“How Are You Doing?” is a Trigger
Not all of us are okay. Nor are we prepared to answer the question genuinely. The world is overwhelming in myriad ways. It feels like a betrayal to the pain and suffering felt deep in the soul to reply with “okay, thanks.”
But we ask. And they ask. Clients, peers, neighbors, co-workers, cashiers…every fucking day. “Hello, how are you?”
I want to say “well, I’m a complete fucking mess. There are racists everywhere, cops are murdering Black people in droves, fascists are running around in public spaces with guns cocked/loaded, I’ve recently learned just how terrible it is to breathe-in tear gas and pepper spray, I’m trying to find work to take care of my family, selfish/disillusioned assholes are ignoring the pandemic with their anti-mask tirades, I’m fighting myself on trying to be a better white man, I’m fighting friends/family-members who aren’t willing to self-reflect on their own racism, our government was taken over by a coup who is openly admitting in advance that they are sabotaging the forthcoming election, I walk away from downtown-battles with white supremacists only to see flurries of people casually walking around without any indication of the violent clashes only a few blocks away, ultra-wealthy people are getting wealthier while the rest of us struggle to stay afloat, one year ago today the cops murdered Elijah McClain for no reason whatsoever and I worry that my child could be next, we don’t make enough money to keep up with medical expenses but make too much to get assistance, our government is routinely fracturing immigrant families and caging their children, our house needs a new roof, and, to top it off, the climate is in a perpetual nose dive, which means my children may live out their lives on an inhospitable planet.”
But I respond “I’m okay, thanks for asking.” I force a smile. Because the alternative is to tell the truth. And the truth takes far too long to lay out on the table many times per day. And it would create unwanted discomfort, sometimes with unintended consequences. And there’s no assurance that the initial question was a direct inquiry, anyway, rather than a passive greeting. So I respect the societal status quo and respond accordingly, which gives me pause and causes me discomfort. Every. Single. Time.
Perhaps you feel this, too. And perhaps you’re white, like me. Now, imagine what it’s like being a Black person. A black woman. A black transgender woman. Feeling all of this and more, wondering if you’ll survive the day, knowing that you might not, even if you follow all of the rules of “whiteness.”
Perhaps, instead of asking “how are you doing?” we say “hello, friend. It’s good to see you.” Because it feels good to have someone express their delight in your presence. It’s comfortable, meaningful, and doesn’t impose itself. Then we might reply, “it’s good to see you, too.”
Two people, expressing their gratitude for the presence of the other. Pain and suffering intact, with no pressure to either reveal or cloak it.
Yeah, I like that.