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Someone to watch

By Desiree P. Urquhart

In spring 2015, I approached the editor and publisher of this local newspaper and asked them to consider my request to serve as a volunteer staff writer for a weekly human-interest column. In it, I proposed to highlight young people in our community that were making a difference as movers and shakers and that are people to watch and support. I made the request because I noticed that in the announcement of the launch of Windsor Weekly, there was not one black person in the picture of the staff.

After proving my writing skills and with the support of Mayor Carita Richardson who knew me from my days as a planning commissioner in Colonial Beach, I got the assignment. My byline column was called “Someone to Watch.”

Almost three weeks have passed since the life was snuffed out of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis cop who saw fit to press over 200 pounds with his knee on the jugular vein of this handcuffed black male suspect who gurgled, “I can’t breathe.” What pierced me in my heart and ignited decades of rage in my soul was when I heard the gut-wrenching cries of this 46-year-old man for his “mama” in a desperate plea for help from his deceased mother.

Despite my maternal adrenalin that kicked into overdrive, I had to squelch my natural instincts to run and save him. I couldn’t jump into the TV screen and transport myself to where my son, our son, lay dying in the street. There was nothing, absolutely nothing that I could do but watch and weep and pray.

On top of the subsequent protesting and rioting were the ever-haunting effects of the coronavirus pandemic. For a moment in time, my spirit grew numb. Nothing nor any place felt safe anymore. Most protestors were wearing masks for protection from COVID-19, and rioters, although small in number, were in masks to hide their identities.

I thought about how as black people, we have become so accustomed to wearing camouflage in one form or another. We’ve masked our pain caused by systemic, institutional and often, blatant racism. We’ve masked our intellect to allow jealous and intimidated white folk to lay claim to our ideas and inventions just to maintain our jobs. And we’ve masked our natural and physical abilities to allow “others” to tout that “they’ve” discovered us.

I thought about how so many black people and other people of color had gotten so used to navigating society in figurative camouflages, to not be seen or heard, to not incite fear among the “damsels” in distress that would attract those in blue standing at the ready to have a reason to take us out.

The past three tumultuous weeks have given rise to black folks removing our masks. We’re tired and are demanding change. But what I’m most tired of is white folks asking me what they should do. Remove your masks, then look in the mirror. YOU — you are the someone to watch.

DESIREE P. URQUHART is a resident of Windsor and a grants coordinator for Camp Community College. Contact her at urquha8@gmail.com.