Fear and Loathing (and Looting) in Chicago

By Kim Benakovich


In the midst of a global pandemic, our country is also experiencing a revolution. Protests against police brutality and systemic racism have been happening across the country and around the world. These are scary, uncertain times- there’s no disputing that fact. As caregivers, educators, parents, and human beings, we have the opportunity to use our skills, knowledge, and voices to create change for the next generation. It starts with us. But what do we do when we don’t know what to do? When the young children I nanny for are having a meltdown, feeling dysregulated, or feeling disconnected, there are a handful of phrases I use to help them move through “fight or flight” and back to feeling “regulated”: “I may not be feeling what you are feeling, but if you want, I can sit right here next to you while you feel it.” “I’m here. You are safe. Let’s breathe together.” “It’s ok to feel angry. It’s not ok to hurt people. How can I help you feel better?” “I see you. I hear you. Your feelings are valid.” “You have my attention. What do you need?” “Can I give you a hug?” On Saturday evening, I was at my nanny job with B5 and B3 when a peaceful protest in the Chicago Loop erupted into chaos. Looking down from the 50th floor of the high rise, I felt uneasy, helpless, and scared. There was little chance of me or the boys being personally injured, and yet I had an incredible amount of adrenaline speeding through my veins. It continued for the next 10 hours, from 5pm-3am, with many tense moments. My bosses were stuck uptown and weren’t able to get home to their children until 3am. Streets were blocked, bridges were raised, and there were still several fires burning around the area. There were still people busting out store windows and knocking over vehicles and riding horses through the streets.  And although it was hard for them to drive through their neighborhood and witness the destruction, they both commented that they knew they didn’t have to worry about being stopped by police after curfew.  “We’re white,” they said. “We’re not even on their radar.” ——————————————— I finally got to go home on Sunday afternoon. I walked in the door, hugged my children tightly, and dissolved into tears. I was running on 3 hours of sleep, and after a nap with my toddler, I spent the rest of the afternoon processing the violence, chaos and destruction that I had seen and heard the night before, and trying (and failing) to not project my anger and sadness and exhaustion onto my family. I keep replaying a comment that one of my bosses made after returning to their apartment: “I cried the whole way home. It was so awful. I feel like I have PTSD”.  As the spouse and caregiver of a loved one with actual PTSD, this comment made me cringe. But her statement wasn’t flippant. It’s not like she said “OMG that rush hour traffic was so terrible I think I have PTSD now”. 

No. She went through a truly traumatic experience. And as much as I understand the sentiment behind her comment, all I could think was “That feeling she experienced for five minutes? That’s what some people in this country feel ALL DAY EVERY DAY.” Add to that fear the knowledge that the people who are supposed to protect you may actually kill you. For being #blackinAmerica This is why they are angry. This is why they are traumatized. This is why they are rioting.  This is why they are looting. This is why they are crying out for help. For too long, they have not felt heard, seen, believed, or respected.  Our nation is currently having a collective meltdown, and it is up to us (as conscious adults) to step up and step in. It’s up to us to say “I see you. I may not understand, but I stand with you. I kneel with you. I walk with you.” Because saying nothing is the same as doing nothing. And doing nothing is not acceptable. Silence is dangerous. Silence is condoning.  Seeing someone’s pain and then ignoring them is a form of emotional abuse.  Seeing someone’s pain, ignoring them, and then blaming them for acting out is inflammatory. Seeing someone’s pain, ignoring them, blaming them for their trauma response THAT YOU CAUSED, and then calling them “thugs” and threatening them with violence???  That’s appalling.  You cannot de-escalate a tense situation by puffing up your chest and yelling louder. Trust me...I’m the mother of an incredibly headstrong 5-year-old.   It doesn’t work.  It will NEVER work. Imagine, instead, if our leaders stepped outside of their Ivory Towers, knelt down beside, and quietly held space for us to grieve as a nation... Imagine if they said “We’re sorry. We were wrong. Please forgive us. We will try harder.” Imagine if they stood with protesters and called for #8minutes46seconds of silence. Maybe then the healing could begin. And with healing, comes growth.  Transformation.  Regeneration.  Peace. A “new” generation is coming. You cannot create change without a little agitation. The people are agitating. We must continue to go through the uncomfortable moments, talk about the hard subjects, and keep the arguments fair and just. That is how you show grace to those who are hurting. You show up, you do the hard things, and you support them without judgment. That is what you do for those you love.


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