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Reflection: 'I can't breathe – I have never been able to breathe'

  • Posted on July 15, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

How do I feel?

As far back as I can remember, I have been told that I am Black, and I am woman. These qualities of race and gender prevented me from playing across the street as a little girl, not being allowed to go to the park a block away, not allowed to go to the swimming pool or the library, and my parents constantly needing to know where I was every minute of the day.  As a child, I believed my parents were paranoid immigrants from the Caribbean who thought everyone was out to get them and their precious daughter.

Throughout my life, I have gained an appreciation for statistics and I love to share them. As a Black woman, it is statistically impossible that I: graduate from college, hold a professional degree, fall in love, get married, have a baby, and live happily ever after. As a matter of fact, Equifax statistical models gave me a lower credit score simply for being born Black and female. I have learned over the years that my parents were not paranoid.

As I sit here writing my thoughts and feeling my feelings, I reflect on the micro and macro aggressions that I have become desensitized to. It is my coping mechanism. If I had to address, process and educate people on each time I experience aggression, I would be unable to function in this world. Does that make me weak? Maybe, but multiple generations of my family tree have spent whole lifetimes trying cope with the pain and suffering of projected hatred. None of us can breathe. Not deeply. Not freely.

It pains me to say, but when Mr. George Floyd was killed, I experienced no shock, no surprise, no outpouring of grief. I have lived my entire life bearing witness to the prejudice that takes lives. The attacks on Black children, Black women and Black men have been constant and consistent, like the arrival and departure of the sun and moon. I compare this to a child born in war who knows nothing else. If this child heard the war has ended, their subconscious waits for the next explosion. It’s all the child, now an adult, has known their entire life.

I have asked confidants and coworkers if I missed something. Why now? Why the outpouring of empathy and the desire to listen and learn as Blacks have been lynched for the past 400 years? Why should I believe that the war is over, and that systemic inequality will be eradicated? What was different about Floyd's death that I missed in my own fog of war? Yes, there is now social media catching these recordings, but how different is it from lynch mobs posting their kills in newspapers. The injustice, travesty and general disregard for human life should be statistically impossible, but George Floyd’s death is not an anomaly at all. Even the current mantra of "I can't breathe" is not original. Please research Eric Garner if you are unfamiliar, and then research Elijah McClain, and then take a moment to be mindful of your own breath.

How do I feel?

I feel self-care and mental endurance is what I must focus on 100 percent to feel fine. How about you?

Thank you to the white colleagues who have reached out, but I challenge you to take the time to take real action and challenge your white family, friends and colleagues to stand up to make change. This is the only way everyone’s lives will matter and everyone will be able to breathe.

Sasha Smith selfie with mask

Missy Sherrard

Powerful words, beautifully written. Thank you for taking the time to craft this and share your perspective.

August 5, 2020

Doug Goldberg

You personally deserve every breathe and every hope and ever dream that you desire and need...Just like anyone else. I am publicly committed, and committed with our shared organization, to ensure people of color can enjoy these basic freedoms of life equally. My commitment includes doing my homework, holding myself accountable, holding others accountable, asking really uncomfortable questions, putting humanity before comfort, listening, and acting. I ask my colleagues to join me! Thank you for the courage to share your thoughts. 

August 3, 2020

Gail Anderson

Your story is touching in so many ways and we can only hope that the time has finally come when there will be some real change. It won't change the attitudes or behaviors of those bent on discrimination and hate, but I have to believe that the vast majority is ready.  

July 29, 2020

Mina Rabideaux

Thank you for writing and sharing this Sasha!

July 29, 2020

Kristin Rader

Thank you so much for sharing.  I too have wondered the "why now? what's different?"- - I pray that it is really going to change going forward.  You are completely right, now it time for action not just words.  Putting yourself out like this helps to continue the challenge to everyone else.  Thank you!

July 29, 2020

Samantha George

Thank you for sharing this, Sasha. I believe other non-black people of color like myself need to take action and get educated, as well. I can understand how self-care and mental endurance are paramount to you in light of all of this.

July 24, 2020

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