How Whiteness Steals Time

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend. — Theophrastus

So there I was a new mom to a bouncing baby boy. Literally he bounced his little self everywhere! Up the walls, down the hall, in cabinets and on top of tables. And although I posted cute photos of him laughing and singing online, the truth is that he was a hostile dictator with no teeth and poor English. I also learned later that he was an extremely intelligent baby and I was boring him most of the time. Not his fault at all.

So there I was fresh out of college. New baby, no job and broke. I did what any Black mother does when facing imminent poverty. I made it work, I found resources. I signed up for Cash aid, and Cal Fresh, MediCal and WIC. Now I don’t know about ya’ll but I hated going to the welfare office. I’d be in there for HOURS just to talk to a case worker, dirty bathrooms, no place to nurse. The amount of paperwork and documentation I had to provide just to prove I was poor enough to receive $367 a month was embarrassing. After that I’d head over to the WIC office and wait for an appointment and then wait some more for food vouchers. Then I had to go to the grocery store and if I got one thing wrong on the voucher list they’d have to call someone up to exchange the item. For example, if my voucher list said 1- 2% milk and I accidently grabbed whole milk they would have to either make me go back and grab the right milk, cereal, or baby food or they would have to do it themselves and they often got the wrong ounce or brand. By then my baby is screaming, the people in line behind me are irritated and the cashier is glaring and I’m stressed.

That’s why I try to make sure that when I’m at the grocery store now I always show kindness to moms shopping or using WIC. I always try to make them feel okay and not ashamed. I wait patiently and stand between her and the rest of the world who has no idea how hard it is to do simple shit because society does not value mothers.

Some of you might say that I should be grateful. And so I ask, grateful for what? Grateful that I had to spend 4–6 hours just to get some baby food and milk for my house?

And that’s what whiteness steals the most from Black folk. Time. Time waiting in line. Time waiting to be seen by the judge. Time being sick. Time grieving. Time waiting to get put on the Section 8 list. City Council meetings that we spend weeks preparing proposals for only to be told that what we need for our community can’t be done (Even though we see resources and wealth be transferred to white communities overnight). So much time required to survive being Black. If there’s anything I could ravage from white people and give back to my community, it’s time.

It takes time to truly live. To be present, not worried or anxious. It takes time to stop and breathe. Recently I helped organize a healing event for Black people. We had a healing station canvassed in crystals, sage, and essential oils. I forced myself to stop and take advantage of it. This auspicious young lady led me in meditative breathing. I didn’t even realize how shallow my breaths were. How long had I been breathing like that?

Black people experience time very differently. White folks have so much of it. Mostly because it’s a commodity most of us can’t afford (even wealthy Black people). It’s not something you can buy. It’s something that is controlled and harnessed. And so I imagine that’s why they worked us so hard in the fields, I imagine that’s why they raped us savagely in the woods, stealing the time we had to experience innocence. Or as Elizabeth Keckley a former slave wrote in her autobiography, “…blame the edicts of that society which deemed it no crime to undermine the virtue of girls.” Forcing our eyes open to violence and tragedy. It’s how whiteness positioned itself as God and forced our submission to worship it and not the sun.

Elika Bernard is a communications expert, skilled orator, and prolific writer with an extensive history in the visual and performing arts.