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A Sense of Discord

Written by

Christelle Saint-Julien
August 7th, 2020

Categories

I need a vacation. I am looking to relax. I am hoping my mind will stop racing. The inner talk is ever present but the self-rambling is new. My mind wanders into observation and questioning in a new, relentless way. The course of events have shaped my train of thoughts. I have no choice but to let my mind run these days. Things are changing too rapidly, leaving no choice but to process in real time.

The grass is always greener, I almost wish I was biding my time. Instead, I am standing on a busy intersection, under the signs Woman and Black. It is not a crossroad. It is a junction where the political and personal are not mutually exclusive, where art absolutely has to be engaged. It is the superimposition of fault lines, a quake will assuredly bring down what little I grasp. 

***

I realize now that I have been looking for acceptance and validation in both scenes from which I hail and the individuals who own, run and gatekeep them. A proximity to whiteness did not get me a free backstage pass. I did not meet the producer and they offered me no deal. It was ruled that I would now sit in their realm, I would not get the honorary membership stamp that I did not ask for. But I did make it harder for them to  ignore my presence and power. For with equal talent, there was no reason for me to be considered. It’s hard enough to be out there and exist, try getting what you deserve on top of it. Spoiler alert: you will not be spared.

***

I am giving up on a bright future. Things are not looking good. And it’s not that there is no hope. It’s more like things tend to be bad before they are good, and the good is a blurry promise to which no deadline has been attributed. I now understand that for a long time I kept alive the idea of a great future, while the ship’s rudder powered through the crashing waves, the tumultuous sea. I should have learned how to read the wind. 

***

My way, or the hard way. I will always take the easy option – the slow one, I cannot afford otherwise. I must be pliable. Plans require constant updates, the limits reassessed, terms negotiated as I gather more information. As I understand how the system works in specific contexts. As I accumulate more hardships. 

***

I love to ask questions: it’s part of my job. I select them carefully and spend a lot of time thinking about what I need to know. When it comes to personal stories, I like to go all in. A lot of the time, I am trying to figure out: how did you manage to get where you are, really? Comparing privileges and obstacles like a game. Would I have done better? Or could I have done it without what you have been given?

***

Imagine realizing now and then that there’s a chance that the people around you see  differently. I haven’t figured out how I am not supposed to go crazy. 

***

In the geography of things, I am a mutable being. I am not the same person in my parents’ homes, in my own place, in a professional setting, in Montreal or New York city spaces, in the confines of my postal code, in my version of the internet. I am always the same, but simultaneously a different Black woman every time.

***

None of this is new. Maybe it’s the first time you are hearing us. Thing is, the call is coming from inside your house. And maybe now, it is no longer a sole voice trying to elevate itself over the mumbling of the crowd, a voice that will be muffled, forgotten. It’s a choir now.

***

I cannot climb a ladder where bars have been removed from under my feet. Even if I knew already I had to work twice as hard. My legs will not reach.

***

In the past, I had wanted to bring change from the inside. I thought I could do it. Truth is, you can only catalyze change through people who allow for such change. It requires work that cannot be delegated. What a disappointment.

***
Yet, I have learned your ways, your language. I know the code. But I don’t have the profile for the job, right?  Too threatening, not likeable enough.

***

The fetichism for hierarchies cuts deep. A title is given to me because someone else benefits from me having it. Here’s what it means: it doesn’t matter that I am good, and extremely qualified. However, I am a “fit”  for your team. The terms and conditions are not expanded upon. Please sign here.

***

I make things palatable. It’s a thing I’m good at. On days like this, I hate that about myself, as if I was both a traitor and an outcast. 

***

One of the things I hear the most is that I’m a different case, that I’m an exception because of the way I speak, or the way I do things. How reductive and insulting.

***

In times like these, I wish I could social distance from whiteness.

***

I represent others, who are not reading this, who look like me and are as capable as any. I will flinch while you will call them strong and resilient instead of doing due diligence.

***

If it looks like I’m keeping it together, part of it is probably because I don’t have many things. It’s easier to manage that way.

***

I would give anything not to have to justify and debate my own existence. Not to have to explain my humanity. And when I say my, I mean ours.

***

One thing I wish for everyone who is black like me: Great things. One thing every black person like me wishes for: Neutrality. Just the right to be.

***

Sometimes, I want to scream and ask if you guys are okay, what the matter is. I really mean it. I want to know what is up with you and this erratic behavior. U ok tho?!

***

I’d like to bet a lot of money on the number of times my music will be called soulful when it’s released.

***

If you can’t beat them, beat them. They will not like it either way and you will pay for it.

***

Don’t try to undermine my argument by asking for evidence. I am proof. The stories we are telling you, and the stories that won’t reach you are proof. In this country, there is very little data about us. We won’t show up in your numbers because you are the one collecting the information.

*** 

I change my mind a lot. Call it hypervigilance.

***

My CV should mention skills in being high-functioning through trauma I will never quite know the extent of, professionally speaking.

***

I have been wanting to do this job since I was a kid. I am now happy to be that person, but if I had my younger self in front of me, I would tell her not to brace herself for the hardships that come with being black and woman, but to welcome the joy that exults from being who you are.

***

Does writing this make me ungrateful? Sure, but towards whom? Clearly I have not suffered enough to go public and my CV testifies of my success. Do I even know what real life is?

***

Remaining at the bottom of the chain is great, you can hold on to what you have. Appreciate it fully, for it is all you can get and have.

***

Yes, absolutely, I’ve had positive experiences. I cherish them. Because every single day, my life on the job is tainted by unfavourable opinions based on my gender and skin colour.

***

I could not accept defeat since I am not at war. You are attacking me. I’d like to know why. 

***

I try to see clearly through my own blind spots. I turn my head and glance quickly, often. I am absolutely not exempt from privileges and even less immune to problematic behaviours. 

***

You have read this far, and I’d like to know why you are here. 

***

Seeing me thrive won’t have you thriving less. I can’t believe that for centuries, you have been told the opposite.

***

Taking stock for me is looking back bitterly and assessing every roadblock I had to go around. All I ever got in return was people saying how strong I was. Sometimes, I even get lucky.

***

When asking what the future holds, do you mean for yourself, or for both of us? Asking for a friend.

***

Make me enough. Normalize my presence.

*** 

After the events, people, white friends rushed to see if I was alright or if I needed anything. It was frightening, especially when you are used to dwelling in the partition of all things that cannot be understood even by those with the best intentions.

***
I can explain the feeling that I get when people turn to us to explain the problem, and then the solution. I wish I could remind everyone that I did not sign up for any of this. I just happen to live here, on this intersection.

***

And what, now?

Answer me with change.

About the Author

Christelle Saint-Julien is a Montreal-based writer, journalist and musician. She never thinks she has anything to say and cannot stop writing about it.

Follow Christelle on Instagram.

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Comments (2) (Hide)

  1. What would you call this type of format ? Regardless, her words hold the type of power and beauty that lingers at the base of my spine and require to be reread, over, out loud, in different times and in different settings, over and over again. We want more of Christelle!

  2. Very grateful for this piece. Christelle Saint-Julien is really poignant writer and I always look forward to reading her work wherever it’s published

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