Too many things I don’t have the ability to write about. Really just two. Really just one. How long will black women have to live in the world before we are seen as valuable, before we are no longer reviled, ridiculed, devalued, dehumanized, dismissed?
I can’t write about Chibok’s kidnapped daughters because my impotence chokes me. I can’t find any way to talk through my horror and sadness, my spitting, explosive anger, my inability to do anything. Anything.
Which you’ve heard from me before. When Sean Bell’s killers were acquitted.* When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted. When Abeer Qassim al-Janabi’s killer got life instead of a death sentence. Because that is always the problem for me. These horror stories so demoralize and enrage me with their ability to show me a) just how little room there is for me in this world and b) just how little I am able to do about it. And so I rail and cry and then, eventually, I shut up. Because I still don’t know what is the thing I can do that can actually make a difference. Because my pain floods with so much rage that I can’t form coherent thoughts.
Chibok and all those missing girls are resting on my heart, weighing me down, filtering into everything. How could it not? Hundreds of children taken, a government barely rousing itself to acknowledge there might be a problem. I thought of those girls this weekend, as I spent time with my 15-year-old niece. Every time I looked at her beautiful, half-baby, half-grown-girl face. And again, my pain is flooded with rage. Because I noticed. I noticed that, although the girls were abducted on April 14th, reporters — when they finally started talking about it — kept saying April 22nd because that’s when they first bothered to make note of it. I noticed that, even though the number of girls taken was closer to 300, the number immediately became “more than 200” and “some 200” … as if that was somehow less terrible, less something we should be paying attention to. I noticed that, the minute the stories began about selling the girls to Boko Haram members, reporters started referring to them as “young women” … as if calling them “women” instead of “girls” would make it okay that they were being sold into sexual slavery. I noticed that it wasn’t until lots of people in this country held rallies and made #BringBackOurGirls trend that mainstream media finally decided there was something to talk about. And I noticed that those stories all started by talking about the surprise of the trending hashtag and the number of rallies and not about the girls, not about their families, not with enough of the accurate details such as how long ago those children were stolen.
And I noticed that today 8 more girls were kidnapped from another Nigerian village.
We’re close enough to April, that I’m still connecting my thoughts to writing poems. And, too, I’m remembering Sonia Sanchez talking about using form poems when your emotions are running you and you need some way to harness the chaos.
used as pawns.
This is a game
played too many times.
girls. Ours —
our hearts, our
lives, our last hopes.
Thrown to the fire,
for them now?
Who understands —
to us they are all.
And I also can’t write about Leslie Jones. Tressie McMillan’s piece about Jones gets it so right (despite her title), right in a way that I still can’t get it. Kimberly Foster gets it equally right. Yes, yes, Jones is supposed to be a comedian. Yes, comedians make jokes about uncomfortable things, or uncomfortable jokes about difficult things … or difficult jokes about ugly things … Yes, I understand. But even through all of those lenses there was something wrong with Jones’ Weekend Update sketch. Deeply wrong. And her response to the criticism is almost more disturbing than the SNL piece itself.
And I can’t write about any of it. Can’t. Because what is there to say, what can I say that will lead to any kind of desired result?
Years ago, I went to a Marx Brothers film festival. In Paris. There weren’t many people in the theater. I was there with a friend, and we laughed and laughed. One or two other people laughed along with us, and I realized that they must be English speakers. Fluent English speakers. Because the film was subtitled, and how can you subtitle the Marx Brothers? You would have to keep freezing the frame and inserting long explanations: 1) this is what he said, 2) this is what it meant, 3) this is why it’s funny. Who has time for all that explication? How can anything be funny at the end of all those annotations?
That’s how I feel about Leslie Jones’ SNL skit. If it needs this much context-setting, this much explaining, the joke isn’t working and I don’t see how anyone can find the funny in it. And Jones’ inability to acknowledge that there could be a possibility that she took a wrong turn, that she was playing for the wrong audience in the wrong moment is maddening.
For now, I’m still in Arun mode. It surprised me when I was thinking about these stories today and poems kept composing themselves in my head. But I’m going with it, letting them loose:
this. Not in your
eyes. You only see brown
hair, full lips.
You think you know
something about me.
had your Saartjie dreams.
Full of wisdom,
heat, contempt for
you know. I
once listened, let
you tell me what to
That’s over. I
don’t need your leave
to see my fine self.
And I keep trying to work on my comic, and I keep trying to find a way to sustain real conversation about race. And I keep getting slapped in the face with … well, the reasons that I need to keep doing my work. Nearly 300 black girls can be swept away in one moment and the world barely blinks. The FBI’s list of missing persons is 40% black women — 65,000 wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, friends, cousins — and yet we almost never hear about any of them. My heart is heavy tonight, and I don’t have the space for any of this.
Slice of Life Tuesdays is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
* That first time, I kept thinking that if I tried to speak, I’d find my way. I tried again and again to process, to find a path. Eventually, I retreated to silence.
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