Ideally, I will die comfortably; old, rested, peaceful, on a pleasant day, in the immediate or nearby company of my child or children, and grandchildren, and my partner if he has not preceded me.
But, during weeks like this one, it’s hard not to wonder if I will die tragically. There are so many options for how to die a tragic death when you are Black.
Obviously, I could be murdered by the police. Obvious to me anyway. Perhaps not obvious to my now-grownup classmates from childhood, the ones who told me, I wasn’t “really Black;” they didn’t “think of me as Black;” I’m not like those* Black people.
I’ve never actually been called a nigger. Not that I know of anyway, not to my face. I have complicated feelings about having been spared this awful rite of passage. Does it point to my economic and educational privilege? I don’t know, as I’m certain that many a professional Black person has been called a nigger. I am the “respectable” sort of negro, at least I present that way. Conditioning is hard to overcome. But then, many a respectable negro has been lynched, by both modern and old-fashioned methods, for minor to non-existent infractions.
I live in Alabama, and my partner is white, and I wonder if it’s a matter of time until someone calls me a nigger. If it happens, I hope that my partner isn’t around. Anger might get the best of him, and he might hurt someone, and then that someone might call the police, and then the police might murder me, the nigger – the victim of the original verbal assault.
So, that’s just one option.
I could die during pregnancy, or childbirth, due to either the medical negligence that treats Black women’s pain as less severe or alarming, or due to the poorer maternal health outcomes that plague Black women, outcomes that don’t give a shit about class, or education, or respectability. They know: a nigger, is a nigger, is a nigger.
So, that’s a second option.
I could die in the midst of a mental health crisis. Depression could swallow me whole, and if I can’t find my way to the surface, I might die.
That’s three. Let’s stop counting.
During my worst depressive episode, I admitted myself to the hospital emergency room. I stayed there for several hours before they moved me to a nearby medical facility. The police transported me from one place to the other. I was handcuffed before being put in the backseat of the police car. I think the cop who put them on was a Black woman, I can’t remember for sure. She apologized, and said something about “protocol.” At some point during the drive, the two cops in the car had to make a stop somewhere else. Maybe they moved me into a different car? I don’t remember. Another cop asked the first two if I definitely needed to be handcuffed, said something about “compliant.” They agreed that I was that, and took the handcuffs off.
If I wanted to get creative, I could combine options one and three, and go off in the middle of a mental health crisis. Be a little less “compliant.” I thought about that option that night. I’m glad I stayed compliant, respectable, checked into the facility, and eventually, got “well.”
Ideally, when Black people are murdered by the police, and videos and images are circulated widely and constantly on social and news media outlets, I would be wise enough and boundaried enough to stop scrolling, to call in sick, to lean into healing rituals, and be the one to protect myself in a world that’s not interested in protecting Black women or Black people.
Ideally, I would center joy, and healing, and resilience, and I would not write honestly about the fact that my grief and fear drive me to imagine the tragic and violent ways I might die at the hands of white supremacy.
In a world where Black people must keep very strict control of their emotions, and words, and behaviors – in a very literally futile attempt to avoid death or destruction at the hands of white supremacy – it’s hard, or perhaps unreasonable, to maintain that level of control over one’s pain and grief and fear. I find myself consulting my over-scheduled agenda, assessing when is the most convenient time to finally allow myself to unravel, while minimizing the impact to my work, because I am, and must remain the “compliant!,” “respectable!,” nigger.
More of us will die. This is the hardest part for me. I do my best to choose hope, and joy, and healing, and resilience, but it’s difficult when I remember that we have been here before, and white people have woken up, and gone to anti-racism trainings, and graduated from allies to accomplices to co-conspirators, and Black people have grieved together and healed together and leaned into community with each other, and still we find ourselves here again, mourning and fearful.
Our progress is simply too slow to save us all.
So, what are our options?
As for me, I will lie down underneath the soft warmth of the blanket handmade by my mother, and remain still and quiet until my breath has evened. Then, I will get up and drink a glass of water. I will go outside and go for a walk. I will, eventually, turn to my ancestors and allow them to remind me that our legacy is one of survival, of looking out for one another, of creating beauty and magic out of next-to-nothing.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Tony McDade. Four new ancestors. We honor you.