Falling Out Of Love
Usually, I love New York’s dirt and grittiness. Though its intricacies, much like a long-term partner you think of settling down with, in the wake of catastrophe have been testing my relationship…and it isn’t going well. Usually, I love taking a walk through the crowded MET as I daydream new artistic conquests. Usually, I love the night life and with taxis racing to get me to an all-night bar where the sounds of privilege swim in the air. I’d become intoxicated with a life that wasn’t my own and I would play act as one of their kind. Usually, I love the hustle and bustle that has transformed me into the fast-paced workaholic that I am, in an effort to rise to the top in the effort to achieve a lasting artistic legacy.
When it was still warm, I went for a walk around Bleecker and Lafayette in the city I once loved arguing with. As New York was in its phase four of reopening, I saw restaurants adhering to outdoor dining restrictions. Despite the beautiful 70 degree weather, I found myself depressed. The issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement (one that has actually been going on far longer than Covid lockdowns, but has gained more traction in the recent months upon the shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery) about systemic inequalities were reverberating in my ears. Chants recalled from street protests had filled my heart with a feeling of unity with others. I had found myself with so many friends and allies who had had enough of the oppression. It seemed to be bigger than any of the protests these past four years, with new faces coming out of hibernation, risking their lives during Covid to be heard.
But today, I turn the corner upon hearing the ubiquitous sounds of clattering silverware and laughter and I see affluent individuals coordinating their masks with their outfits: the new fashion trend of the 2020’s (I will note here that mask coordination in and of itself is not a bad thing; of this, I am also guilty. But I am referring to the specific type of individual that seeks performative attention during a national crisis, as if engaging in some sort of popularity contest).
They are wearing designer shoes, strutting with entourages and walking their dogs in an attempt to return to their “normal,” when, in fact, American normalcy is what should be questioned. For the 1%, normal is on top of the world. For the rest of us, it is struggling with what we have.
These individuals are sitting at exclusive restaurants, who so far have managed to avoid the plague of bankruptcies and stay afloat, clinging their glasses with their privileged friends, hair perfectly pressed or curled to satisfaction, makeup refreshed, skin glowing despite the lack of vitamin D the past 6 months, and masks off to sip their wine. For the moment, devil-may-care and unabashed.
Sure, you may call yourself an ally. Sure, you may have marched alongside me at the protests, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” donning a different outfit than the one I see today with black crop tops, torn shorts, Doc Martens, unshaved armpits, and sweat. I call them “protest fatigues.”
Or, you may not have.
Sure, you have the right to enjoy life and blow off steam for mental health, I get that. Maybe this was the one beautiful day you got to go outside in weeks of isolation. But I wonder if you were just protesting for an Instagram post. I wonder if you were able to take stock of your privileges and give a little more to the “other” or if you are just going to go back to your chic mod apartment, decorated by West Elm on Mott street and pat yourself on the back for being an activist for a few days in the summer when you had nothing else better to do.
We have opened up a broader conversation during a time where everyone was forced to watch, listen, and acknowledge something is fundamentally wrong with us as a society to take accountability. I fear, in a few years the marginalized voices that have screamed so loud to date, will be buried in the newsfeed as just one of the many bad episodes of 2020. I am afraid industries will take this as an opportunity to tokenize people of color for their brand and your efforts at “diversity” are merely performative and for the moment.
In the middle of my thoughts I am interrupted by an older (possibly unhinged) white woman as she calls out to the thinner, younger, “more attractive” white woman walking directly in front of me with her channel bag, skinny jeans, and cream sweater. “Are you a model?!” No, she says. “Because you should be a model!” Usually, I laugh at the random ramblings of the insane, but I felt pain as she glares at me following inches behind.
For the moment, I find myself right back where we started, entranced with my own inadequacies as I pass by reflective shop windows. The stray curly hair — the few I have naturally — on my left temple that won’t fall in line behind my ponytail make me look raunchy. The homemade, non-matching, mask that hangs crookedly off my face, because I failed to make the string long enough; insecure. A return to “normal.”
Now that Biden has won the election, will you go back to not engaging in these important conversations? Will you suddenly return to being complacent, feeling comforted and unafraid? Will you think we have “solved” the “problem?” Will you feel that you no longer need to protest equal rights for people of color? Was your activism just a trend (#StillProtestingThisShit #Resist), or worse, an opportunity in a capitalist market for your brand to politically prove diversity in an effort to secure product growth and popularity (I’m looking at you Oscars)?
I hope not.
However, if history has taught us anything, people already on top will always find a way to stay trending and if not, they have the privilege of rebranding as whatever they need to be for the moment.
I still haven’t left NYC. Here’s hoping for reconciliation.