Is this what exhaling feels like?
I realized this morning, as I listened to CNN call the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden, that I’d been holding my breath for the last four years.
As I felt myself exhale, my shoulders fall and my jaw release a bit, I realized that I was also crying — something I didn’t expect. I felt my hands begin to shake and the lump in my throat grow. For four years, I’d been taking in short, stilted breaths, always on the verge of hyperventilating. This summer, with the news of the fatal shootings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the death of George Floyd, I almost suffocated.
But this morning, I felt it. I felt the exhale.
Now, does President-elect Joe Biden have a problematic history with Black America? Yes. Does Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris have a complicated history with Black America? Yes. But will they inspire a nation of people to want to kill me with wanton lust simply because I don’t look like them? No. And that’s what the last four years have felt like for me.
For four years. I have gone about my daily life with knowledge and fear tucked into the recesses of my brain, that anyone emboldened enough — police officer or civilian — could end my life simply because they wanted to. For four years. I watched American flags fly behind a president who spoke to life and liberty and freedom, all the while knowing that he wasn’t speaking in terms that applied to me or my daughter.
That flag began to feel like a threat. I would see it on houses and flying from cars and immediately think, “This person voted against my life.” I saw the flag flying high and said, “You voted against the rights of my disabled daughter, my trans brother, my gay cousin, my aging mother, my undocumented friends, my Black family, my queer self, my female body.”
Is that true for everyone that waves a flag in front of their house, raises a flag at their school or business, or flies one from their truck? No. Absolutely not. But I have found it difficult to understand how anyone could be standing proudly under the flag that represents a country that did a complete 180-degree turnaround on its own people.
For four years, I have felt less safe than ever before.
Now, I am not saying that Biden will rescue us. And Harris cannot alone show us the error of our ways, make us have a change of heart and make everything right in this country again.
No. That will never be the case.
What I am saying, is that today, I feel like just a small part of my faith was restored.
With Biden and Harris, we have opened the door and have begun to let in a little bit of that outside light. We’ve metaphorically taken the pin out and allowed the country some space to breathe, even if it’s just for a moment before we really dig into the work.
And yes, we have an exponential amount of work to do — and undo — but you can’t win a marathon with a knee on your neck. And yes, I really mean to invoke the imagery of the death of Floyd because his death at the hands of police, as gut-wrenching and heartbreaking and disgustingly and callously violent as it was, was the image that America needed to be able to really see itself and feel what Black and Brown people have felt for decades.
“I can’t breathe” is more than a hashtag or a slogan. It is the collective outcry of people who have been waiting to exhale for centuries. We’ve been too close to suffocating for far too long.
Here’s to the next four years.
May we all exhale.