I’ve been less than productive this past week. Listless. Angry. Annoyed. Lacking focus.
And I’ve been eating and drinking the most random assortment of food that I can get my hands on:
- a liter of orange juice in one day
- slices of some damn good cheesecake
- whole containers of dates, almonds, peanuts and other nuts (with a caterpillar or something crawling in one container to boot!)
- an entire package of bacon in 12 hours
Now, half the package of bacon I burned when trying out a bacon-wrapped dates recipe because I was distracted.
Though I wanted to ignore it, I knew this familiar feeling. I’d been here before, felt this before.
When my great-grandmother died my senior year of college at Duke.
When I lost my job unexpectedly.
Despair and I have a seven-year long relationship.
But the reason despair has wrapped me in its guise stronger than I have felt in years is not because of the death of a job, a loved one, or a crazy relationship.
It’s because of the death of two strangers: Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
You see, for the Thanksgiving holiday I wasn’t clasping hands with family members around a table laden with food like I was last year. I was right here in Venezuela hiking to see Angel Falls, one of God’s gifts to man.
I was away from my computer and the news reports about Ferguson, from pictures concerning the riots, from everything.
It was just me, and God, and nature (and a tour group, let me not act like I was roughing it on my own).
I’m wondering if my four day isolation from the chaos that is the outside world is why, now, the grand jury’s decision to not move forward with a trial concerning Eric Garner’s death hit me so hard.
Or maybe it was because a grand jury thousands of miles away had reached the same conclusion concerning Mike Brown.
Or maybe it was because I was thinking of my own 5’10” Black brother who works nights and what his interactions with law enforcement have been and might be in the future.
Or maybe it was because I was thinking about my Nigerian father with what I like to call his old man shuffle.
Or maybe it was because I have finally acknowledged in myself what I’ve been saying publicly for years: Black lives don’t matter in the US of A.
And that realization has broken me.
Left me eating until I went to bed with a stomach ache then waking up for an online church service only to burst into tears–the first tears I have ever cried for yet another case of police brutality–when the preacher mentioned Eric Garner.
I have been angry. Just like my mother and brother, when I get angry I get quiet. I get silent. I haven’t written in my journal about my emotions, let alone in this blog’s public space. I haven’t allowed myself to fully process what it means to carry a country’s passport where I can avoid getting questioned by Venezuelan soldiers when leaving Customs, where I’m surprised I have to apply for a visa to enter a country (hey, Brazil), where I can essentially ensure I can travel when I want and where I want and know that my country has my back.
Except when it doesn’t.
Except when we’re gunned down in the streets, and it’s justified because we’re criminals anyways. Except when we can’t breathe when the full force of the state–literally–has its arm around our throat, and we’re blamed for our own deaths because we were overweight and had asthma.
If being a thief, being overweight, and having asthma were justifications enough for a person to die then a lot more white people would have to be buried alongside us.
Sounds crazy, right? Because it is.
I feel all of these privileges that my passport brings me when I live outside of the US (people asking me to bring back supplies that are too expensive or simply unavailable here in Venezuela, to mail holiday cards when I get back to the States because the (inter)national mailing system in Venezuela is basically non-existent, to teach them English, to explain how they can legally get papers to come to the US, to describe how it is to work as a teacher in the States because they no longer wish to stay in Venezuela, etc…), but when I’m in the US watching the “news” I’m left to feel like I’m still an outsider in the country of my birth.
Left to wonder, yet again, if I’ll raise children in the States if this is the fate that awaits them.
The first black feminist I was exposed to in college (thank you, Professor Charlotte Pierce-Baker) was Audre Lorde. In her poem “a litany for survival” Lorde wrote,
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
We as a people were never meant to survive. We weren’t meant to survive The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and still love. We weren’t meant to survive the cruel lash and still love. We weren’t meant to survive the lynch mobs and still love. We weren’t meant to survive Jim Crow and still love. And we weren’t meant to survive the prison industrial complex, cops shooting us then asking questions later, a society demonizing us when we’re not the perfect victim (read: formally educated, speaking Standard English, middle class, and without a criminal record) and still love.
But we’ll love regardless, raise our kids regardless, be contributing members of a society that uses us to lay the foundation then discredits our damn work in the name of equality, colorblindness, post-racial society, blah blah, because we have done it and will do it.
So since “it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive,” I’ve been speaking lately.
I’ve been talking to people in Spanish and in English when they ask me how I feel about what’s happening. I’ve let slip “because Black lives don’t matter in the US” in front of non-Black people and for the first time in my life didn’t try to “pretty up” the statement.
I’ve let my frustration be publicly shown with this country that I love that repeatedly chooses to hate me and mine, with a country that always manages to find white rage acceptable and constructive but black rage as a threat and destructive.
Yet, why am I surprised? Why am I saddened? I wrote a graduate school paper and a short story about how lynchings used to be photographed and sent as postcards in the US of A.
This isn’t the first time that a black person’s death has been documented with photos (or video) and nothing has happened. And it won’t be the last.
Body cameras won’t change a thing, clearly. We had Rodney King’s beating documented on camera and now we have Eric Garner’s death documented. Still no justice.
I want to be back home protesting, doing something.
And it’s for moments just like these that I know that even though I love my life abroad, still plan on living abroad for another two years, I’ll return to the States.
There’s still work to be done despite what the post-racial, colorblind, “look at the progress we’ve made since Martin Luther King!” head-in-the-sand, willfully obtuse people want to say. And I’ll do this work and love.
I honestly don’t know what else to say.
So I’ll just close with the song that closed today’s church service:
Lord, do it for me. Right now.
Lord, do it. Fix this broken nation. Right now.
Note: The title of this blog post was inspired by Vassar College Professor Kiese Laymon’s Gawker piece “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK.”