Who Has the Privilege to Ponder?
By: Bobbi Adair
If there is anything more relevant than the reality of change, it is the reality of death. Even for those who fear death-by-dollar or death-by-disease, there is still a reality check that can reveal pains festering below the surface. There is a suspension of time in the current moment that lingers over us all. A loss of control mirrors a loss of normalcy which we may not have realized we were relying on to stay afloat as we moved through the world. For some of us, repression became the fastest solution for managing the chokehold that accompanies the incessant processing of loss, injustice, or both. Whether that is the loss of a job or the loss of human connection; the loss of someone to a disease or the loss of someone to a bullet for jogging-while-black. Like a needle breaking the skin, questions and thoughts we once resisted are now unwillingly injected into our daily lives, unveiling traumas we buried behind the guise of being “too busy to deal with them”. As quarantine has progressed, the people around me have been impacted in beautifully idiosyncratic ways, and so have I. The process of counting our breaths as we watch time change has made the continued onslaught of violence on black and brown bodies all the more traumatic. The many ways that time can simultaneously hurt and heal has become even clearer to me now. While the roles that race and class play in the privilege to experience time in abundance has grown as loud as the protests of my people. The tiresome loathing of the short hours of rest allotted to essential workers, has only fed my own hunger, anger and need for justice in the lives of society’s most vulnerable: BIPOC. When you can’t spare the time to form or come to terms with a jarring or traumatic experience, what do you forget and who do you become? How do you survive? How do you thrive? How do you awaken a sleepy society to the need for change amidst the prevalence of death?
Food for the Soul: The Abundance of Time:
Like the subjective nature of healing, we all experience time differently. There has been a distinct interruption to the “hustle mentality” ingrained in us under capitalism. The suspension of time is a dream of rest unrealized. It is a moving target, like the one that has always been on our backs, regardless of our station in life. Quarantine forced me to ponder how one deals with the well of anxieties that accompany instability. How do you find a sense of control in a chaotic chorus of confusion and coronavirus? How do you sustain yourself and others so you can find the strength to fight in the struggle against injustice - especially when your blackness is an identity that has been made to connote struggle over centuries?
Leisure has historically been reserved for white people, whose socio-economic status allowed them to spend hours contemplating life, creating art and processing change and loss as it came about. In this new era of quarantine, some of us - who have never had the chance to experience time as an opportunity to explore the nuances of ourselves and our lives - are finding both beauty and burnout in the abundance of time we now have. The loss of control over our daily movements has forced us to experience having the time to think - and likely, overthink. Like a never ending therapy session, quarantine has presented itself as a time to process many of the wounds that a lack-of-time had made me suppress. Being bound to one location and forced to sit with your thoughts can make some troubles feel as inescapable as a room without windows or doors. I’ve grieved, with newfound fervour, the lives of black and brown folks deemed obsolete by the real prisons that hold them. Regardless of the issues we’ve held at bay, an abundance of time is a white space that refuses to remain barren or starved for attention. Like blood on leaves, the traumas we face as individuals - and the traumas we continue to face as black and indigenous people of colour - cannot be ignored. The bright red has become even more vibrant, spilling into white spaces as the vastness of time has upended all lives. Newsfeeds on all platforms are laden with the reality of death and disease but in that dystopian chasm, the clear message that Black Lives Matter has echoed and fed a hunger for abolition...
For some of us, this abundance of time has been illustrated by our interaction with food. While those who can afford to are seeking to regain control of their lives by paying closer attention to what they consume; others’ attempts to grasp control is reflected in their inability to control their intake. Like time and money, having access to healthy food is a privilege many cannot afford. Some, like myself, are like a pendulum, swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. Finding comfort in food is not new to me; I regularly turn to sweets when I need to be consoled. But lately, self-care has taken the form of trying out new recipes to accommodate my attempt at developing new routines. Having the time for meticulous attention to detail allows for fresh green juices and perfectly staged cuisines. But, more often than not, I am eating outside of necessity, opening cupboards and baking cookies out of boredom. It’s been said that forcing ourselves to stay busy is a trauma-based response, distracting us from what we would have to deal with if we slowed down. Facing oneself is a consequence of our new normal in quarantine. Many are finally awakening to the injustices their privilege has enabled them to experience within society. For our overall health and safety, the abundance of time has triggered a process of healing more complex than the most intricate recipes I could find. For many BIPOC who are mourning the loss of life and the loss of life as we knew it, I hope some of this time is being used for rest. It forces us to remember and heal things that have been cooking within us so that we can find some peace before the next trial arises.
On Jay Electronica’s album, A Written Testimony (2020), Jay-Z refers to his insomnia saying, “sleep well…sleep well…lately I haven’t been sleeping well,” the bags under my eyes felt that. Like a lullaby or a prayer, or even a recipe, the words of the song encapsulate our attempts at controlling that which cannot be controlled: life, time, the process of falling asleep, the process of healing - the process of baking a perfect souffle on your third attempt. There is an emotional labour that cannot be left out of the process, or the results will keep us up at night. It’s not a new kind of labour, but It seems some of us have started to figure out what makes our minds, and souls and bodies finally feel good. Even if our momentary indulgences act as a segue to managing emotional labour, I guess all I’m saying is... to those who can, at this time: tek time with your grief, with yourself and for yourself.
There’s still work to be done, even when quarantine ends, even when the protests end. Even when they go back to “normal”.
A friend of mine recently said that “grief is like smoke; it needs time to unfurl before it can disappear,” and I felt that. I already have to fight to hold on to a memory - just so I don’t lose it as the days blend together. Clichés like “time heals all wounds” sound foreign and inapplicable when we’re used to hearing “we move” - a testament to our tenacity despite traumatic realities. So, keep eating and keep fighting. Your every breath is an act of resistance in a time where even counting your breaths seems like slow and unending work. This is a recipe that requires an abundance of time.
Stack or Starve:
Working from home during quarantine is a privilege that has allowed me to maintain my health and wellness. Many frontline workers don’t have the luxury to choose. Like Blow states, “stay home and risk starvation or go to work and risk contagion...Such is the life of the working poor, or those slightly above poverty, but still struggling.” For many people of colour, their service never stopped being essential. Their vulnerability (as a result of oppressive institutions that create barriers to wealth) prevents them from being able to protect themselves from disease. When major infrastructures suspend the economy, it is the forgotten and overlooked members of society who are forced to sacrifice themselves to care for everyone else. The reality and face of indentured labour has not changed over time. From my friends continuing to work in construction zones or in the food service industry, to my own wariness of occupying my workplace, albeit bi-weekly - the fear that looms is often superseded by the need to stack money or go without groceries. For those who remain on the front lines, the privilege of having an abundance of time is as distant as the social distancing guidelines they cannot maintain. They are acutely aware that time is money. Without wealth, they simply cannot afford health.
For those of us with the extra time to prepare it, food represents a luxury now more than ever. Even our fear of scarcity is a new and privilege-based fear. It starkly contrasts the inability to nourish oneself enough to perform the physical, mental and emotional labour of going to work each day - let alone in a pandemic. The reality is that any leisure time available to essential workers after work is spent waiting in longer grocery store lines - assuming they can even make it to stores with shortened hours of operation. So, when essential workers encounter unmasked judgments and abuse, who remembers their grief? Where can they submit their grievances when their bodies have always had to find ways to survive amidst struggle and fear? When do they get the time to rest and reset?
The gravity of death and loss feels heavier now that I have the time to mourn it. But many others still don’t have the time to do so. The burnout they are experiencing is centuries deep. Barack Obama stated that “it’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal.’...But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal.’”The privileged narrative seems to be that the world is ending for us all, and we would be foolish if we didn’t “just stay inside”. For some of us, the world has always existed as if it’s ending; but “essentials” are even closer to the reality of death. It’s prevalent for many and relevant for some. So, regardless of how time has felt for me lately, I’ve had the rare privilege to ponder traumas and grieve losses and injustices. I have the energy to repeat a prayer strung together by the names of the black lives who did not seem to matter as they were senselessly slain. Between it all, I’ve found that nourishing myself enables me to actively fight to nourish those without the time to feed themselves, let alone fight.
So how has time felt for you lately? What are you grieving? What have you gained? What moments will you slow down to make a memory out of, and keep? Who will you remember to nourish as you take the time to sustain yourself?
We all experience time differently, and we all experience quarantine differently. Until we can figure out how this “suspension of time” has affected us individually and as a community, I recall a short film by Khalil Joseph for Flying Lotus aptly called, “Until the Quiet Comes” (2012). T.W. blood and death by gun shots.
As we follow the transitions of the dancing protagonist, there is an eeriness that moves viscerally and audibly with us. Despite the stretched out movements - the camera slowly panning the candy painted cars, the man floating in deep water, etc. - there is no time for grief allotted. Not to the young boy at the beginning, nor to the man who danced away from his body until the end. The suspension of time mirrors the feeling of being out of time, holding suspended the faces of those who are running out of it fastest.
Images Essential Workers - New York City
Photographs by Jorge Garcia for Vox