The Case for "Calling in Black": Why We Must Take Time to Tend to Our Racial Trauma

iStockPhoto by Danielle Rene @ deerene_ To be Black in this America is to scream I AM ON FIRE and hear in response, “No you’re not. It’...

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by Danielle Rene @deerene_

To be Black in this America is to scream I AM ON FIRE and hear in response, “No you’re not. It’s just warm today” as the flames engulf your body. What is it like to never have to worry about the day you become the reason a protest starts? As these thoughts circulate through my mind, my alarm goes off for work.

It’s time to put on the mask. Time to enter the manufactured utopia where everyone shuffles around making copies, sending emails and ever-so-carefully avoiding the big, Black, bullet-ridden elephant in the room.

Perhaps no one but us will understand what it’s like to walk into work the day after a legal execution of yet another Black man or woman hits your newsfeed. I must smile, talk about the weather, and pretend like all hell hasn’t broken loose in my community.
Answering emails while fighting back tears that feel like shards of hot glass burning behind your eyelids. Attending meetings and resisting the urge to stand on the table and scream. Constantly dreading the moment you must engage someone’s ridiculous question. Inevitably, there’s laughter during the meeting and a pause for you to join in the fun. Perhaps you toss in a chuckle like a penny into an offering plate as you numbly fall in line to the expectations that you may not, under any circumstances, process your Black trauma during business hours. You are asked to take your Blackness off at the door, please, and leave those personal problems at home.

There’s much time spent hiding in bathroom stalls that smell vaguely of crap as you realize the entire day smells this way. The week. The month. The entire year. You feel as if you’re dying in this stall scrolling your newsfeed and you die again on a side walk with skittles in your pocket…and again in a jail cell…and again in the back of a police van…and again in front of your daughter…and again in your own home and...the agains never seem to stop.

There’s no freedom to openly discuss the hundreds of Black people killed by police, that time is reserved for the tragedies that “really matter” like Dallas or Paris. If there is time, you may be ushered into diversity groups and “safe spaces” meant to contain your conversation with likeminded individuals so as not to make anyone else uncomfortable.

People will ask the obligatory “How are you?” and it will take everything in you not to say, “I wish I could have called in Black.”

I first learned this phrase from a video by Evelyn from the Internets. Evelyn’s comedic reenactment takes us through the standard process of calling out of work for an illness. But rather than physical sickness, we’re calling in because the constant exposure to trauma in the Black community, day after day is taking an emotional toll I’m not sure any of us imagined. The Russian roulette of wondering who will be the next hashtag is draining.

She says, “It’s not contagious I just need a solid day to reaffirm my humanity to myself. See you tomorrow.”

“Calling in Black” may sound like a joke, an excuse to get out of work, but it is an outcry that enough is enough. There are many pieces to the movement, one that is often overlooked is the need for radical self-preservation by any means necessary.
The case for “Calling in Black” is about acknowledging the pain. Taking a moment to recognize that the dread and exhaustion you feel trying to hold it together all day, armed only with headphones as your shield, is real whether anyone else recognizes it or not. Jesse Williams said, “The existence of your neighbor’s pain is not dependent on your belief in it.” So while others may be ignoring it, “Calling in Black” is giving voice and validity to those emotions.

It’s not possible for everyone, but If you’re able to “Call in Black” then do it without guilt. Take the personal day, sick day or whatever other day you can to unplug from forcing yourself to be part of spaces that don’t affirm you. For those who can’t take off work, “Calling in Black” can also look like a time out. A time out from obsessively scrolling the news, watching the videos or getting sucked into online debates. Let yourself breathe.

We’re in this fight together but we must be fully equipped to handle the battle. Part of that equipping is taking the necessary time to unplug, recharge and come back in when you’re ready even if that’s a day off from work. “Calling in Black” is how we ensure that we don’t fall apart in the midst of trying to put our community back together.


Danielle Rene (formerly, Dee Rene) is a connoisseur of snacks, writing and brunch. Her fiction and nonfiction writing focuses on all the things that make us laugh, cry and cuss. Read more: http://laughcrycuss.com or follow her on Twitter @deerene_.

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