“Decolonize your mind…”

…was amongst the many thought-provoking signs at the Black Lives Matter (not Black Friday) protest in Seattle.

I’ve never attended a protest march before, but Mark has seen his fair share, usually as an onlooker, but sometimes as a participant – in London, Paris, and Berlin. And in the 1960/70s, he took part in anti-fox-hunting demonstrations in rural England. These could be particularly vicious and nasty, because aside from the animal rights considerations, there was a strong measure of class warfare combined with the clash of traditional rural and modern urban sensibilities. On top of that, demonstrators contended with opponents on horseback carrying whips, or driving Land Rovers and carrying shotguns — and dozens of excited barking dogs! And, this often took place in mud under pouring rain. Mark says it was like Glastonbury meets WTO.

It was Mark’s idea to attend the Black Friday protest. He figured we might get away with being in the same place at the same time if we were in a large enough crowd. I belong to a White Allyship group at work and wondered if anyone else might go — but Mark suggested I go alone and experience it in my own way.

Mark managed to keep a safe distance from me all day. He rode downtown on an earlier bus and kicked his heels at a coffee shop in Belltown. I ended up having coffee in Pioneer Square, at the Cherry Street Coffee House that’s actually on Cherry Street. Before heading over to Westlake Park, Mark suggested I just have a quick wander through Magic Mouse Toys — where I worked many years ago. The Philadelphia Chickens (the soundtrack to my life for three years) were playing in the book room — and the Intermission Song by Aaaardvarks brought back a flood of memories. For the day after Thanksgiving, the store was awfully subdued — and it was hard not to feel a bit sad — looking back on the mad and magic part of my life. But I would soon forget all of that and return promptly to 2015.

I’m not a good shouter. My voice is rather weak. But protests are about numbers as much as anything — and I enjoyed just being another person, another white person, in the crowd. I quickly realized how easy it is to lose your bearings and become disoriented — even on city streets that are very familiar. All the usual landmarks at ground height are hidden by people — including street signs — and you have to look at the upper parts of buildings to know where you are. No wonder a crowd is easily panicked when there’s tear gas.

“Fun” is not the right word to describe the experience. Neither is “enjoyable.” But I do remember feeling happy — not the kind of happy that’s about having a good time — but the kind of happy that’s about being glad to be where you are.

We were told that going into Macy’s (and other stores) was voluntary — we could just stay outside and make noise if we preferred. I elected to stay outside, but Mark went into Macy’s. (I was near the front of the march and he was further back.) He said it went fine, with shoppers and staff largely taking it in stride. I stayed with the march past the standoff outside Westlake Center and then the attempt to enter Pacific Place. By this time, I was feeling distinctly overstimulated — and decided to call it a day, although I continued to follow the events on Twitter. As I walked back to Third Avenue to get a bus home, I checked the time and was surprised to see how early it was still — it had been less than three hours — but had seemed a lot longer.

“Decolonize your mind” struck me as a rather apt description of what Mark and I have been struggling with. We’re not only white folks, we’re English white folks — and so we have a lot more history to drag around — and a lot of that history, we never really understood — or even knew!

When I started high school at age eleven (as we did then), my history studies began with the Norman Conquest of 1066 — and the proceeded chronologically through the Middle Ages to the Tudors and the Stuarts, arriving at the English Civil War and Cromwell by the time I was fourteen. Then we fast-forwarded to Napoleon and Waterloo — and then Peterloo and the Great Reform Bill and on to the Chartists.

And that was about all the history I learned. Nothing of British Colonialism. Nothing of the Twentieth Century. Of course, we knew about the British Empire — but to us, it was just territory on a map that once was ours — and the people who lived there were just people we once ruled — and we never questioned it growing up — because you can’t question what you don’t know about. And your vision of the world ends up being very limited by this colonial mindset.

Time to go looking for some more podcasts!

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