My raw humanity as you wish or the aftermath of going viral

0408151359~2“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”- John Lennon

Last Friday, I woke up with one goal: To have the best day possible, because by the end of the day, our lives would be forever changed. There would be no going back to the people we once were. But before we reached that unfortunate crossroads, we would have one last perfect moment.

If only…

That last perfect moment was shattered by the ugliness of an unknown young white man, who in choosing to call my family niggers not only stole the last shreds of joy that my family desperately needed but over the course of a few short days would turn my family into a viral story being shared and dissected across the world.

We’ve all read about people becoming a viral story but nothing can prepare you to wake up and see details and photos about your life and your family being laid bare for all to see. To see bits and pieces of your words cobbled together without your permission and curated into a “story” without anyone speaking to you for an interview. To see judgement rendered on your reactions in a highly tenderized moment laid bare for others to judge. To see your discomfort judged as a hoax based off your occupation. To be told that you are not entitled to your feelings or even your words.

Nothing can prepare you for just how raw and vulnerable this will make you feel. That for every kind message, it’s the ones that threaten you and dehumanize you and your children that will linger in your mind and make you pour that third glass of wine and ultimately keep you from sleeping. That even for a well-seasoned veteran of ugly, the sheer scope of this ugly would make you finally grasp how easy it is in a moment of desperation to simply give up.

To say that the last few days have been a clusterfuck would be an understatement. I had no idea that in choosing to speak up which, as a typical hard headed person who sometimes struggles with shutting up…that this time, I may have been better served by not writing that last blog post, by not popping off on Twitter and blowing steam. I had no idea that in choosing to write my blog post in response to Jackie Ward’s well-intended post on her Facebook page that I was essentially unleashing a world of hurt upon myself and my family at a time when to be frank, my personal reserves are lacking.

Despite my day job, it was not my intention to spark a discussion on race when I wrote that post. It was the frustration of a middle-aged woman who can no longer stuff herself down, who is fueled by the hormones of that uncomfortable journey we call middle age or perimenopause.  Yet this is one time where I am kicking myself for my decision to speak up. I do hope that a larger conversation on race happens especially as we grieve the loss of yet another dead Black man at hands of law enforcement. We need deeper conversations on race, because even without my professional background, it is clear that far too many Whites don’t see the world through the lens of many non whites. That as much as we may want race to not matter, it does matter, that we are simply not at the place where we can divorce ourselves from the color of our skin. We do need those hard and uncomfortable conversations. However, having it come on the back of my personal pain is a hard pill to swallow.

In the past few days, I have never felt so utterly alone in my life, so utterly scared after receiving messages from someone signing off as Concerned Citizens of Maine, so utterly fucking dejected at this mess in the middle of an even larger mess in my life.  I am also struck that during this time words like self-care and support, while often thrown around when in crisis, truly have little meaning. Yesterday, a friend called me to ask me how I was holding up and after I hung up, I broke down crying with the sad realization that in the midst of this unholy mess, he had been the only person to call me up. (Note: I have received countless texts and messages which I am extremely grateful for, so thank you)

As I sit and reflect on clearing up the rubble from my life and attempting to build a new foundation, I am struck by the words that were used to refer to me in the immediate aftermath after that ugly word was said to us: “calm and stern.” I wear that mask well and perhaps I wear it so well that it is easy to not see that it is not real at all. That in the days since that fateful and Crash-like moment, I have been anything but calm, that when the person who knows me best at this time in my life told me to be strong, it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. That sometimes I don’t want to be strong; sometimes I can’t be strong. Sometimes, I need help with my burdens…and this would be one of those times. Yet in a 24/7 hour world that never sleeps and takes a series of unfortunate events and spins them out of control, maybe we all need to step back and hold fast to our collective humanity.

Note: In the past several days, it seems I have picked up a few new readers. While I do write on race often, I also write on the struggles of growing older and raising kids as well as occasional musings on our culture at large. I hope you stick around. Blessings. 


22 thoughts on “My raw humanity as you wish or the aftermath of going viral”

  1. I am sending you hugs and love along with a heaping pile of empathy for the whole messy peri-menopause craziness that makes everything more difficult. Know that you are divine child of the universe/god and therefore perfect just the way you are. Remember to breath and know that in truth all is well.

  2. The worst always seems to come at the times when you are most vulnerable. Reading and wishing you some peaceful space to heal.

  3. Hold on …. what you have done is open up a conversation that is so critical to the rebirth of Maine . A lot of white stupidity in the hinterlands of Maine…. the more that you, I and others expose this…. the better for this old state that has yet to reach any semblance of its potential !

  4. There is not a stitch of dishonesty here. Not a one. The comments you have been getting have been so ugly and so completely fucking undeserved. I would laugh off the “Concerned Citizens” stuff as basic tinfoil-hattery, but I know it’s coming from a place of rage and ignorance, from people who – because THEY don’t live with the cruelty and micro-aggressions that POC do – think these things don’t happen (Because 2015! Because we have a black President!), or believe that you’re whining/malingering/making shit up.

    I know I’m not telling you anything new. I am just so sorry this is happening to you and your family. I’m just another internet acquaintance you kinda know, but if I could hug you and give you all cupcakes and bourbon right now, I would. In the meantime, I’ve downloaded “Waking Up White.”

    Wishing you a little peace tonight, Shay.

  5. I am one of your new followers. I am sorry for what happened in Portland, Maine. And I am sorry that the whole thing went viral, because dealing with such things privately is hard enough. You are entitled to your feelings, whatever they are. Like it or not, God seems to have chosen your voice to bring this issue to the table (again), in Maine and beyond. I am so white. But I was not taught to hate based on color or religion or race. I have to admit being guilty of hating…the Chinese for what is happening to our economy, and the Japanese for attacking the US in Pearl Harbor… And the terrorists who kill Americans… But I only very recently saw that all that hating was wrong; you can’t effectively hate an entire race, religion, country… And it was a Black man helped me to see that all that hating was wrong. God must think you strong enough to be his voice in this matter, at this time… I feel sad when I hear your story, and I feel beyond sad when I saw that poor man get shot with 8 bullets while he was running away (down South). My heart is broken. It’s all gotten worse lately… The economy makes people look for someone to blame. My sincere sorrows to your daughter, son, husband and you. Not all white people are jerks. Some are. They are jerks to everyone… I am not going to tell you how to feel or what to do, but I am going to thank you for being brave enough to bring the issue to table again….sadly, again…. I will say a prayer for you and your family. Bless you for being brave. Cynthia Conkling

  6. No person or family should ever have to bear this burden. Sending more healing thoughts your way, and a re-commitment to educating myself and others, speaking out, and standing up. Thank you for your bravery.

  7. New FB follower. Followed your Phoenix column for years. Saw your talk with Debby Irving last year at the library. Also discouraged by the persistent, staggering ignorance and prejudice in my adopted state. I do not think your experience in the Old port is all that “isolated”. Would love to take at least six months off with a sabbatical to, say, Maui, or any place else in the country that looks like the real world, just take a rest from the New England miasma.

    But here I am in Maine, with work to do to push back, as a “white ally”. Doing some things in the course of daily work. Lots of conversations. Might check on this Concerned Citizen character. Anything else that would help?

    Blessings to you.

  8. Hoping that writing is helping you process what’s happening. I can’t imagine. I think your response, your previous post, was powerful, moving and necessary. Anyone with a protective instinct for their own children could relate.

    Also, here’s a cute bunny joke because it’s supposed to be spring somewhere.: Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit? A. You-neek up on it. (get it? get it?).

    Anyway, stay connected as you can, I’m looking for you on FB and Twitter. Signs of life and all that. Stay with us.

  9. I am sending prayers and positive thoughts your way but I also want you to know how much your blog has kept me sane in this crazy New England state I now call home. As a young white mother raising a biracial son, your posts are truth and extremely refreshing to read. Your experiences are ones that NEED to be shared and that are shared by many outsiders and people of color in Maine. It truly sucks that this awful ignorance and hatred can and has come along with it. For the several months I have been keeping up with your blog I have read some amazing stories and have been given wonderful insight on more than just race but I have also seen plenty of fucked up (for lack of a better term) comments. I know that is just the tip of the ice berg… I can’t imagine having the strength you have to do this work but sometimes staying strong is recognizing the feelings we have and just letting them flow…

  10. Perhaps that old saw “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” might offer a bit of cheer to someone who will resist being killed ’til she has nothing left. If you can stick it out, you will be stronger in the end. Maybe even strong enough to recognize when it’s practical to hold back for the sake of your own needs for privacy, space, time, whatever. Your daughter and son I am so concerned for, they being even more vulnerable and while it’s tough to swallow since our current world is filled with advertisements that want us to think it’s all good for all of us, it seems like sharing the “old saw”, even with a precious 8 year old daughter. If ignorant folks are going to toss hatred her way, she’s going to need some tools to stick it out herself. Without making her a confidant, let her know. Likewise for your son. Your husband seems dazed by it all, so my heart goes out to him too. Your family is your core strength now. I hope you all can sit round a table and open up about how it feels. You are all so important! I love you!

  11. I’m sorry. Sorry that this happened in the first place, sorry that your reasonable and righteous anger brought more of a shitstorm down on your head, and sorry that the reaction has been so foul. I know it doesn’t change things for you one bit to have another old white woman all haired up over this, but please know that if there’s anything to be gained from good thoughts coming your direction, you have them. As does everyone in your family.

  12. A few new readers, huh? Glad to see that, even while you write about your brokenness (and I respect you so for that), you retain a sense of humor.
    I’m gonna keep reading. The race conversation is one reason, and the way you feel living in Maine is another. I know I’m lucky that my particular minority has a large and vocal contingent here. I mostly feel safe, I mostly feel able to walk in circles where I am not Other. But this is because I choose to limit myself to very particular bits of Maine, both geographically and socially.
    Thank you for continuing a conversation I know I would have just wished would go away by now, even as I typed up yet another blog post. I hope you are able to take a little time for the kind of breakdown that allows you to rebuild yourself just right.

  13. You are human and vulnerable and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Those emotions are what give us the empathy we need in order to stay human. But they hurt and feel shitty and are exhausting to the point of feeling punch-drunk and insane. And feeling physically threatened is intolerable and weighs on you to the point that you don’t feel rational. Or at least that’s how it was for me when I was once in that spot. Do what you need to take care of you. We’ll still be here if you need to step back and take a breath. Sending love.

  14. Shay, I haven’t commented anywhere about this horrible incident that happened to you and your family. It literally hurt my heart. I was walking around during my day thinking about you and your family and was just so sad. I wish I had some magical power to whisk you out of Maine and to erase the ugliness you’ve experienced. I also felt so incredibly in awe of you for speaking out because my immediate (and maybe cowardly) reaction to an incident like this happening to me would be to hide and get as far away from the limelight as possible. So it was very brave of you even if you didn’t anticipate the fallout from doing so. And I remain proud of you for sticking to your truth and speaking out consistently, eff ’em all. I’m sending you lots of love and light. Not sure how to convey how I feel actually as we’ve never met in real life but I was just so saddened by what happened to you and I just want to hold you up and support you and let you know I wish I could in some way be there for you for real. I don’t know what’s going on in your personal life right now but I sense the heaviness and I know that heaviness. My hope and prayer for you is that you pull through real soon.


  15. I’m curious if that guy who called you the N-word was a non Portland native and a visitor/ passerby from Augusta, Rumford, Jay, Lewiston, Livermore Falls or Skowhegan? Been to Portland numerous times I do feel that its inhabitants are alittle too hip be narrow minded and racist. But outside of Portland, ME especially in the Kennebec and Androsgoggin (despite Colby and Bates College locations) country or even west towards New Hampshire or further north near Canada people tend to be ignorant, xenophobic and laid back with their ideology.

  16. I really hope you get to relocate to Portsmouth, NH as I remember reading a blog that you have intrest in moving there. I personally really like New Hampshire over Maine especially the southern portions of the state. Avoid moving to rual towns along the White Mountains or central rural areas inbetween the White Mountains and Concord, because those places are the whittest equal to Maine’s blue collar whiteness and possibly ignorance. You can still visit the gorgeous White Mountains however, but during tourist season.

  17. You and your family’s experiences have been on my mind ever since I followed your post when I saw it on a friend’s FB wall…and I can’t stop thinking about the horribleness of it all. You are so important and valued and needed. Is there a way I can help?

  18. commenting here, in the knowledge that there is nothing I can do except understand, empathise, relate to a degree (I can’t know how it is to have to consider the effects of this hatred, this othering, on your children, but do know that hurt and shame of having racist hatred shouted at me in the street). I know also the added awfulness of the expectation that you be strong, always, in the face of events that are wearying. sending you love and solidarity. w xxx

  19. It’s painful, all of it. I’m sorry. I made a commitment to be an upstander not a bystander long ago. I struggle. I’m very grateful to have discovered your work, your writing. I grew up a little white girl in a really small rural coastal community in Maine, sometimes literally fed by the community, and always feeling loved by my community. Racism was something on TV and in all the numerous books I read… until I left home. My husband and children are not white. Thank-you for your courage and your voice. Thank-you for sharing. May you and your family know peace and joy and many blessings.

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