June 12th, 2020, NYC
The last two and a half weeks in the United States have been crazy and stressful and upsetting, to say the least. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve taken proper precautions and shown up to four protests and marches. It’s the least I can do. I’ve taken some time off writing because writing about places I’ve traveled to in Europe seems trivial right now.
I’ve felt a bit like a poseur though.
Like, am I welcome here? I’ve learned that yes, I am. I must show up. Allies were needed on the Edmund Prettus Bridge in 1964 and they’re crucial now.
But I felt like a poseur because I feel like I haven’t done enough in the years since 2015. I marched with Black Lives Matter in fall/winter 2014 after the murder of Eric Garner (did you know his murder was only recently fired from the NYPD?) and things died down a bit after the beginning of 2015. In late-2016, I realized I’d mistakenly gotten myself into a relationship with someone who was basically a racist and thought the BLM movement was full of violent people and that there was no systemic racism in the police (or the country, and the Civil War, he said, wasn’t about slavery – just southern pride!).
I knew he was always wrong, but I didn’t like to fight with him because he had stupid talking points and fighting with someone who’s mentally unwell isn’t fun. Once I ended that relationship in early-2017, I felt like myself again and I knew I could get back to being an activist.
But I hesitated a little bit. The Women’s March just seemed so futile and accomplished so little (not to mention it’s association with a few people who were anti-semitic). But when marches and protests amped up two and a half weeks ago, I felt called to take to the streets and support my fellow citizens who were fighting for their basic human rights. Although I was also scared to possibly contract COVID-19. But I’m super healthy with a great immune system and if there’s anyone who should be taking that chance, it’s someone like me: a super privileged, healthy, currently unemployed white person.
June 2nd, 2012, West Harlem, Morningside Heights, NYC
I digress. Kind of. That’s my history with the BLM movement. I’ve been watching a lot of movies in the last few weeks about civil rights in the United States and in a way, it’s been like traveling. It’s been like going to a museum and learning about the history of that place, except you’re seeing it through your screen.
This time is also helping me stop and reflect on my trip to Memphis in 2019. I went to the Civil Rights Museum and the I Am a Man sculpture but I have to say that my write up on the Civil Rights Museum was horrifically short. I’ve also never written about the history of the I Am a Man sculpture and why it exists (also I’d like to write a strongly worded letter to my school district and ask why we never learned about the Memphis Sanitation Strike). That’s on my list of things to write about.
I’m ashamed to admit that in all my half-dozen trips throughout my life to Washington DC I’ve never once bothered to go into the National Museum to African American History. I want to take a trip to DC in the summer (or whenever it’s safe) so that will be at the top of my list. I’ve seen the Shakespeare Folio, the Hope Diamond, and the Ruby Slippers enough times. It’s time to see something new, methinks.
Movies To Teach You About Civil Rights:
As I began writing this, I was watching Selma, which is all about Martin Luther King Jr. and the freedom marches in Selma, Alabama in the 1960’s. One of the first places I was taken was back to Oslo, Norway, to watch King accept his Nobel Peace Prize. I didn’t expect that. It made me think of my visit to the Nobel Peace Center right on the water in the center of Oslo (which I also just recently scrapbook’ed, so it’s fresh in my mind). This movie is AMAZING. Go watch it as soon as you can. (Available for free on Amazon Prime.)
The day before that I watched the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, about the battle for civil rights as seen through the eyes of Black writer James Baldwin. The first place I was transported to? Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France in the 1970’s where Baldwin lived for years before coming back to the United States to join the civil rights movement. (Available for free on Amazon Prime.) I Am Not Your Negro weaves the history of Black Americans going back hundreds of years with the protests of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. It shows how little has changed.
June 12th, 2020 – Spanish Harlem and Upper East Side, NYC
I also watched Marshall, about the first black man to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. I was transported to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Westchester, New York, and New York City of the 1940’s.
At one point, Marshall goes to a Harlem jazz club called Minton’s Playhouse which I visited for the first time last fall. “I’ve been there!” my mind screamed. (Available for free on Amazon Prime.)
The documentary about the “Central Park Five” took me back to a much different New York City of the 1980’s. The five kids who were picked up for the crime (that, to reiterate, they did not commit) just a few blocks away from where I live now. (Available for free on Amazon Prime.)
About the same atrocity is the mini-series on Netflix called “When They See Us.” This is a four episode dramatizing of the horrific events of this crime and how five 15 and 16 year olds were railroaded and had their lives ruined for a crime they did not commit. (Available for free on Netflix.)
“Whose Streets?” is a 2017 documentary about the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. This is a brilliant documentary that shows the truth behind what everyone saw on the nightly news and how the police were instigating a majority of the violence. (Available for free on Hulu.)
June 5th, 2012, The Church of St. John the Divine, Morningside Heights, NYC
Other movies that you could watch to learn about the history of Black people in the United States are Lincoln, The Butler, and All the Way (among dozens of others, too many to name here).
In the last week I’ve read “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates which transported me to Baltimore and Howard University in Washington, DC. Only one of those places I’ve spent any substantial time in. Coates also takes a trip to Paris and settles in Brooklyn after college. It’s a really concise and powerful book. I can’t recommend it enough.
Since finishing it, I’ve also ordered White Fragility, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Me and White Supremacy, and So You Want To Talk About Race. I have a lot to learn and this is just the beginning.
June 4th, 2020 – From Harlem to the Upper East Side, NYC
I’m glad to see people continuing to take to the streets and lawmakers making progress in taking appropriate steps to right the wrongs that have plagued this country and it’s Black citizens for centuries. (But I have to say: they’re not acting fast enough.)
I highlighted these Black creators on my IG this week but in case you didn’t see (and if you didn’t, you should totally follow me over there!), here’s the list again:
@eboniivoryblog – a British YouTuber/Travel blogger
@oneikatraveler – a Canadian travel blogger based in NYC!
@thoughtsfromjasmine – another British travel blogger who also writes about theatre and mental health!
@theblacktravelclub – an awesome instagram dedicated to empowering black travelers.
@aliciacbarnes – A Bronx-born and London-based travel blogger!
@candaceabroad – a travel blogger from the East Coast of the US who know lives in London!
@ochristine – Travel AND wellness? Sign me up!
@itshollydayz – fellow New Yorker and travel blogger!
@traveljewels – a Harlem NYC-based travel blogger with style for DAYSSSS. (How do people manage to be so stylish while traveling?! If I manage to put on anything other than leggings and a tank top, it’s a goddamn miracle.)
@packslight – A travel blogger who packs light? Speaks right to my heart!
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.
*Books are Amazon Associates links.
June 12th, 2020 – Spanish Harlem and Upper East Side, NYC