not, because it is somehow not the default assumption that this is true.

I’m not happy. But I’ll dance. That is my job. I’ll put on that stupid song and I will dance with a bunch of kids, and they are mostly white kids with some black kids and some hispanic kids and some Asian kids, and they will make friends with one another and they will share the same experiences and play the same games and dance to the same songs and the color of their skin will not matter — except, of course, that it already fucking does, and will matter more in a few years.

I will dance to that stupid song because I have to hope that somehow it will help make things better in my tiny corner of the planet. I will dance even though I do feel like a “room without a roof” — a room that is cold, empty, and missing something important. I will clap along because I know that happiness — or joy, or love, or something equally as clichéd — is the truth, even if it also feels beyond any of us at this moment in time. Since I can’t give anyone justice, I guess all I can give is love.

I don’t feel like dancing this week. Not even a little bit. Too much too big too dark too heavy too many dead too many guns too many wounds too many bullets too much too much too much too much too much to process too much to hold too much to carry.

But I’ll do it. I’ll dance with those kids.

I just wish that I knew how to fix it so that everybody could dance, too.

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Clap along if you know what happiness means to you, yeah, yeah
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do. 

 

another day

**

Did you like this post? Consider helping me keep writing. Or consider a donation to the family of Philando Castile. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.

  1. You are a Millennial. I am a Baby Boomer. I suppose I am old enough to be your momma’s momma, since I was born in 1946. But I just want you to know that the Age Gap doesn’t really exist in the heart. You are one of my favorite bloggers. Your writing is articulate, passionate, often profound and deliciously humorous at the right times. You have outdone yourself with this Clap Along post. You have captured my every emotion at the present also, and expressed my own point of view to a T, all with deep poignancy. Thank you so much.

    Pam Dewey
    https://starrtrekking.wordpress.com/

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. Ever since Ferguson I go through periods where I feel a bit hopeful followed, usually, by soul-crushing sadness following another incidence.

    Since I already have clinical depression, sometimes it’s more than I know how to cope with and so I take an extra Xanex and try to get myself angry enough that I finally feel brave enough to talk to others about it. Like you, I’m white, and so I will never really know the full horrors of how our society treats minorities but I struggle everyday to try to understand and to explain it to other white people.

    Like you, there are days when I feel like I’ve spoken all the words that can be spoken and that our society has simply decided it doesn’t want to understand what’s going on. However, I’m grateful whenever I hear about another white person with the same feelings of inadequacy and despair, not because I’m glad you’ve had this soul-wrenching experience, but because, in those moments at least, I know I’m not struggling alone. And, while that doesn’t change our shitty culture, it at least reminds me that I’m not alone and am on the right track.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I sometimes feel that people, white, black and otherwise just don’t get it. I remember that everyday after Mike Brown, it sincerely felt that every time I logged online a black person was getting killed. As a black person, it felt terrifying and it made me feel absolutely hopeless. I began to think how would I behave if I was ever in those situations. Then comes the anger, the acceptance and then detachment. I’ve felt very detached from the situation for a very long time, and yesterday, I had a brainwave. These people are turning into hashtags and not much else. We need to fight against this, we can no longer sit there and act as if this is okay. It shouldn’t be about color, but humanity. Do people not get that it is your fellow human beings getting killed mercilessly. We need more sympathy, and the human race, sadly needs more humanity, for one another and for ourselves. Thank you for this post.

    https://thecontemporaryedition.com/

  4. You can’t fix it so that everyone can dance. None of us can. But you’re doing your best to fix it in *your* sphere of influence by modeling the behaviors you’d like to see and by educating others. To paraphrase Gandhi, you’re being the change you’d like to see in the world … and that’s a powerful thing. Thank you for writing this beautiful, inspiring post.

  5. What you are doing is wonderful. Great post. If there is going to be change, it lies in the children. I am a baby boomer, too. When I was growing up, many women did not aspire to much more than getting married and having children. Many didn’t even stand up for their rights. I have watched over the years as women have become more empowered and do whatever they want with their lives, and society has accepted it. (Although there’s still room for improvement!) As our children grow up in this increasingly multicultural (and multi-gendered) world, it is my fervent hope that the prejudices and inequalities of the past will fade away as well. It takes a long time for people to change, but even in my short lifetime (58 now) I have seen some of that change happen. I am sickened and saddened by the actions of the police, and the actions of the sniper. But hopefully in the decades that come, these events will become fewer and farther between, as our society continues to become more integrated – in all ways; color, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

  6. Keep writing, it helps in more ways than you know, it educates the ones who are clueless, it reminds the ones that have also let it slip to the back of their minds and it lets people of any color know that it is not all white people who live that way. I am white and I get it, I write it and I share it also. I have written many articles people think I don’t get it until I tell them I am jewish then they say oh she get’s it. My first husband was black we have two beautiful bi-racial kids and then we divorced had nothing to do with color had to do with alcohol, my second husband was puerto rican and he adored my kids and we had another. Most people just assumed he was everyones father as they were all the same color more or less. I have seen my ex husband get harassed by the cops and I also saw my late husband harassed by the cops he got arrested cause the cops asks his name he said Ray but his id says Ramon. And this is all stupid stuff, the police can be wonderful and they can be helpful but they can also abuse power and when it comes to minorities it is seen over and over again, so keep talking and keep sharing and keep teaching the little ones to be happy with each other because teaching love is about the only chance of it changing in the future!

  7. Keep dancing, keep giving those kids a place to dance together, and keep writing. Both for yourself, and for all of us. Hope is all we have. We can’t give up on this.

  8. Writing is so therapeutic when you are living in this world that is filled with so many tragedies and episodes of injustice. Thank you for sharing your experience at the children’s camp. I hope that at least some of historical moments that I will witness in my lifetime to be a happy one.

  9. Pingback: Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. | redsnest

  10. Once I do stop crying…ok, I will say I agree with every single comment and I really really thank you for putting this into words! ❤

  11. Pingback: Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!? | Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc.

  12. Yes to you and all of these earnest comments for making me somehow feel less terrified for and of our world. There’s much work to be done but we all need to start in our own little corners of the world and this helps. Even if in the tiniest of doses. It fucking helps when it seems like damn near everything else makes it worse. Keep writing. You’re lovely.

  13. It is indeed sad that more hasn’t changed. I do think it is possible, I’ve built my weight loss blog all about it in fact, but as a species, I have to believe that massive change can happen. Don’t stop what you’re doing, because despite the names and tragedies you listed, you kept coming back to a positive message. Right now, that’s a good start

  14. A friend and I were just discussing my disillusion with the world and I read your post. You give me hope that there are still loving, compassionate people in this world. Keep it going because love is the only answer. We are all one.

  15. Pingback: Hashtag, I can’t keep up. – Post.Degree

  16. I have been in a funk these past two days, and couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Then I read your post – “I’m just a different, hollow, sad, lost kind of angry.” and my brain screamed “THAT’S IT!!!!”. I am tired of having the same conversations with the same people. People who refuse to believe that people are judged/treated differently because of the color of their skin, their religion or their sexual identify. I am tired of turning on the news and being bombarded with images of hatred and bigotry.

    I have to admit that I used “All lives matter” at first. When I said it, I meant “stop labeling people/stop the divisiveness – we are all human, just STOP”. Then I realized that pinheads had used “all lives matter” to shut down discussion. Now I use the same phrase Valeree used above. We are one.

  17. I just wanted to say that I love reading your work, I always look forward to more. Reading your works always makes it easier to smile as I try and make my corner of the planet a little happier. Thank you.

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