Talking to God (a poem, from years ago)

Hi… (ahem)… hey… (ahem, ahem)…
Hello
No, that’s too formal
And I am done with formal
We are through with these formalities
Let’s be honest, you and I

I saw you yesterday
I saw and smelled you in the air
Your healing rain had brought the
Whole world into focus and
I can see, clearly now, that you
Are healing the whole world, and me

I heard you the other day, in
The lengths of waves crashing all
Along the shore; and I recalled
That you are anything but safe,
And yet I am irresistibly
Drawn to you, and if not to you
Then surely to
These waves that you have made

I’ve found that I find you
With the most ease when I am
Splayed on the ground, on the floor,
Feeling the mass of the world below me
The expanse of the world above me

I’d much rather see and hear and
Touch and taste and feel and find
You here, cocooned in the warmth of
The sun, smelling the wetness of dirt,
Talking back to the leafy green trees
Than find you in sanctuaries that
Do not shelter

I’m so glad you’ve agreed, we can
Put away pleasantries,
Bows, and curtsies and courtesy,
And instead speak to one another in
The pure poetry
Of all things alive, all things made

Marches, movements, mixed messages

My anxiety level has remained steady in the range of 5-7 on a 10-point scale in the last week, and it is in no small part due to the political climate. Trump has been inaugurated, and already begun to carry forward his oppressive agenda (see Dakota Access Pipeline, see global restrictions limiting education on abortion, see the slow and steady unveiling of xenophobic restrictions on immigration). Meanwhile, millions of women and femmes all over the country and the globe marched in support of women’s rights as human rights on Saturday; with many women marching in opposition to this new oppressive regime and as a show of solidarity to marginalized groups – women and femmes of color, trans and gender non-conforming folks, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, the list goes on – who bare the brunt of oppression in our nation.

I didn’t march. I had a prior commitment, but it’s hard to say whether I would have if that had not been the case. This article by Jamilah Lemieux captured some of my hesitance. She is not the first to point out that, too often, solidarity is for white women. White women can count on the support of one another in their battles for equal rights, but when it comes to the rights of women and femmes of color, there is often a clear absence of white women in our marches, protests, and rallies. What stake does an educated, middle-class, conservative woman have in the Black Lives Matter movement? None, as far as she is concerned. And so I share Lemieux’s anger and hurt to see white women turning out in droves for the Women’s Marches around the country. Where were they before the election? And what of the 53% of white voting women who cast their ballots for Trump?

I’ve been reading so many different think pieces (linked throughout this post) on the marches and this particular political moment, as the rallying cry to resist grows louder and louder. And I feel like I’m sifting through a lot of mixed messages, trying to understand what posture I am going to have in our continued movements for social change.

One piece I read said that it is a sign of political immaturity to critique, the marches specifically and our movements more broadly, from the sidelines. I struggle with this. There are a myriad of reasons why people do not participate in direct actions, ranging from ability to the need for self-care, and I don’t think that you forfeit your opportunity to offer healthy critique by not participating. But I also hear what the author of the piece is saying regarding the most radical among us disavowing association with the liberals who have yet to be properly radicalized. (Truth be told, I’m probably one of those liberals who is not yet all-the-way radicalized.) We all begin somewhere, and we each need to learn from others in order to deepen our understanding of the root causes of oppression. Our toxic culture reproduces itself by normalizing the ideologies of capitalism and white supremacy. It does little to no good to shame people for not knowing what they don’t know. At the same time, not knowing is a privilege and a luxury not afforded to many of us; you become acutely aware of how an oppressive regime and a toxic white supremacist culture functions when it acts upon you on a daily basis.

There is a photo from Women’s March on Washington that went viral, in which a black woman sucks on a lollipop and holds a sign that says “Don’t forget white women voted for Trump.” Behind her, three white women are blithely engrossed with their phones, presumably taking selfies to commemorate this momentous occasion. I understand and relate to the sentiments she expressed in this interview. While I cannot divine the intent of these three white women, or the thousands of others in pink pussy hats, I can infer from the remarkable turnout that for many, this march was a rare occurrence. It’s difficult for me to swallow my cynical fear that this day will pass through the memory and experience of those who are white, straight, cis, able-bodied, citizens, middle class, privileged, advantaged, as merely a snippet of a virtual scrapbook, a few forgotten images on an Instagram feed. It’s difficult for me to remain hopeful that all those who turned out for the marches will continue to show up.

A dear friend of mine, who has more life experience than I do, both in the movement and in general, put forward a healthy challenge to my initial critiques on the march. She said, “Now more than ever, we need to get really clear on who the enemy is. The women organizing and participating in that march are not the enemy.” She’s right. Now more than ever, we need to establish areas of mutual interest across groups, and guide those who are new to movement work into an understanding that their liberation is bound up in ours. How do we do that? I wish I knew.

Our social movements are not above critique, and we shouldn’t hesitate to name problematic patterns or actions when we see them. Accountability to ourselves and to our principles are both necessary now more than ever. But where is the line between healthy critique and public shaming that alienates potential co-conspirators in the resistance? I am making a commitment, however reluctantly, to myself and to my co-conspirators in the movement, to stay within the bounds of healthy critique, strategic partnership, and uncompromising self-care. And, to avoid the territory of unrelenting cynicism and compassionless shaming. Welcome to the movement. We’ve been waiting on you. There’s much to be done. Let’s continue working.

To love me, you must accept my depression

The arrival of autumn always coincides with a sense of melancholy for me, because autumn beckons the inevitable arrival of winter, beckons shorter days and less exposure to sunlight, more temptation to hunker down, and less incentive to emerge from bed each morning. Autumn reactivates my awareness of my mental illness or wellness in a particular way.

In case it’s not already obvious based on the content of this blog, I think a lot about mental illness and wellness. I think about the ways both have been foundational to my lived experience since adolescence. I’ve written about my feelings of ambivalence toward my depression. Emphasis on the possessive adjective: my depression. It is mine, and at times it feels fundamental to who I am. There has always been a subdued, melancholy aspect to my spirit and presence. I think it is the same quality that leads people to tell me that they feel calm around me, at ease, like they don’t have to try so hard or put forth so much energy in our interactions.

This is a hard thing to articulate to my loved ones, or even to my therapist. That depression feels like a part of me, and that in some sense, I would not recognize myself without it. It has drifted in and out of the landscape of my life for the past 18 years, and I have had to reject any notion that my depression is something that can be “fixed.” It feels more like a relationship that I have to manage. This idea of being in relationship with my depression to me echoes the medical model of depression as disease. Both require management, for the long term. Sometimes depression tries to take the upper hand, to rule and dominate, and I have to problem solve to force it back in line with the other parts of my being. I imagine it is hard for the people around me to accept depression as a part of me, because when someone we love doesn’t feel well, we want them to feel better. And depression is painful, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. So I can understand that when the people who care for me see me in pain, they want to help me find ways to “fix” it.

To be clear, I do not enjoy the pain of depression, and I don’t want it to be my daily lived experience. It’s a difficult balance. Whether it is wrong or right, true or untrue, depression feels like a part of me. And it is for this reason that I have had ambivalent feelings about “getting better” and recovering from the major depressive episode I experienced in the fall of last year, and recovering from what feels like a lifetime of chronic low-level depression. In some sense, I know that recovery has been necessary, that the reality I was living in was a false one, and that having casual thoughts of passing away from this world is not a good thing. And yet, even though that reality was not / is not permanent, I can remember it quite clearly, and I can remember that it felt so fundamentally valid and rational, even as I knew it was unthinkable to those who love me.

To say that being depressed is always and fundamentally bad is to condemn a piece of me. To say that I will have arrived at the perfect pharmaceutical solution when and only when I no longer experience depression is to say that part of who I am as a person is wrong. A revolutionary shift has taken place in my thinking within the last year: I expect the people who love me to accept my depression, and love me even when I am depressed. The fact of the matter is that they have to, if they are going to love me at all. My relationship with depression is not a short term or temporary one, and so anyone who cannot love me when I am depressed is going to have a difficult time loving me for the long term. I expect their love, and I want them to expect mine in return, but I also, expect this reciprocal love to be difficult and painful and complicated. I also expect that some people will not be able to love me in this way and that our relationship will be different because of it.

Another revolutionary thing happened after the major depressive episode that I experienced last year. For the first time, I made efforts to describe my full, unfiltered reality to other people. To my therapist. To my friends. A reality so lucid that I was actively pushing away thoughts of dying on a daily basis. The thing that saved me from dying was naming my desire to die, out loud, and asking other people to respect it, even if they were unable to understand it. It was a strange thing being suicidal. It meant I was in total disagreement with everyone around me. I thought dying a very reasonable solution, and they disagreed. What was I to do? I decided that if I was going to continue living, I needed to be known and understood. And so I asked my friends and my therapist to put forth effort in understanding, and I agreed to put forth effort not to act on the desire. I more or less made a demand that people try to understand my reality as I was experiencing it, demanded that they not write me off as wrong, troubled, misguided. And when they were able to do that, I was able to stay alive, because I was able to be fully myself, without worrying that the profoundly depressed part of me would be rejected.

In order to stay alive, I also had to consent to safety planning, and come to understand that I cannot burden others with total responsibility for my safety, but that is another post.

A friend of mine posted a link to this article titled “Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?” What would it look like to not immediately condemn those of us who experience depression, mania, psychosis, delusions? What would it look like to put forth effort to understand their reality, and empathize in what ways we can? What would it feel like, for those of us who love someone with mental illness, to be honest and say “I feel so sad knowing that you are sad/scared/hurting,” and not to immediately follow it with, “what can I do to make it better?” because this question implies that being sad/scared/hurting is not an okay way to be?

I don’t know. But I’m curious. And I’m committed to being transparent about my own experience, in the hope that we can talk more honestly about what is possible,

How I feel seven days after the murder of Keith Scott

The Mighty, an online community that catalogues the stories of those who are facing serious health conditions, recently published a piece of mine titled Surviving Depression, and Getting Breast Cancer. They also republished a piece I wrote on self-care. This burst of momentum around my writing has stirred feelings of pride, exhilaration, fear, and the ever-enduring impostor syndrome. We are all creators, creative beings, whether we are artists, writers, organizers, athletes… and we put a piece of ourselves into what we create. There are pieces of me in my writing, and so it feels strange to know that 80,000+ people have read and shared my writing. It feels as though they have consumed a piece of me, and I am not yet sure if I am more or less whole because of it.

I don’t know how to be a proper blogger (or what a proper blogger even is), but after receiving more than one hundred email notifications of new followers, I feel as though I ought to write something.

All I can write about is how traumatized I feel in the wake of the murder of Keith Scott by a Charlotte, NC, police officer. He was shot and killed on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. In the course of seven days, the primary emotion I’ve felt is despair. It sits heavy with me, even as life continues to happen around me, even as I endeavor to participate in my own life with some measure of… I don’t know what.

Regarding life continuing to happen around me… all of this madness and upheaval and uprising came in the midst of a hectic week for me individually. The organization I work with had an event scheduled for Sunday, an event that would have over 22,000 attendees. “Take care of yourself,” people say, when tragedy strikes, when racially traumatic events such as this happen. I tried. Wednesday I went home early, and screamed into a pillow until my voice was hoarse. I tried to lay down and rest, but found myself restless, and so instead I drank wine and smoked cigarettes with a friend. In the course of the week, I had two coworkers ask me how I am doing, and had one coworker ask me why I didn’t seem excited for the event on Sunday. That same coworker asked me on Sunday if I could smile to look a little more approachable at the booth I staffed at the event. I wanted to scream, but there were no pillows. And so I chose decorum over self-care, and I did not scream.

My partner lives in Alabama, and we see each other every three to five weeks. He came to visit me in Durham from Thursday to Tuesday, today. We felt the effects of the madness acutely, albeit differently, as our different racial identities color our experiences in very different ways. We talk frequently about the dynamics of him being a straight cisgender white man and me being a straight cisgender black woman. One thing we talk about is how it seems that some people want to celebrate our relationship as some sort of post-racial triumph. We know the truth, that there’s nothing post-racial about our world or our relationship, and it’s especially clear during a week like this one.

I do the self-care things. I shower. I brush my teeth. I eat meals with vegetables. I take my medications. I go see my therapist. I check in with friends. I show up to work so that I can pay my bills, and so that I still have a job when the despair lifts and I am able to enjoy work again.

Honestly? It doesn’t help. At least it doesn’t feel like it.

It’s not all bleak. There is resistance. There are courageous freedom fighters on the frontlines. And there are those of us, like me, who are caught in the throes of trauma and unable to fight at this present moment. Neither one is less than the other. We each need each other.

I know I am not the only person in despair. Be gentle with yourselves, dear ones. You are too precious to do otherwise.

Loving white people, as a Black person, in times like these

PART I:
I am a Black woman, and the majority of the people I am closest to are white, white women to be specific. They are the ones I call chosen family, the people for whom I would drop whatever I am doing if they are in a crisis, the people whom I call upon for daily love and support. It’s a messy, confusing way to live, and every now and again, I interrogate myself: “Why does this pattern persist? What does it say about you? Are you colluding and distancing just as much today as you were prone to do all those years ago?” I am the product of a white supremacist suburban upbringing, the product of advanced placement classes, horseback riding lessons, violin recitals, and predominantly white classrooms. Some things that I chose, but others that were chosen for me. I learned to survive immersed in whiteness, and I managed to all but erase my blackness. It has been a slow process of discovering and understanding my blackness, of undoing this erasure. Socialization in Black spaces has been important for this; developing friendships with Black women has been a key part of this; learning to desire collective Black liberation has been integral. There are vestiges of my white supremacist upbringing still to do this day. One of the consequences of that upbringing is that my instinct is and always has been to attend to the emotions, wants, and needs of white people.

I started thinking about this yesterday, as I reflected on how I was engaging in social media in the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile murders at the hands of police. I observed and realized that most of my posts, comments, and efforts to engage people to think were addressing white people. Why am I attending to white people at a time like this? Even if all I’m doling out is rage, and tough love, and truth bombs, I’m doling them out for white people, and white people are taking up my focus and attention at a time when I ought to be attending to MYSELF and to the OTHER BLACK PEOPLE in my life who are also numb, hurting, enraged. I started observing how other Black people were engaging, and realized that many of them were paying white people no mind. Their focus was on sending reminders of love and hope and joy to other Black people. Their focus was on attending to their own, grieving the dead, but also loving on the living who are still here and who still matter and who desperately need to be buoyed and bolstered to be saved from despair. Times like these make Black joy and Black love an imperative, elixirs that will heal and fortify and rejuvenate and save us from stirring up crazy shit, because how can you not want to stir up crazy shit at a time like this?

What am I saying, to myself, and to other Black people who love white people? I am telling myself to take a step back, and inviting you to do the same. This week especially, but maybe for longer than that. Certainly, the white people in your life are demanding your attention, as they are fucking up their efforts at allyship, but trying so hard, and struggling so genuinely to see the way forward, to step up in the ways that are necessary. But know that you are not responsible for them, and you do not have to respond to their bids for your attention. Change the channel. Mute the feed. Step away from social media, and step into Black spaces where you can get your life, at least for a little while.

PART II:
The other part of being a Black woman who loves white people, and is loved by some white people as chosen family, is that shit gets even more confusing when folks start reaching out to offer comfort and assistance. It is one thing to receive that type of reaching out from white people who are my chosen family. It is another thing to receive that type of reaching out from white people who are acquaintances at best, friends estranged for years in other circumstances. You have to understand, that Black people are being gaslighted as fuck during a week like this. And this can’t not mess with our psyche. I find myself on the one hand, wanting and expecting my white friends and acquaintances to reach out, to check on me, to offer help and support. Because that’s what chosen family does in a time of crisis. And  yet, I also find myself intensely irritated when they do reach out.

Here’s the thing, white people whom I love. Non-black people whom I love.White acquaintances that I only hear from when shit like this happens. I DON’T NEED YOU RIGHT NOW. You are not who or what I need.

I am not saying you don’t have a role to play or work to do, because you sure as hell do. However, I do not need you, personally. Second however, I do want some things from you. I want you to talk to other white people. Not, like, casually, “shit ain’t this sad,” but really initiate dialogue and argue and fight and risk burning some bridges, because until people start turning their backs on you, you aren’t doing enough.

Yes, there are some things I need and want you to do, if we ever are going to see some comprehensive change and an end to ruthless, intentional police killings of Black people. I need you to do those things if we’re ever going to make some progress so that we can move on to address the other one thousand indicators of systemic racist oppression.
But, in my grief, in my pain, in the joy I pursue to keep me from despair, I do not need you, or your comfort. If we are not chosen family (and maybe even if we are), I do not need you to reach out to me and ask me if I’m okay. How the fuck could I be okay? I do not need you to reach out and let me know you are thinking about me. Think about your own damn self, and your parents, and your uncles aunts and cousins, and your friends from high school. Think about the people in your life who are lacking an analysis to understand what is happening this week, and reach out to them.

Reaching out to me with generic laments and prayers of comfort and “I’m thinking about you” is so not as useful as you want it to be. Know that you are doing that for your own damn self. You are mostly in the way of my process. Either you are doing your work as a white ally all the time, in which case you will hear this and find some resilience to know that our love and friendship can withstand my ‘harsh’ words, or you are an opportunist, a voyeurist, pouncing on Black pain, thinking too highly of yourself in your efforts to swoop in and offer comfort, prayers, and reassurance that you will ‘stand with me.’

If we are chosen family, and this is NOT the first time I am hearing from you on this issue, and we are people in relationship with another on a daily basis, do reach out, because that’s what family does for one another. But please, do not to make it personal if I tell you that is not what I need today. Our relationship and our love is real, and it can weather this shitstorm of divisiveness that is unavoidable during events like these.

If this is the first time I am hearing from you on the issue, you are too late, and you are in the way, and you have more work to do. So do it. I need you to. I want you to. But I don’t need you right now.

**The words above are mine, and I tried to inject them with nuance. They are probably still lacking sufficient nuance, and may not ring true for other Black people who love white people. I also may recant my words tomorrow, but that’s what it means to be human. That’s also what it means to be fucked with by systemic racism to the point of not knowing who you can trust. On that note, cheers.