Letters from Quarantine, Pt. III

The world is up in flames.

Have you seen the news?

I don't know how you could avoid it. The world is literally up in flames. I worry about your siblings. It sounds like things were much worse for them yesterday than they were for you. During any other administration, there would be a sense of hope; a light at the end of the tunnel. But this feels like a tunnel Wile E. Coyote painted on the side of a brick wall. Between COVID-19 and the protests that broke out this weekend, I just feel lost. Paralyzed.

I never spent much time thinking about my race, aside from checking the appropriate boxes when the time came. It wasn't ever an issue so I didn't think to make it one. But being Black in America is not something you can avoid. At the start of quarantine, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates. Have you read it? Oh, it's so good! His perspective opened my heart and mind to a vision of America I had not encountered so intimately. The closest I've come to the Black experience was being on-campus at Winston-Salem State University on November 4, 2008. Now, with all that's happening after the tragic, unnecessary death of George Floyd, I'm confronted again by this identity crisis.

To the outside world, I am and will always be Black. And it's true. My mother's side of the family is as Black as they come. I don't actively try to deny my Black heritage, I just never gave it much thought. I grew up in Watts-Hillandale, a mostly White neighborhood, with White friends and a White dad. But I didn't identify as "White" either. I was me, Justin Malique Laidlaw. That sounds like I'm trying to classify myself as this unique figure, but I always related to other people more through the things we liked: playing Halo, playing basketball, listening to hip-hop music, talking about girls we liked. I never considered that the world put me in a different category because of the color of my skin. Maybe if I had more Black friends, I would've been more self-aware. Maybe I was trying to avoid confrontation.

Protesting feels like the right thing to do. Speaking out feels like the right thing to do. Donating money feels like the right thing to do. But who am I doing it as? Justin, the man? Justin, the Black man? I know what you're going to tell me. The answer is YES to both. But it's not that simple, is it?

It pains me. All of it. So much death. People. Businesses. Livelihoods. 2020 will be a year to remember. Remain vigilant. The end of "Can I Live" keeps replaying in my head: "...so I keep one eye open like CBS, you see me stressed, right?"

Much love, always. Talk soon.


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