Tag Archives: blackness

How will I die?

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.

*Those niggers.

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.

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

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.

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. 

Living in a Black neighborhood for the first time at age 29

I recently left my charming but slightly dingy duplex in Old West Durham, and moved to a newly renovated duplex that is a little too small but full of modern comforts. I moved because I wanted something slightly cheaper, with central heat, and where I didn’t have to kill roaches and overgrown crickets on a weekly basis. I was ready to leave that house, but I was sad to leave West Durham. Old West Durham is a mixed race, fairly mixed income area, with new development slowly encroaching upon spaces that once held older homes with porches and yards. Continue reading

The burden of being exceptional

There is a narrative that has followed me all my life that I am trying to shake. This narrative is that I am exceptional. That I am atypical and outstanding and impressive. That kind of narrative can really fuck with your head, or at least it has with mine.  Continue reading