There's no escaping capital letter Whiteness. Not here, at least.
This is an immutable fact about America that Black Americans instinctively and grudgingly process and attempt to navigate through. Of course, there are spaces large and small we can create (and have created) that offer a suitable — if temporary — respite from it. Spaces where we're free. Where Blackness marinates and luxuriates. Where Blackness sticks without being sticky. Where Blackness fulfills and replenishes. Where Blackness is bulwark, barrier, and buffer. Where being Black is easy. (Well, easier.)
Sometimes it's found in the space between the moment two Black strangers acknowledge each other while passing on the sidewalk; a subtle and sharp and necessary recognition that protects and connects and shields us ever so slightly from the street. Sometimes it's found at a game night, where friends group together to laugh, flirt, drink whiskey, play Mafia and Spades and Taboo, and allow themselves to (finally) exhale, which provides their lungs more space to inhale, to take full and deep pulls from the Blackness passed around and permeating the room. Sometime it's a knowing glance with a Black co-worker during a staff meeting and the subsequent car ride home with that same co-worker where the genesis of that glance is deconstructed. Sometimes it's a kitchen your aunties shush you out of when you attempt to peek in on the greens. And they send you back to the equally Black living room where the rest of your Black-ass family immerses themselves in each other's beautiful mess. Sometimes it's an afternoon block party; one of those afternoon block parties that stretch for three and a half blocks and 12 and a half hours. And, if lucky, sometimes it's just your block all the time. Because that's just how your block is.
But it's a tenuous freedom. One that exists the same way a crash of rhinos is free in a zoo. And the same way Hawaii is free from the Pacific Ocean. And no single image better encapsulates that dynamic than the photo of First Lady Michelle Obama embracing former president George Bush during last weekend's opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Bush's appearance at Saturday's museum opening — which, considering who all was there, was one of the greatest collections of Black Americans in one space and at one time ever — seemed at best "peculiar" and at worse "why the fuck is this fucking dude fucking there?" Until you realize that the same president who led us into a sham war and allowed one of his own cities to drown in the Mississippi authorized the legalization to build the space he shouldn't have been welcome in. A sprawling and spanning structure where every square centimeter is dedicated to honoring and reflecting the breadth of the Black American experience wouldn't exist today without one of the Whitest men to ever WhiteMan signing off on it.
Like many capital letter White People, George Bush also seems to exist in a perpetual state of desired forgiveness for crimes he'll never actually admit to. It's a feeling that seems to especially emanate from him whenever he's around Michelle Obama. Who, whenever they're pictured together in public, humors and corrals him the same way she would a friend who's had two too many chardonnays. Or, perhaps, a six-year-old nephew who took two too many snicker-doodles from the cookie jar and wants to be saved from the wrath of his mother (her sister).
It is a cute and sweet picture. A cute and sweet picture that triggers and fucking infuriates. A cute and sweet and triggering and fucking infuriating picture that serves as a stark reminder that the National Museum of African American History and Culture stands and exists in the only place it can. In America.