‘The Price For Your Return to Normal Is My Life’: On Dismantling Layers of the Doll

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“Trapped indoors as they and we have been for a year, it occurs to me that White people have just figured out what it’s like to be in a living nightmare,” writes Baltimore-based writer Breai Mason-Campbell. In “Seeing in the Dark,” a stunning essay in the first-ever issue of Pipe Wrench, Mason-Campbell reflects on how the pandemic “has been like smelling salts for the soul, quickening even the most apathetic Whiteness,” and opening the eyes of Nice White Folks, even if momentarily, to the reality and experience of being Black in America.

They now understood what it felt like to be distant from their freest selves, so they listened when we said that our grief is a nesting doll: That inside the outer sphere where Corona had stolen our loved ones, our job security, and our sense of safety, was another layer. A more suffocating circle of experience that White people, previously blinded by the light of their own incandescence, could now begin to make out from the shadows, their eyes adjusted by the global shroud of doom. These grief-bound White people, uncharacteristically able to see in the dark, became more discerning. More sensitive. More human.

But white attention is short, she writes, and Nice White Folks can retreat back into their homes — back to (their) normal — until the next moment signals them to check in with a friend or take to Twitter or donate to a GoFundMe page or post a black square or display a BLM sign.

Justice was a seasonal item, it turned out. And empathy, its sister-at-arms awakened by the storm and subsequent power outage, was being sent back to the secreted and suppressed corners from whence she emerged. Her only-just-forged outer doll dismantled and packed up in the garage. Back to business as usual.

What’s needed, she says, is the support after the funeral: the support, the solidarity, the action three months later — a year later — when everyone has moved on. “How are you going to help the family now?” she asks.

We all share the grief of Covid-19, the outer doll of fear, uncertainty, and isolation. But beneath that breastplate of horror, there are layers upon layers of sarcophagi limiting the agency and humanity of people like me.

White men, White women, Black men, cis women, cis men, hetero folks, people with degrees, people with generational wealth, anyone who doesn’t share their neighborhood with drug dealers: Corona helped you build up some armor. Use it. Now is the time to show mercy with brave and decisive acts. Stop confusing irresponsibility with freedom. Accept accountability for the fact that where you live, what you buy, how you handle the noise on your block, and where your kids go to school all help or hurt somebody’s chances at life itself. Make. Different. Choices.

Read the essay