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A Real Answer To "How Are You Doing"    

A Real Answer To "How Are You Doing"

BY COREY SIMMONDS

Artwork by Lauren Martin

Wellness check. Nope, I’m not okay today.

While reviewing and absorbing a mountain of information about the current state of affairs I'm reminded of messages that I received as a youth describing the world as it will exist for me as a Black man. I learned that my personal desires and pursuits will, in many contexts, take a back seat to my responsibility in a complex saga of Black pain, Black struggle, and Black progress. "Remember, you stand on the shoulders of your ancestors" was a phrase meant to remind me that the common everyday privileges that I live with are available to me because of efforts and sacrifices made by those who came before me. While this understanding and acknowledgement is often motivating, setting up the intention to work hard so as to pass the baton and be yet another pair of shoulders on which to stand, personal happiness begins to seem a low priority and guilty pleasure when everything outside your front door is described as war on your Blackness. 

I learned that there will be times when I will work twice as hard for half as much pay and acknowledgement as those who don't look like me, to be acutely aware of biases projected onto my physicality, and that my Black identity meant that I would encounter disadvantages and dangers that I had to be ready to overcome. While there was always a chance that any, all, or none of these would manifest for me personally, as a youth unable to parse that ambiguity I only retained a fear of a nameless, faceless enemy. An enemy ever-present because it can often be impossible to discern when it is real and where it’s imagined. A consequence of being taught directly or indirectly that you are inherently in danger is that you can begin to compartmentalize your  joy and happiness, and it is difficult to both be yourself and protect yourself when protecting yourself is not being yourself. Perceived and anticipatory fear can be just as damaging as the thing that fear is meant to protect you from.

As a well-behaved kid who deserved time to have my head in the clouds I was often distracted by internal questions related to the worth of my actions in context of a persistent struggle for respect and equal opportunity based upon my character.  In the current struggle I think about the youth; I think about the kids who may be putting down paint brushes, instruments, and joyous  frivolous pursuits so as to harden and sharpen against the visible and invisible enemy that is racism, prejudice, injustice and its representatives. Real racism, prejudice and injustice IS dangerous, but anticipated prejudice and rejection, and the hyper vigilance it inspires is harmful as well. This message is personal, but I’m sure I’m not alone. As we communicate valid and personal understandings of the world where pain and fear are present, I’m calling for an approach that acknowledges fantasy, optimism, and naive imaginative capacity within the youth as necessary building blocks to a future where past traumas take a backseat to future possibilities. 

Corey