Words by Elise Anderson and Kokayi Nosakhere
Say her name: Jazmine Barnes.
The last time I had to say a name it was because an Alaskan State Trooper killed a Native man. Say his name: Eric Hash. The trooper is Black. Far as I know, he did not receive any behavior redirection training. Instead, he was reassigned somewhere else in the country.
Before that I said the name: Nia Wilson.
After five years of Black Lives Matter seeking to amplify the voices of those suffering from overt racism in America, it sometimes feels like the campaign is a failure. The tangible results of seeing White allies join in justice rallies hasn’t happened. Nor are we hearing stories of aggressive affirmation of justice-based boundaries in everyday situations.
Instead, national headlines are coming closer to home. In Portland, a DoubleTree hotel incident became national news, because of race. Not because of class. Or, we do not have evidence of class being a factor. The Black man involved was able to eat the cost of the hotel refusing a refund and book another room before the night was over. I guess that demonstrates some economic strength.
I am happy to report that something is getting through to the hearts and minds of Rogue Valley residents. The tactic of taking Black pain and making it known through national broadcasts is working.
“I was born in 1977,” Elise Anderson wrote in response to Jazmine Barnes’ murder. “[I] moved to Ashland when I was 10. I attended Ashland High School in the 1990s.”
For Southern Oregon, Anderson is the perfect profile. She is “from here,” if that means something. Since 1987, her life has impacted the four Rogue Valley communities.
“As a white woman raised in Ashland and deeply called to be part of this conversation, education, and to opening my eyes and ears wider than ever, I am truly perplexed and confused at times.
Last night, [January 2] I was in shocked emotional upheaval over the murder of a little girl, Jazmine; thinking of the little girls I know and LOVE that look like that little girl with terror in my heart for them; and rage for the hatred that caused a twisted human to do that. As that emotion flowed, a post popped up from a Black woman – educator/writer/ activist/mother and person I listen to – that was telling me: I am not capable of feeling what I was feeling because I’m a white woman. When I heard this idea I felt my heart break . . . further.
I felt like screaming that we – Black women and White women – should be holding each other as mothers and fighting together on the same side.
But she doesn’t want my heart, my voice, my tears.
I felt myself pull away, I felt myself understand ‘othering’ on yet another level. I felt compassion, judgment, devastation, and isolation. I felt my privilege of trust being shaken down.
The paradox is so much to hold and the fear of speaking is real in my nervous system. I can hardly see what I write here through tears, and then I look towards how my emotions might be seen and boxed.
I am capable of sitting in it. I am strong.
But I want to keep my vulnerability, caring, and growing awareness intact.
I am scared of the walls I feel being built in myself despite my desire to dismantle. I see my exposed self on a pedestal for all to judge and label however they see fit without knowing me at all. I’m feeling into that and the ways that it could relate to how people of color might feel at any given moment in my town. It’s uncomfortable. I’m stretching in my skin.
I have three biological sons and one stepson. This one pictured is the youngest, he is 11. The others are 17, 21 and 24.”
And, this is all that is asked a first step: to identify; to make the effort to look at the experience from another perspective. It is through shared perspectives we are able to build a bridge of understanding. It starts with, “I can see how you feel that way.”
Can we choose to practice this in 2019? Please.