I had a great weekend. Ya. + I drove 5 hours to spend an evening with one of our best friends. My bestie from high school, N., saw B.’s Facebook post and decided to drive 3 hours to crash the party. And all of a sudden, at Saturday morning brunch, I was surrounded by three women with whom I have deep friendships.
Of course we spent hours talking about our friendships and romantic relationships. The good, the bad, the downright ugly. We talked about how people you love can drive you crazy. We recounted temper tantrums and fits, things thrown and terrible things said.
The conversations we had made me wonder–at what point does one walk away from a relationship? And at one point does a run-of-the-mill argument that every relationship has turn into something that is not good for you?
Every relationship, it seems to me, begins with an agreement. You and your friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, make a decision to embark upon a journey together. And with that journey comes a set of rules, such as “I will never cheat” or “I will always take out the trash”, etc. As the relationship moves forward, it is tested by a series of problems. (You said you’d never cheat, but you were looking at that girl over there…or dang it, you promised you’d always take out the trash and now you haven’t and I have to do it so that means you must not love me.)
In those moments, you + your person have to regroup and think “is this relationship good for me? or for him/her?” And sometimes you decide to work it out, to make up a new rule, or to find ways to honor the old ones. But other times, when the fight is too crazy, or you’ve said the same thing for the ten millionth time, you throw up your hands and walk away.
On Saturday, I had several opportunities to think about when I should fight to keep a relationship, and when I should let go. The first was in a discussion with my girls; the second was when I realized that George Zimmerman was a free man.
That’s when I decided that, if America was my boyfriend, I’d break up with him.
Now, I love this country. I enjoy the privilege of being able to speak my mind without too much of a backlash, of traveling in and out of the country with ease, partially due to an American passport, and of generally being in a place where a lot of people want to be.
But being the daughter of two immigrants has allowed me a bit of insider/outsider privilege. I can enjoy the privileges of American citizenship, while having critical distance that comes from being firmly grounded in a culture outside of the U.S. Not only that, but my position in America as a black woman has always meant that I lack racial and gendered privilege.
When Barack Obama was elected, twice, I didn’t bother believing in a post-racial America–I knew better. But I naively hoped that his election, then re-election would at least indicate somewhat of a shift in racial attitudes in America. I was one of the many black people who lauded the great change. A black man running America? Less than 200 years after slavery was abolished? It seemed like a miracle of epic proportions.
But when white folk continued to gun down black people like we were zombies, I took off my rose colored glasses. America showed me its love and commitment to making our relationship better by getting a black man to be in charge. But then it turned around and treated me and people who look like me badly. I went from being in a relationship that was at least somewhat okay to feeling used and abused by a country I love.
The problem is that America isn’t my boyfriend, so I can’t just break up with him and move along to someone better. There isn’t any assurance that any other country would be better for me. So I’m tied to a country whose values I love, but practices I can’t stand.
I don’t know how to exist in this relationship anymore.