“Not Knowing If They’ll Come Home”- The Unintentional Insight Of Melania Trump

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The second night of the 2020 Republican National Convention featured speaker after speaker who had the listener either screaming with outrage at how brazenly lies fell unchecked out of toothy grinning mouths, or puzzling over how it could be possible to have a professional script writer put your words together for you yet still be utterly fucking incomprehensible. Toward the blessed end came the Plunderer of Perennials, the Bloom Despoiler, She Who Makes Roses Quake Behind Their Thorns, ladies and gentlemen, the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump.

Tricked out in an olive drab, military-styled, 1940s style suit that made her look like she was waiting for the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B to show up and blow his goddamned horn, Christ, we WISH, fucking BLOW IT ALREADY, Melania Trump clomped up to the microphone and talked for minute after minute after interminable fucking minute.

She used a lot of words, including “children”, “Africa”, “American dream”, “heroes”, ”independent woman”, and said absolutely nothing, in stilted, halting phrases about better tomorrows and being one community and building blocks to success. She spoke about racial unrest, and against looting. She spoke about opioid addiction, and global pandemics. She spoke about social media and meanness and bullying and reminding herself that she’s more fortunate than most. She said nothing of note or merit, and she did it for an interminable, mind-numbing half an hour.

She did say one thing, though, that was interesting for how jarring it was. In discussing the work of first responders, she referred to their families, “who often watch their loved ones walk out the door not knowing if they’ll come home.”

Listening to this speech, this boring, predictable, generic speech, this short and simple sentence could jostle one awake with its brutal, simple truth.

Because, while of course it’s true for those about whom she specifically spoke, it’s also the experience of being Black in America.

“Who often watch their loved ones walk out the door not knowing if they’ll come home.”

If you are Black in America or you love someone Black in America you do this every day. Not only when your loved one is leaving the house to go to work, in a job that they have chosen, in a profession where with full awareness of the risks they have weighed them against the rewards and determined that the latter justified the former.

But, if you love someone Black in America, whenever they walk out the door. Any time. To go anywhere. Yes, to work, just like the first responders that Melania referenced. But also to school. To the store. To the park. For a drive. For a run.

Without a wink or a nod or an acknowledgment, she said this of the families of first responders, and of those families only.

“Not knowing if they’ll come home.”

Yet this is the feeling of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, lovers, friends, as we watch or think about those we love who are Black, and the peril that they constantly face- not for clocking in at a workplace, where one could potentially be endangered but in return is lauded, praised, honored, and upheld for one’s commitment, dedication, selflessness and bravery.

For simply being. For existing. For being Black.

It’s impossible to know if Melania, or those who wrote her speech, considered this; if they thought about the fact that the willful jeopardy they cited and praised when belonging to one group is comparable to the unintentional jeopardy belonging to others.

One can make a guess. The “first responders” to whom she referred includes a few different sub-groups; there’s EMTs, and paramedics, and firefighters. And then there’s law enforcement.

There’s the first responders that are cops.

And that last group is the reason that those who love someone Black in America watch those loved ones walk out the door not knowing if they’ll come home. That group is the reason mothers hold their breath and fathers eye the clock and husbands send another text and wives’ hearts thud thud thud thud, until they all can have their loved ones with them, safe, at home. Safe at home.

Except when even home isn’t a place of safety, as for Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson.

“Who often watch their loved ones walk out the door not knowing if they’ll come home.”

If you are white in America, you need to take a minute, five, ten, and think about this. Genuinely and honestly think about living like this, about the stress and worry and inability to function that this would cause for you. You need to sit down and deliberate on what it means to carry this around inside of you, like a cinder block inside your rib cage, every single day. You need to remember this when you see that Black people are angry, and frustrated, and hurting, and contemplate how you would be if this was the reality that you yourself continually lived inside.

And you need to understand that this is why we need to lend our voices and shout out loud that Black Lives Matter.

Because no one in the world should have to watch their loved ones walk out the door not knowing if they’ll come home. Every single day.

is a Pittsburgh-based journalist, playwright, and theater artist who writes about social justice, visual art, travel, and her dog.

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