We Have Miles to Go Before We Sleep, But We're Still Dreaming
Courtesy Christina Hammonds Reed
In February, just before the COVID-19 outbreak upended life as we know it, I read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. In the novel, a little-understood airborne virus hits a small university town, causing victims to fall into a deep, dream-filled sleep. Some of them recover. Some of them never wake up. It’s an eerily prescient look at how a government does and doesn’t respond to a disease in uncharted territory, and the ways people come together in its path. When the dreamers wake up, they’re not sure what, if any of it, existed beyond closed eyes.
Several weeks after I finished the book, Ahmaud Arbery was killed for jogging while Black. In March, COVID-19 first responder and aspiring nurse Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own bed by police serving a no-knock warrant to the wrong house. Two months later, our nation watched as Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, murdering him while three fellow police officers stood by. The past three weeks have seen national and international protests by Black folks, yes, but also a multiracial coalition of voices demanding change, as many non-Black Americans began waking up from our nation’s willful ignorance and perpetuating of anti-Black racism—our 400-year pandemic.
I don’t sleep well. I never have. I’m a clinically anxious person and that anxiety is often accompanied by insomnia. When I finally do fall asleep, I have nightmares as often as dreams. As a small child, I was convinced the KKK was going to show up at my parents’ house and hurt us. It was a nightmare, but I was wide awake to reality. I knew about the KKK as a small child even in sunny suburban California. Black children know about racism early. The world doesn’t give us a choice.
In the early '80s, when my parents first moved in, the neighbors were suspicious. “Why do you need such a big house?” they asked, as though the idea of a newly married Black couple wanting space for their future kids to chase each other up and down the stairs and run around a beautiful backyard was an alien concept. We lived in that neighborhood because of my parents’ dreams for us: that we would be little-girl embodiments of MLK’s dream, Black girls who had sleepovers full of friends of all different colors, who were insulated from what years of systemic and institutional racism had done to many predominantly Black neighborhoods. That we would have the best education possible, and that we would be safe—playing, biking, jogging. My parents had so many dreams for us. The same dreams I’m sure Ahmaud Arbery’s parents had for him.
The Black Kids
I know my history—I lived and breathed April 1992 for several years, researching, watching, and re-living the events of the L.A. riots through my characters’ eyes. But as I watch these momentous protests unfold in 2020—multi-generational, multi-racial, and international coalitions demanding change—I, perhaps stupidly, can't help but feel hopeful. I feel like maybe finally, as a country, many of us are finding ourselves on the same radio frequency, listening to Mister Señor Love Daddy in Do the Right Thing as he urges:
“Wake up! Wake up! Up you wake!”
The times of our ugliest racial strife have come right after our biggest successes. Emancipation gave way to the terror of post-Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act gave way to the metaphorical and literal assassination of our Black leaders and the destruction of our inner cities. The hope of the Obama Era gave way to the hate of Unite the Right in Charlottesville. History has shown us time and again that the road ahead will not be easy, but not only is it the road worth taking, it is the only road if we are to ever actually uphold the promises of the Declaration of Independence—those venerated “truths” the Founding Fathers themselves failed to uphold.
There are promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
Wake up. Up you wake.Christina Hammonds ReedContributorChristina Hammonds Reed received her MFA in Film and Television Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and was a Nicholl's Fellowship Finalist.
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