Three years ago, a boy was killed. For no good reason, but for a lot of bad ones. He was murdered and left to bake in the August sun. And after his murder, a lot of people worked hard — and are still working hard — to convince anyone who’d listen that his death was his own fault. After all, they said, he wasn’t a good person anyway. And, they said, the man who murdered him — despite that man’s training, despite his holding all the power in that encounter — should be both lauded and pitied for making it through the ordeal of killing the boy. We should, they said, understand how afraid he must have been as he stood armed with a deadly weapon facing a child.
Three years ago, that boy’s murder was the next in a long line of murders, a long line of dead folks we were instructed to blame for their deaths at the hands of more powerful, deadly people. Dead folks like the seven-year-old girl who had the audacity to be sound asleep when she was shot to death. Dead folks like the the 22-year-old man who thought he had the right to shop for toys in a department store. Dead folks like the 22-year-old woman who seemed unaware that hanging out with friends in a local park was a capital offense. The boy murdered three years ago today was one more in a long, long line. Just one more.
But not just one more. A tipping point. Somehow that boy, that murder, that moment. Changed everything.
Changed everything. Not just for me, but definitely for me. I had spent years being sad and sadder and sadder still. Years waiting for an end to the killing of Black folks by police and their surrogates. Years waiting for killers to be held accountable, to be punished. Years, being sad and sadder and sadder still. Years feasting on disgust, disappointment, despair.
And then Michael Brown was murdered. And my despair turn to rage. And I embraced that rage, and gorged on that rage, and nurtured and listened to and learned from that rage. And I have never been the same.
And I am not alone. Brown’s murder didn’t only spark me. It birthed the Movement for Black Lives, our new Civil Rights Movement. A movement that has grown and continues to grow. A movement that has forced and sustained a focus on this country’s forever-inability to honestly face, acknowledge and dismantle racism.
Michael Brown should be prepping for his senior year in college. Should be finishing up the last days or weeks of that summer internship or study-abroad program he was so happy to get into. Should be texting with his mom about whether she’ll have time to run him by the back-to-school sale at Target so he can stock up on notebooks and his favorite Pilot gel pens. Should be thinking about the fact that his favorite professor will be back on campus after a year’s sabbatical. Should be hoping his course load and schedule will leave room for him to work part time at the campus library.
Instead, he is dead.
Instead, he is dead.
Instead, he is dead.
But we are not dead. Not yet.
We are still here, and we are still angry, and we are still committed to this fight. These three years have not been kind to us. But we are still here. And we aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t sitting down. We aren’t shutting up.
Today is a sad anniversary, but it is also a thank you. To one boy whose loss helped so many of us find our voices, find our way, find one another.
Rest in Power, Michael. We carry on.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
So yesterday there was some unnecessary-but-unsurprising ugliness in the world. There was April Ryan getting scolded and bullied by the White House press secretary. There Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Bill O’Reilly. It was a bonanza day for Black women. Bo.nan.za. If you missed it, you can get a recap, complete with lame, insincere apologies over at The Mary Sue.
I was feeling that #BlackWomanAtWork hashtag, for sure. This nonsense had me remembering a lot of things that have happened to me during the long course of my work life. I posted some of those thanks-for-the-memories moments on FB:
“Don’t get excited.” Said by coworker when I leaned forward in a meeting as I spoke.
“Okay, stay calm,” said by coworker every time I express displeasure at something.
“Calm down, don’t get so upset,” said by a friend any time I expressed anger, displeasure, concern. Went on a long time until I finally called her out. Hasn’t happened since.
Boss looking at my natural hair and asking if I think it might be “too street.” (Whatever the fuck that is when it’s home.)
HR manager after I interviewed with him (many years ago): “You’re very intimidating, you know. You should work on that if you want to find something.”
“No, you cannot be the director. I need to speak to the director.” Man trying to bully his way into the program I used to direct.
Presenter looking directly at me for the only time during his presentation: “We have programs for single parents and people who didn’t finish college.”
“Hello … again!” Member of another team who thinks he’s seen me already even though he hasn’t … even though there is not a single other Black woman on our floor who looks anything at all like me.
“You’re listening to rock? Black people don’t like rock!” Coworker in ed program where I used to teach.
This crap is ridiculous. And it’s all the time. It’s everywhere. It’s when you expect it, and — best of all — when you least expect it. There’s a reason both April Ryan and Maxine Waters dealt so well with the awful treatment they received. They have had years of these experiences, and they have learned how to brush off their shoulders and move on.
I have to wonder at O’Reilly, though. Coming for Mother Maxine is just foolish, plain and simple. Ms. Waters is not here to play with you and your racism. She is not going to take her ball and go home because you chose to show yourself to be a hateful bag of wind (again). No. Ms. Maxine will take that O’Reilly, raise you a Spicer, lay you and your misogynoir out with a royal flush of proud Black clapback, and walk away with the pot every damn time. (Yes, note the Oxford comma. Just like Ms. Maxine, it is not here to play.)
But I’m not really expecting sense from O’Reilly. Or Spicer. I know better.
And I don’t need to defend Mother Maxine. She can take care of her fine self by herself. And, too, she has R. Eric Thomas in her corner, writing his love for her practically every day. If you haven’t caught up with him yet, you can click over and check out what he wrote about this foolishness. Because of course he wrote about this nonsense.
Here is a scrummy little taste:
Because Bill O’Reilly (whoever that is) can’t come for her. He wasn’t sent for. His hairline doesn’t have the range. She has 40 years of political receipts. He has tired, racist dog whistles about hair. These are not equivalent. If he thinks he was reading her, he needs Hooked on Phonics.
Giving me life. 100%.
As you can see, Ms. Maxine is fine out here without me. Me, on the other hand? Mostly I’m just tired. All the ways we are always and always being pushed down, pushed back, silenced, shamed, erased. Can’t folks just give it a rest already? Can’t we just live? I know this answers to these questions is going to stay “No,” maybe for a good, long while. Knowing the truth of that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, doesn’t make me feel any better about any of it. As a friend said in response to my FB post: “We call them microaggressions, but what about a constant onslaught on your very being and existing is micro?”
Yes. What she said.
But then I remember Representative Waters. And I remember one of my coworkers telling me that I gave total Maxine Waters in a meeting on Monday. And I feel a little energized. Feel a little more like I can keep standing up, keep clapping back.
It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!
Shortly after the election, my coworkers and I had a meeting to talk about the election results and how we imagined THOTUS¹ and his masters and minions administration would impact our work. One of my colleagues talked about the need for us to write down our values, to make a written list of what we hold most dear as citizens … and then to rank that list. At the bottom of the list would be the things that were the “nice to haves,” things that were important to us, but which we could imagine allowing to fall by the wayside in dire times. The middle of the list were the “necessary” things, the values we felt strongly about and would be willing to stand up for. The top of the list, of course, would be for the “MUST haves,” the things on which we would never negotiate, the things for which we would fight. He said we’d need that list, that THOTUS would begin cutting away at everything on the list, and we needed to know where we stood, how far we were willing to go, what we were ready to battle for.
I didn’t make my list then. I thought about it a lot, but didn’t write. I sat down to write it out today, using some of my unexpected snow/ice-day time to focus on it. Because, on practically every one of the last 50 days, I have seen the flame-throwers of THOTUS’ scorched earth policy coming for every single thing I hold dear, everything that means anything about being a citizen of this country.
Let me be clear: There is not one thing on my phone that’s so special and important that only I should be able to see it. I could easily hand over my phone if asked, easily give up my password because I — like every single person who is being searched these days — have nothing at all to hide. But none of that is anywhere near the point.
As I said to her, this is only the first pass. The first swing of the sledgehammer against the wall of what we think is our personal sovereignty. Once we’ve all gotten past this, gotten used to — if not entirely comfortable with — giving up our passwords on the regular, there will come the next thing. And that next thing will be worse. And suddenly giving up our passwords won’t seem like all that much because now we have to travel with letters from our employers vouching for our legitimacy or some such. And we’ll fight against the insanity of that, but then we’ll get used to it and it will stop seeming so bad because suddenly we’re being strip-searched.
It isn’t surprising that the people facing the worst harassment are people who are visibly Muslim or who have Muslim names. It isn’t surprising, but it’s no less awful. And it didn’t start with Muslims. And it certainly isn’t going to stop with Muslims. You know that, right?
So I took a break today, put other things (like remembering that I had a slice to post) on pause so I could think long and hard about the line I will draw in the sand, think about what I hold most dear, about where I’m not willing to give an inch, about what I’m prepared to stand up for, to fight for. I should have done this in November, when my coworker first said it. I didn’t write my list then because I thought it wasn’t necessary for me, figured I was clear, that I already knew all the items at the top of the list, that there weren’t any questions.
There are questions.
And am I really only talking about one line in the sand? Is it ever just one? When I start to think through all of the possible pieces, all the things that may or may not be hard and fast, I come up with something that’s feels more like this:
I’m still working on my list.
What lines will you draw in the sand? What does it mean if you stand up? What does it mean if you don’t?
In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride!
It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!
¹ Titular Head of These United States — Because yes, I’m one of those people. I won’t say that man’s name if I can help it, and certainly won’t ever put the office title that I respect in front of it. Punto.
I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.
Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.
I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.
Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.
I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.
So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.
Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.
I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.
I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?
Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.
And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.
No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.
And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?”
Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?
When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water?
Or a back rub?
Or someone to talk to?
Why weren’t you standing with me?
Where the hell were you?
Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?
When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?
When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?
When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee
Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten?
Where were you?
If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?
Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.
But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.
Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.
Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.
A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:
The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.
I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤
Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.
When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.
Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.
In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.
And so, Dylan Roof is guilty. On all 33 charges against him. Guilty.
And I’m glad of that. Of course I am.
When I shared the news, a friend commented that he wouldn’t be happy until Roof got the death penalty.
And I get that. Of course I do.
Is it wrong that I want worse than death for him? I don’t know what that means, but that’s what my heart said when I saw the headline. He is clearly incapable of remorse, and I don’t believe in the death penalty … but in his case I want something visceral and inhumane and deep enough to reach whatever shred of humanity is still left in him. And then I want it to go further.
That was my response to my friend’s comment. Is this who I’ve become? I think it is.
And I get that. Of course I do.
Would there ever be a punishment that could fit Roof’s crime? I can’t imagine what it would be. Nothing anyone would or could do to him would ever erase what he has done, would ever make him understand that what he did was wrong, would ever bring anyone peace. So my wish for something “visceral and inhumane” doesn’t serve me or anyone else.
Maybe a guilty verdict for Michael Slager. Maybe for Daniel Pantaleo. For Timothy Loehmann. For Joseph Weekley. For Stephen Stem. For Jeronimo Yanez. For Darren Wilson …
Maybe a country in which I wouldn’t need to write this.
I always wanted to believe we would grow up to be that country. Of course I did.
At least today Dylan Roof is guilty. At least there is that.
Bury the bodies. Each sacred, each loved. Linger over choosing the right outfit, the right music, the flowers that will make the going-home service exactly what you want. As if this service could ever be exactly what you want. Bury the bodies. With friends and family standing on cold, windswept knolls, on sunny patches of technicolor grass, in crocus-dotted fields thick with post-winter mud, in the shadow of elevated tracks in the heat of July. Bury the bodies. Tamir, Akai, Pearlie, Yvette, Eric, Trayvon, Rekia, Eleanor, Michael, Oscar, Tarika, Aiyana, Derek, Sean, Shereese, Miriam. Bury the bodies. Keep the memories fresh with stories and photos. Bury the bodies. Tanisha, Jordan, Shelly, Amadou, Darnisha, John, Malissa, Ramarley, Alesia, Patrick, Shantel, Rumain, Kathryn, Ezell, Deion, Alberta, Kimani, Kendra, Reynaldo. Bury the bodies. Bury all of the bodies. Bury each of the bodies. Say: “Not one more,” every single time. Bury the bodies. Understand that, with the amount of ground that has swallowed our loves, we could have built our own colony, built our own society. Understand that it wouldn’t have mattered, that hate would still have come for us. Breathe. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. When there is no room left for our dead, how will hate erase us then?
And another year of 30 poems in 30 days comes to a close. As I did last year, followed along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. For the month’s final poem:
Take the phrase “Bury the (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.
You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!
Did you write poems this month? Where can I see them?
Are you exhausted after this 30/30 craziness?
So yes, that mom slapping her son around and dragging him away from the protests in Baltimore.
I’m not a parent, but I can understand not wanting your child to be in the middle of a situation that could turn ugly in a nanosecond. How could I not understand that?
While I am definitely feeling some kind of way about the fact that she is suddenly a media darling, being feted on the morning news shows and called a hero … one of the ways I’m not feeling is surprised. Is anyone surprised ? Does anyone honestly believe all the positive attention being showered on this woman is coming from a place of understanding her fear for her son and her urgent need to get him out of harm’s way? Because what I see is a media machine with an agenda. A media machine thrilled to death at the sight of a Black woman slapping the crap out of a young Black man. A media machine that has been pressuring every Black person it can get its hands on to condemn the protests (yes, Wolf, I’m looking at you, but not only at you). And this mother has served herself up to the machine wrapped in a glittery bow.
Watching the salivating anchors show that footage over and over yesterday made me sick. Do I think that mom shouldn’t have pulled her son out of the protests? Of course not. That’s her baby. She should want to fight for his safety. I just wish she’d found a different way to do it, a way that wouldn’t have been such a silver-plattered offering to the narrative white supremacist culture is pushing so hard every day, the narrative that spins this story away from the facts we should be discussing.
Sometimes moms need to slap sense into children’s heads — figuratively more than literally, I hope — but that’s not the solution to institutional racism. For the last day, folks have been trying to convince me that having more moms take an open palm to their kids’ heads is all we need to resolve these issues. As if.
But of course that’s where the machine wants to point us. Because if that could ever, in any reality, be true, a) there would be no reason to talk or do anything about structural racism, racial prejudice, a history of violence and injustice against Black people, or the ways that history continues to play out in our day to day lives; b) white supremacy would get the every-night pleasure of seeing Black mothers beating their children on television, which would c) confirm the stereotypes of the angry Black woman and the good-for-nothing young Black man; d) white supremacy could sit back and relax because all of the it’s-not-about-race race problems could be laid at the feet of bad Black parenting, all those Black mothers who haven’t beaten their children with sufficient intensity to solve the world’s problems.
Still feeling a lot of different kinds of ways.
I Am Beautiful when I’m Angry
What nobody knows is that my anger and I are growing closer. She has revealed herself to have a sensuous, molten core of rage, and I have revealed myself to have a ravenous attraction to it. Deep gold fire coating my fingers like honey each time I dip in. She doles it out slowly, allowing my system to adjust to the weight and power, the gift. But the world accelerates the process, dashing salt on every bite, intensifying the flavor, expanding my hunger. Every body left in the street. Salt. Every officer unindicted. Salt. Every media hack shilling for white supremacy. Salt. This rage — rich and thick, with the sweet burn of cayenne chocolates and tamarind candies, no less potent for surfacing in words. Delicious. Mine.