It was supposed to be a quiet evening. An evening of intellectual exchange, artistic energy, and political planning with some of the most incredible visionaries I know. This is the true story of what happens when four queer people of color occupy space in Oakland and dare to resist the oppressive structure of the status quo.
*Trigger warning- the story that follows details child abuse.
We started our night off at the Grand Lake Coffee House, where we spent some time laying the groundwork for the upcoming events for Spectrum Queer Media. After we ironed out some details, we decided to walk slightly up the block to a Thai restaurant that has been in the area for about eight years. We sat down to bask in each other’s beautiful black and brown brilliance. We broke bread in community with our intentions divinely aligned with our purpose- to tell the stories of marginalized communities in ways that pay homage to where we come from and are authentic to our experiences.
My jovial ease came to a screeching halt from the sound of a dull, low thud. It was the sound of a glass hitting a flat surface with accidental force. Weight and gravity worked in the way that they do, so the glass made contact with the table and its contents splashed across the width of the table.
“It’s ruined! Why did you do that? You do that all the time!! No, no… you can’t help. It’s too late for that.”
The utterance came from a tall, thin, pale, blonde woman with a shriek that rivaled nails going slowly across a chalkboard. She was loud and angry; in her mind, the outrage was not misplaced.
It’s just water.
Mind you, this woman did have water all over her shirt. One would think that she was the wicked witch of the west with the way she reacted to such an elemental force. This “woman” was taken aback by one of the customer’s responses. She then continued to throw a tantrum about how he always does this and how it is none of anyone’s business. The mood shifted early on at our table. Lex, a former marine and current artivist, muttered under her breath, “He’s a kid. It was an accident. That’s what children do.” Monica, a trusted Oakland philanthropist and community organizer, let me know that she would not sit idly by while someone abused a child. “I am a mother. I have to say something about this. That is unacceptable.” Blackberri, a local folk song hero and artist, looked around the restaurant, purveying the room for potential supporters. A. Walk sat with their back towards the table and just listened to the atmosphere rupturing, an exercise in active, rebellious listening.
Lex tells me that the boy had fear in his eyes. He couldn’t have been older than 6 years old. His body shook violently; his eyes were downcast and his words were coming out in sputters. He picked up some napkins quickly and started to blot away at the water on the table.
Monica turned toward the boy and told him that he was a sweet boy. She told him that he was a good person. She told him that he was loved. The little boy looked up and smirked coyly at our table. His “mother” loudly excused herself to the bathroom to compose herself and clean up a bit. Then, Monica turned toward the adults at the table. “Are these your friends?” The question was not directed at anyone in particular- it was to all of the “adults” at the table.
Monica made the connection that the little boy was in an active state of trauma. His amygdala had been hijacked by the situation and his first instinct was to appease his mother. Her first instinct was to humiliate him and degrade him in public. His “father’s” first reaction was to lash out at what our table was saying.
“It’s none of your business. You shouldn’t poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
This is the first time I turned to face the oppressors at the table behind us. I had to remind him that he was in a public space, a restaurant, to be exact. A place where everyone was enjoying dinner before privilege decided to disturb the peace. A space where we had paid for a service and got a show. The woman that he had chosen to co-parent with had made a spectacle of herself, dehumanized his son, and he was directing his anger at the wrong table.
There was a middle aged, white man eating near our tables. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he decided to break up the energy with a joke. He lightened the mood, enjoyed his dinner, and thanked our table as he left. I want to personally thank him. Wherever you are, your presence was necessary in that situation.
The folks at my table had a visceral reaction to a child being abused. The folks at my table recognize the tell-tell signs of abuse and refused to be complicit in that energy consuming the space where we were breaking bread. The folks at my table sat together as a tribe and exercised our rights to peacefully protest the bullshit. If you were there and saw it, you would know that that child is abused on a fairly consistent basis. Abuse comes in many packages- the mother who was probably abused herself, the father who has issues standing up for something.
I wrote this piece because it weighed so heavily on my spirit. I hope that the next time you see something, you say something. Abuse is a terrible thing to neglect or choose to not see.