The One Thing That (Literally) Brought Me to My Senses
For the first 25 years of my life, I couldn’t smell. If an odor was really strong, or if someone pointed out a specific scent, I could probably smell it if I focused hard enough and breathed deeply. It was a joke in my family that if I could smell something, it must be pretty potent. I didn’t think it was a big deal that I didn’t seem to have a good nose.
Then a year ago, something magical happened: my doctor prescribed me a basic nasal spray for allergies, and once I started taking it, I could actually smell (I swear this is a true story and I know how dumb it sounds that I didn’t talk to my doctor about this sooner). I could finally smell everything from the detergent in my clean laundry, to the well water coming out of the tap, to how bad my dog’s breath actually was. It also affected my sense of taste. I’ve always been a relatively not-picky eater, but I realized I didn’t enjoy some foods I’ve always eaten (sorry, cucumbers). Using the nasal spray everyday isn’t the most pleasant thing to do, but it’s a no brainer now that I realize the positive effect it has on my senses.
Anti-racism work is a lot like this. Maybe you’re well aware that racism exists and you can see blatant examples of it in the world. But then something wakes you up to the fact that you should do some learning (i.e. the murder of a Black man like George Floyd by a white police officer). You start educating yourself and awaken your senses to your own white privilege, white fragility, microaggressions and other forms of racism you didn’t notice before. Your tastes start to change. You realize that movies you liked, publications you read, accounts you followed online or businesses you patronized have values that aren’t kind to people of color. You recognize racism in your friends and family. It’s not a comfortable experience. At all.
But knowledge is responsibility. Once you’ve started learning what it means to be anti-racist, you realize the urgency of practicing it everyday. It’s still uncomfortable, but it becomes a no brainer because of the positive effect it has on the lives of people of color, no matter how small your actions may seem.
It makes me feel pretty dumb that I went a quarter of a century content with not having a sense of smell, when all I needed to do was take a basic medicine to remedy it. It makes me feel pretty awful that it took the murder of a Black man and the global outrage for me to dig deeper into my complicity in a racist system. Let’s keep learning, friends.
Layla Saad and Rachel Cargle are two women I continue to learn from. I’d encourage you to follow them and check out their work.