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#ICan’tBreathe

When I was in seventh grade, we went on a class trip to Cape Cod with our entire class.  We stayed in cabins and roasted s’mores and went on “mindful walks” where we explored the coastline and the thriving natural community that prospered on the shore. When a group of people decided to go swimming, I joined them even though it was May and the water was still cold in New England. I remember swimming out farther and farther into the waves; I was a confident swimmer after summers spent navigating even the roughest of ocean waves with my Poppop.  “Over for the little waves. Under for the big ones,” he would always say.  Swimming was a game, a medley of “over” “unders” with little recognition of the ocean’s power.

As I swam out farther that day on my class trip, I began to realize that I was freezing and, the next thing I knew, I was struggling to swim and felt like I could hardly feel my body.  My math teacher, who was incidentally my least favorite, ran out, dove in, and carried me out of the water.  It was a humiliating experience for a seventh grader.  It did teach me a lesson about the silent force of the ocean though. The water lulls you with its rhythm, and soothes you with its peaceful sounds.  You can swim out farther and farther from the safety of the shore, but because you are floating and surrounded by a womblike embrace, the danger of the ocean is not something you think about or fear.

Tonight, after hearing that there would be no indictment in the case of Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, I felt once again a profound sense of disappointment in the justice system. Like ocean waves, the justice system often lulls me into thinking that it is morally motivated and righteously directed.  While this is because of my own positionality in the world, my own privilege of being a small, white woman, my body socially constructed as safe by virtue of my gender, my class, and my whiteness, cases like these are a reminder to me that I cannot avoid falling into the trap of wading too comfortably in waters that seem benign.

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