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June 22, 2020

“I Don’t Get to Forget”—a Short Video About what it’s Like to Be Black in America.

“It’s longer than a TikTok video but shorter than an Obama speech,” Sheila Adell wrote as a teaser for the Facebook video she posted recently.

In her video, Adell shares a slice of what it’s like for her to live as a Black woman in Maine (a state that is, according to recent Census information, nearly 95 percent white).

She also voices her thoughts about the recent movement for racial justice following the mass protests of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

Adell, a 50-year-old who works in the health care industry and is the mother of two young adults, doesn’t have a reputation for being outspoken. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” Adell said of the video. But witnessing backlash against the movement for racial justice on social media prompted her to speak out. She wanted to let friends know that seeing posts spouting inflammatory messages such as, “All Lives Matter” or, “Cop Lives Matter,” was hurtful.

“I’ve been overcome with anger and confusion and sadness lately. This video is my attempt at emptying all of those feelings,” she writes in introducing the video.

“I thought I could help my friends put a name and a face to the reality of being Black. I’ve always been pretty much the only Black person wherever I go—at work, when I go out to dinner, at school—it’s something you never get used to,” she says.

“We don’t have crosses burning on our lawns, but I still have to act a certain way when I go into a store, make myself visible so I don’t look I’m shoplifting. I don’t travel too far north for my safety,” Sheila says, in reference to more rural segments of Maine. “I’m very careful of who I befriend.”

I asked Sheila, who I used to work with at a community mental health agency, to tell me more about being cautious about her friendships. “When I meet someone new, it’s more than just, ‘Are we compatible?’” she explained. “But you watch what they say, how they treat people…are they making a racist joke?”

Sheila told me that after meeting someone for the first time, her family always debriefs. “It’s hard to explain, but my daughter and I—and I guess all black people—after meeting new people, we’ll ask each other if they seemed okay.”

“I keep hearing about this movement and what it means and how long it’s going to last,” Sheila says in her video. “For me, it’s been two weeks and it’s been great and it’s been awesome. As a Black person, I’m just waiting for everyone to go away. For people to forget. But I don’t get to forget. I’m hoping to spur some kind of realization in people that this is real. That for me, this is scary.”

“I wanted you to see my face and hear my words. It’s important that if you’re my friend, you understand me. And I hope we could have a conversation about that. I’m very proud to be a Black woman. I’m raising a Black son. It’s never been a good time to be Black in America. I’m really hoping these conversations, while difficult, change things.”

Adell, who received a bevy of texts, private messages, and Facebook comments from friends and acquaintances offering support to her after viewing her video, reports feeling cautiously hopeful about the current momentum of the movement for racial justice. The morning we spoke, the news had just broke that Quaker Oats had vowed to rebrand and rename the Aunt Jemima syrup, which made her hopeful that our society was in the process of making lasting, significant changes.

She posted the following message the day after posting the video:

“My heart is filled with joy at all of the support to my video message.

I think we are at a crossroads at this moment.

Move forward and be agents of change
Or stay silent and be the reason nothing ever changes

I plan on moving forward. Thank you to those who promised to come with me.”

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Watch an anti-racism hour with Jane Elliott talking with Waylon Lewis of Elephant, here.

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