Your Privilege Is Showing

I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, headed for Penn Station. I was in a good mood: I’d just come from a good Girls Write Now workshop, and I was on my way to a coffee shop to meet a dear friend for a writing date. It had been raining in the morning, but just then the sun was warming things, and the rain seemed past. Good mood, not thinking about the dumpster-fire hellscape we live in, just happy in my little, personal bubble.

I stopped at a street light. And a couple stood beside me. They were pretty in that sharp, shiny way of models who graduated from Abercrombie and Fitch ads five or six years ago. They are both white, their accents don’t sound like this city, but they could be from anywhere.

Him: The thing is, we know politicians lie. We know they lie some percentage of the time. Some lie a greater percentage than others.

Her: They are politicians.

Him: Right. And we know they’ve all done things that aren’t strictly legal. But the things is, they spend so much time talking about all that, they barely have time to govern, to get anything done.

Her: Good point.

Him: And that kind of works in our favor, right? It’s ridiculous, but it’s good, too. They have so little time for the real work that they don’t have time to mess things up too badly. So we just need to hang in there.

Her: That’s great. Thinking of it that way is so helpful.

No. I didn’t actually start throwing up at that moment. That would maybe have been the kindest thing I could have done, however. It would have created a distraction and would likely have made them shut the entire fuck up.

Sigh.

Never mind the nonsensical idea that politicians don’t have enough time to get anything done because they’re too busy cleaning or covering up the messes from all their lies and illegal activities.

Never mind that this man’s idea hinges on an assumed pendulum-swing that would land us back in some mystical, never-existed time when all of us were safe and happy.

Never mind that this shows just how little these pretty, pretty people have been paying attention to much of anything that’s happened in the last 26 months.

Ugh.

I want to bypass all of that and zero in on the idea of things not getting messed up “too badly.” Too badly. What, I wonder, does this mean?

Are things not messed up too badly for every Muslim person who has been impacted by the travel ban?

Are things not messed up too badly for all the DACA youth and adults who are not at risk of deportation?

Are things not messed up too badly for every family that’s been separated at the border?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child lost to trafficking and illegal adoptions because no one ever intended to return them to their families?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child who has been sexually abused or assaulted while in detention?

Are things not messed up too badly for every person raped on a college campus now that there are fewer protections and avenues for recourse for them to protect themselves and ensure their attacker is held accountable?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender soldier who can no longer pursue their military careers?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender person whose personhood isn’t considered valuable enough to be respected and protected?

Are things not messed up too badly for Puerto Rico?

 

I’ll stop, though there are so many more of these questions I could pose.

Even if it’s true that the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers don’t have time to do all the hateful things they want to do, can there really be a question as to whether they have already succeeded in doing a shit-ton of patently horrible things? Really?

If you can look at the things that have been done and undone since Trump was sworn in and think that things haven’t been messed up too much, it’s past time for you to examine your privilege. Clearly, none of the things that have been done since January 2017 have affected you, or haven’t affected you much, not enough for you to feel particularly inconvenienced.

But you have work to do. You have so damn much work to do.

First, you need to read more, and more broadly. You need to follow the social media of a whole bunch of Black and brown and indigenous people.

And then you need to make some new friends. You need poor white friends. You need gay and trans friends. You need Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need gay and trans Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need friends who work blue collar jobs. You need friends who never attended college and maybe never graduated from high school. You need friends who work in the service industry. You need friends who live off their tips. You need friends who are Muslim. You need friends who are Jewish. You need friends who’ve been stopped and frisked. You need friends who’ve been incarcerated. You need friends who aren’t you, who aren’t anything like you.

Yes, I know this is a lot to demand. It’s hard to make friends. And it’s especially hard to make friends from groups that aren’t part of your existing circles, who don’t live in your comfort zone. And sure, maybe that means you need to think about your comfort zone. In the meantime, if you can’t make a whole set of friends, if you can’t make any new friends without asking them to explain structural racism or poverty to you, if you can’t make new friends without using them as proof of your wokeness or non-racist-ness, then you have that much more reading and following to do.

I know we can’t spend all of our time suffering on behalf of people other than ourselves and our loved ones, that we can’t spend every waking moment working to improve everyone’s life. I mean, look at me. I was walking down Seventh Avenue not thinking about anyone else. I spend many, many hours and days of my life focused on my own needs. At the same time, I am aware of the realities around me, and I try to learn about realities I don’t know so well. I am neither as comfortable nor as safe as that couple on the street sounded, but I have my privileges, the truths about me and who I am able to be in the world that make my life leagues easier than the lives of a staggering majority of people. The thing is, I know that. And the other thing is, I know those other people exist and I know my life and my hope for the future are entirely tied up with those people’s lives.

This isn’t an I-am-my-brother’s-keeper situation. This is a my-brother’s-life-is-connected-to-mine situation. This isn’t complex math.

 

Not only did I not vomit when I heard that couple’s conversation, I didn’t engage with them. I’d been in a good mood, and I wanted to be in a good mood. I’ve already said (again and again) how uninterested I am in doing folks’ homework for them, but in this instance, it was more a case of not wanting to yell at strangers in the street. That’s really never a way to get people thinking or teach them anything, anyway.

I kept walking. I promised myself that I’d sit down and write all of this out so I could release it and not carry it on my chest for the next forever. Done and done.

Or … ? I mean, doesn’t someone need to take and shake these people? Not just that couple, but all the comfortable people who think things can’t really get too bad, that things aren’t already too bad.

Sigh. “Someone” needs to take and shake them, but it really can’t be me.

Right. Whose job is it, then?

So many of my questions come back to the same answer, an answer that will surprise no one: white people, you need to get your people. For real. You need to. And this is a full-time job, so that’s going to be pretty exhausting. Yeah. Entirely exhausting. You’ll need to squad up, make some schedules, figure out shifts. All of that. But really, the work is steading increasing, so the sooner you get started, the better.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Our Lives Hold No Value

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Korryn Gaines. Say her name.

Is there still any question
that our lives hold no value to the police?
At moments like this,
I think of Korryn Gaines, I think of her son.

Our lives hold no value to the police.
Gaines son, five years old,
I think of Korryn Gaines, I think of her son.
Police knew he was at his mother’s side.

Gaines’ little boy, only five years old,
saw police kill his mother, saw them try to kill him.
Police knew he was at his mother’s side.
His presence didn’t impact their decision to go in shooting.

He saw police kill his mother, try to kill him.
What his mother told him about the police proved true.
His presence didn’t impact officers’ decision to go in shooting.
Our lives hold no value to the police.

What Korryn Gaines said about the police proved true.
They took her ability to broadcast, then killed her in secret.
Our lives hold no value to the police,
they were determined to gun Gaines down.

Police took Gaines’ on-air voice, then killed her in secret.
There to serve a traffic warrant, they decided the sentence was death.
They were determined to gun Gaines down,
and made sure their actions weren’t caught on tape.

There to serve a traffic warrant, they decided the sentence was death.
A young mother, gunned down in front of her baby.
They made sure their actions weren’t caught on tape.
Nothing else mattered.

A young mother, gunned down in front of her baby
because she had the nerve to fear and distrust the police.
Nothing else mattered
except taking her out, punishing her audacity.

She had the nerve — the intelligence — to fear and distrust the police,
and they proved her right,
taking her out, killing her as punishment for her audacity,
for a traffic violation.

They proved Gaines right
and proved it to her son by shooting him, too.
For a traffic violation.
They couldn’t have cared any less for that woman or that baby.

They showed Gaines’ son that his mama had been right —
they wanted to shoot her, wanted to shoot him, and they did.
They couldn’t have cared less for the welfare of that woman or that baby.
Gaines and her son’s lives had no value.

They wanted to shoot Korryn Gaines and her son, and they did.
That baby has learned his lesson.
His life had no value to the police.
He’ll know it for the rest of his life.

That little boy learned a horrific lesson,
his mother murdered before his eyes.
He’ll know it for the rest of his life.
The wounds will scab over, but will they heal?

I think of Korryn Gaines’ son. Will he heal?


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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Her Last Breath

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Shereese Francis. Say her name.

Imagine the terror of running through your house
chased by four police officers,
when you’ve done nothing wrong,
when what you need is mental health care.

Chased by four police officers,
Shereese Francis must have been terrified.
She needed mental health care
but instead received brutality.

Shereese Francis must have been terrified.
Does “Protect and serve” only go for white folks?
Shereese Francis received brutality.
Her life squeezed out as she lay face down on a bed.

Is “Protect and Serve” only for white folks?
It certainly wasn’t on offer for Shereese Francis
as her last breath was squeezed from her body.
One more beautiful life taken.

There was no protection or service for Shereese Francis,
only the loss of her last breaths under the weight of four cops.
One more beautiful life taken.
Keep that count grinding down to zero.

The loss of her last breath under the weight of four cops.
Imagine Shereese’s desperation and fear
as the count kept grinding down to zero.
One more beautiful life taken.

One more beautiful life taken.


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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One More and One More and One More

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Tyisha Miller. Say her name.

The stories cops tell to explain their choices
are never quite right, never quite believable.
They are offerings,
giving cover to everyone who wants to forgive them.

Cops’ stories are never quite right or believable.
And their victims are dead, cannot dispute.
The stories are cover, reasons to forgive.
And one more and one more and one more woman dead.

Police victims are dead, so cannot dispute any claims.
No matter how far-fetched, there is only one story.
One more and one more and one more Black woman dead.
One more Black woman blamed for her own murder.

There is only ever one story —
a history told and written and adjudicated by the killers,
and one more Black woman blamed for her own murder,
one more and one more and one more Black woman dead.

Our histories are told and written and adjudicated by our killers.
Tyisha Miller had her own story to tell.
One more and one more and one more Black woman dead.
Nineteen and silenced, her story erased.

Tyisha Miller had her own story to tell,
and we’ll never hear a word of it.
Nineteen and silenced, her story erased.
Her story, barely begun, now ended.

We’ll never hear Tyisha Miller’s story.
Twenty-three shots, a dozen finding their target.
Her story, barely begun, now ended.
How many times do you need to kill the same woman?

Twenty-three shots, a dozen found their target.
Instead of medical care, Tyisha Miller was dealt death.
How many times do you need to kill the same woman?
And the always question: why shoot to kill instead of wound?

Instead of medical care, Tyisha Miller was dealt death.
Tyisha, you deserved so much more, so much better.
My always question: if you must shoot, why kill and not just wound?
Tyisha, your story deserved to be told.

One more and one more and one more Black woman dead.


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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Another Beautiful Life Taken

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Kendra James. Say her name.

Another traffic-stop kill.
When did driving violations become capital crimes?
Kendra James. Twenty-one. Dead.
And of course it’s her own fault.

When did driving violations become capital crimes?
Please point out her attempt to leave the scene
so I’ll know Kendra’s murder was her own fault,
blame her for her demonization and death.

Please point out her attempt to leave the scene —
an important detail if you want to make her responsible,
blame her for her demonization and death,
absolve the officer of his choice to shoot her in the head.

Details of the case help make Kendra responsible
unarmed and innocent, but it’s still okay that she’s dead.
Absolve the cop of his choice to shoot her,
let her name disappear from memory.

Unarmed and innocent, but it’s okay that she’s dead.
What can you do if people won’t follow orders?
Let her name disappear from memory,
she’s just one more number in the count down to zero.

If people won’t follow orders,
surely death is an acceptable punishment.
Kendra James, just another number in the count down to zero.
Kendra James, another beautiful like taken.

Isn’t death an acceptable punishment?
No matter the crime, the killing is easy.
Kendra James, another beautiful like taken,
just another number, keep the drumbeat count going.

No matter the crime, the killing is easy.
Kendra James. Twenty-one. Dead.
Another number, keeping the drumbeat count going.
Zero is reachable, so easily reachable.

Kendra James. Twenty-one. Dead.
Like Eleanor, like Rekia, like so many before her.
Zero is reachable. So easily reachable.
All it takes is our dehumanization. And your apathy.

And your apathy.

I stepped away. First I stopped writing poems, then I started again but didn’t post them. I’ve really struggled with what is the value, the good of putting these painful things into the world. Some conversations with friends and the opportunity to be in the audience for In Perpetual Flight: The Migration of the Black Body helped me come back to this space, decide to post again.


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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Unworthy of a Longer Life

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Deborah Danner. Say her name.

We’ve been here before —
shots that kill rather than wound.
We are here again and again.
The first choice is always to destroy.

Shots that kill rather than wound —
Deborah Danner could be alive today.
Why is the first choice always to destroy?
Why can’t we live?

Deborah Danner could be alive today.
Mental illness isn’t a capital crime.
Why can’t we live?
Deborah Danner, like Eleanor Bumpurs, dead.

Mental illness isn’t a capital crime —
unless you’re Black?
Deborah Danner, like Eleanor Bumpurs, shot dead —
deemed unworthy of a longer life.

When you’re Black,
the slightest infraction becomes a killing crime.
You’re deemed unworthy of a longer life.
You’re shot to kill, not to wound.

The slightest infraction becomes a killing crime.
Deborah Danner was unruly. Now she’s dead.
Shot to kill, not to wound.
While white active shooters are brought in alive.

Deborah Danner was unruly. Now she’s dead.
She had a bat, the cop had a gun.
White active shooters are brought in alive again and again.
What explains the difference if not race?

Danner had a bat, the cop had a gun.
Now she’s dead. She needed care, but now she’s dead.
What explains the outcome if not race?
The first choice is always to destroy.

Why can’t we live?


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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Flyaway Chaff on the Wind

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Sheneque Proctor. Say her name.

It’s a natural thing,
a parent wanting their baby to come home,
a parent wanting their baby safe from harm.
That need, that desire, powerful.

A mother wanted her baby to come home.
Instead, had to find her in a police station.
The need, the desire to find her child so powerful.
But, instead of coming home, her baby died.

A mother tried to find her baby in a police station.
Sheneque Proctor was only 18.
Instead of going home with her mother, Sheneque Proctor died.
Instead of care, this baby died (alone?) in a police cell.

Sheneque Proctor was only 18. Only 18.
The police said she should have been fine.
Instead, she died (alone?) in a police cell.
Another too-young life lost.

The police said she should have been fine,
but they refused to release video of Sheneque’s time in that cell.
Another too-young life lost,
another police department shrugging it off, hiding information.

Police refused to release video of Sheneque’s time in that cell —
a refusal that reeks of knowledge, of culpability.
They shrug off Sheneque’s death, hide vital information
as if she is nothing more than chaff on the wind.

The refusal screams knowledge, culpability.
Sheneque’s baby son is motherless, she is gone,
flyaway chaff on the wind.
How can she be thrown away so casually?

Sheneque’s baby, motherless. She is gone.
Her son will never know his mother,
casually thrown away.
The clock hands click down toward zero.

It’s an unnatural thing.


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

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