My Girlfriend’s Ferguson Fatigue

As her boyfriend, it pains me to see her experience this. As a white man, it frustrates me to accept the fact that her experience is one I can’t fully understand.

“It’s all over Facebook,” Danielle told me, sighing in frustration. The grand jury had just decided not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Social media forums were exploding with posts sprouting long, angry threads of user comments, many of them amounting to little more than stubborn finger-pointing.

Whenever Danielle comes across the latest blog or news item about inequities facing black Americans, a fatigue takes hold in her face and her body, as if she had just been forced to wake from a night’s sleep a few hours too soon. It happens just for a moment, but it’s unmistakable. As her boyfriend, it pains me to see her experience this. As a white man, it frustrates me to accept the fact that her experience is one I can’t fully understand.

But I’ve also seen her choose to unplug for a little while. She does it when she senses that her own emotions are tethered so tightly to the news that they create too much stress for herself, cloud her sharpest thinking of the issues, or affect her simple wish to enjoy a night on the couch watching Homeland, munching on apple slices and almond butter, her boyfriend within arm’s reach.

Danielle’s ability to give herself a break may be how she preserves not just her sanity but her independence, too. As a black woman she feels the weight of unquestioning loyalty to a community and an identity that at times seem imposed on her, demanding that she stay in constant motion, rallying, supporting, raising her voice in unison with others. Her independence takes on the form of practical self-compassion. She searches for a workable balance between the quality of her own daily life as an American woman of the 21st century, and the responsibility she feels as an inheritor of a struggle dating back 20 generations.

I can’t imagine this is easy for any black woman (or man) to do. It certainly isn’t easy for Danielle. Yet somehow she does it, and does it in the midst of a demanding advertising career and travel schedule, a circle of girlfriends she loves like sisters, an ill parent, a growing relationship with me, and an appetite for the things we all rely on for temporary escape from life’s difficulties: Going to the movies. Trying out a new restaurant. Sipping an Old Fashioned. Hers is an incredible feat of strength for the mind and heart, a testament to what they can hold, all in one person.

Danielle grasps the key issues and dynamics at work in the latest episode of injustice, more deeply and quickly than most people I know. And yet she also knows when she needs to firmly set that episode aside, or at least hold it at enough distance, so she can do the things that bring rest and lightness to the soul. I’m grateful she’s able to do this–her life is infinitely the better for it. But I know the news about Ferguson still takes its toll.

“What’s exhausting,” she said, “is that Ferguson is about something so much bigger.”

Matthew Sholler is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @MatthewSholler.

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