Tag Archives: Fears

Existing Resistance

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m in the first floor bathroom of the Brooklyn Museum, waiting on a friend. The whole museum is packed with people for First Saturday, and the bathroom is no exception. I look at the reflections of black women fixing their hair, touching up their makeup, smiling at each other. Strangers compliment each other’s style. It feels nice in here. My friend comes out, and we exit into a wave of black bodies, with occasional allies.

I did not expect to be here, or in a situation like this, for a long time. Two weeks ago, I stayed home during the Women’s March. Crowds make me nervous. Marches give me flashbacks to marching around campus with The Former Editor of the Ankh, and the aftermath that came from sharing the post I’d written about him, mainly from the people who had organized and marched with us.

I feel like self care at this moment in history is a luxury. Every moment that I take to recharge or focus on my mental state is a moment I am not organizing or protesting or calling my five representatives, something the newly woke people on my Facebook timeline constantly point out to me. And yet, it is so hard for me to get my body out of my house on the weekend. It is so hard to leave my bed, or turn on the phone when I’m not at work. I’m afraid that if I try to push myself in my Off time, I’ll have nothing left for when I need to be On.

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At the end of chess club, two students are late being picked up. They hang out as I organize my classroom.

“Why was Martin Luther King Jr. shot?” they ask.

“Do you really want to know?” I ask them. The two black five-year-olds nod, and move to lie down on my carpet, heads propped up in their hands as they listen to me explain capitalism, slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights in as simple a way as possible. Their parents come in midway through, standing silently in the back of the classroom and listening as I speak.

“As long as black people believe themselves to be strong, and powerful, and worthy of good things and good treatment,” I start to wrap up, “And as long as they continue to fight for everything they deserve, they will be a threat to wealthy white people. People care about money more than anything else. So they need to take away our leaders so that we become unorganized, and they need to do it in a way that scares us so badly that we stop resisting. That’s why they shot him. But it hasn’t worked yet. The struggle continues, and we keep resisting, because we have to. You have to, too.” I’m not even sure I’m saying the correct things, but no one says otherwise.

When everyone is gone from chess club, another teacher finds me on the floor behind a table.

“I’m just exhausted,” I tell her.

“I know how you feel,” she says. “Sometimes while I’m talking to them, I just get so scared. When we talked about Civil Rights and what’s happening today, they were like, ‘Wait, this isn’t over yet?’ and then I think, ‘Maybe you don’t actually have a future!’”

The next day, after Guided Reading, I tell the kids about Huey P Newton and Shaka Zulu.

“Teaching IS activism!” a former professor writes to me in an email.

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 This time last week, I was sobbing on the balcony inside Turtle Bay, because the bouncer had insisted I give up my mace, and my friend had wanted to go inside anyway.

“It’s not safe here, though,” I’d said. “I’m not safe. I can’t defend myself. They aren’t even checking any guy’s pockets! How can a place put out a dress code that makes it nearly impossible for women to have pockets, that makes it so women need to carry purses, and then only check purses and not check into men’s pockets?”

The bouncer was inside now. I walked up to him.

“So you just that guy in here with his knife?” I asked. There was no knife, but he had no way of knowing that. “You didn’t check him! You haven’t checked any men! How do you know he doesn’t have roofies?”

“Listen, ma’am,” he told me. “Usually, we do. We’re usually supposed to check men, too.”

“That’s not helpful,” I told him, “Because you’re being negligent right now. You’re only going into purses here, not pockets. So when I walk home tonight, I’ll be defenseless. And if anyone can’t walk home tonight, if anyone gets date-raped in here because you allowed someone in here with drugs in their pocket, that’ll be on you.”

“Whoa, whoa,” he held up his hands. “That’s not my call!”

“It’s completely your call whether you check or not!” I yelled, before walking away.

Triggers, man. They really sneak up on you out of nowhere. I hadn’t realized how much my peace of mind hinged upon my ability to fight off attackers. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve internalized that I cannot control what other people will do to my body. That at this point, leaving my house makes me feel like I’m Asking For It. When people had started to write off the Women’s March as a white feminist movement that prioritized pink pussies grabbing back over all else, I’d felt validated for not going. Now, I feel Sojourner Truth by my shoulders, sadly whispering in my ear that I’m a woman too, and those issues actually still do severely affect me. You can’t protest if you’re afraid of going outside.

Everything is political. I lean into nihilism. I tell my students about Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Charles G. Woodson and Madame C. J. Walker. I read about Josephine Baker, already planning a school wide celebration for May 20.

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Tonight, Saturday night, I’m wearing jeans, a bodysuit, and an oversized cardigan. I have pockets, and new mace in my boot. As my friend and I walk out of the bathroom, our outfits blend into the crowd. Everyone falls uniquely into the same categories, either casually chic with splashes of ankara, or dressed fully to impress. Men are in dashikis. The DJ plays “Wobble” and everyone in the museum begins to fall into step. A little later, I walk past OSHUN, ever-sporting tribal marks, as they pose for pictures.

“This is a lot,” my friend says, and I agree with her. But in this case, “a lot” doesn’t mean “too much”, so we stay. We stay, and sit, and talk, and people watch. We catch the end of a performance.

“I was feeling so guilty about coming out tonight,” I say, “When I haven’t been going to any protests or being especially active. But this is sort of what we’re protesting for, isn’t it? These people all look like they’re enjoying themselves. They look happy. We need spaces like this to be human, to feel free. To just Be. And events like this are important to come to, because their popularity will increase their frequency, and because I love the way everyone looks. Afropunk used to be the only place black people could congregate en masse dressed like this. It’s like non-political existence is the greatest resistance. You don’t see this all the time, especially now, but it feels so normal and that’s beautiful.” Maybe we could make the world like the Brooklyn Museum, I think. Is that what Love Trumps Hate is all about?

When we leave to walk outside, I check to make sure my mace is still easily accessible. My friend asks me if I think I’ll pass my fears and anxieties onto my children. I think about the babies I saw at the museum tonight, the toddlers with their mothers and the happy families.

“No,” I decide. “They’ll know the world they live in, but all of my fears would be irrational to anyone to hasn’t had my experiences. I wouldn’t want to pollute their mental states. I’d shield them.”

“But you’d want to protect them,” she presses. “You’d say, ‘Here, take this pepper spray just in case,’ and then put it into your daughter’s head.”

“No, no, no, I wouldn’t.”

“Yes, yes, yes, you would! Because you’d be too afraid, otherwise, for her safety.”

And that’s when I remember: “You’re right! I would be too afraid, but that’s why I’m not having children anyway. I don’t want to pass anything on, and I don’t want to worry about anyone being raped or murdered. So this conversation is irrelevant!” I feel triumphant, but she’s laughing.

“You forgot that for a moment though, didn’t you?” she says. “You forgot that you decided that. The museum made you forget tonight.”

She’s right. For three hours, surrounded by generations of existing black people; smiling, confident women; and happy children, I forgot my learned fears. The fear came back when we left the museum, but differently. This time, it was accompanied by a tiny bit of hope. It was dulled enough to allow an asterisk next to my No Children decision.

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Talking with White People

At a table of white females telling me to just keep up hope and have my children anyway, and you know what? It isn’t helping me.

I have just told them an edited version of the three possibilities that scare me:

  1. I will raise my children to have them killed for their melanin.
  2. My kids will realize the way the world views them, feel sad, hopeless, and worthless, and kill themselves.
  3. I’ll become so sad that I will no longer be able to properly care for them (translation: something so awful will happen that I actually end up killing myself, emotionally ruining my children for the rest of their lives)

These three possibilities were of course met with surprise, and mild ridicule. It’s very easy to look at someone’s situation from a distance and be like, “Well, don’t give up! You’d be a great mother!”

I think that I would be a spectacular mother, until I wouldn’t. I think that I would be wonderful and caring, until my depression swallowed me and I was unable to care for myself, let alone people who depended on me.

It’s funny how easy it is, even for myself, to make assumptions about people’s lives.
The woman who teaches with my mom, surprised that I’d forgotten my mother was receiving the Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a very big honor. How could you not know?” she pressed. We were working at a camp for their district’s sixth grade, and I was helping her with an activity.
“She actually did tell me, a few months ago,” I told her. “It just slipped my mind recently.”
“Not knowing your own mother was teacher of the year?” she said, disapprovingly. “You’re very lucky to have her, you know.”

‘Really, lady?’ I wanted to ask her. ‘Am I lucky that my mother called me selfish for finally refusing to comfort her over my own rape? Is it unacceptable that with that, and the waves of black shootings and police brutality occurring all over the place, I may have forgotten an award ceremony?’
But of course, you can’t go around answering people’s judgmental questions with brutal honesty.

That’s the genius of tragedy: your story does not really belong to you.
Of course it’s your story; it has happened to you. You are the one who lives it, thinks about it, cries over it. But you cannot talk about it, without dealing with the people who listen to it. Once it is out of your head and into their ears, they have claim over it. Explaining myself to this woman would ruin the rest of our time working together. Telling my mother what happened naturally led her to expect comfort from me.

My mother, the white lady. Who, without being fully aware of the racial issues in America (or the world) suffers from extreme empathy. Who gave her mainly colored, largely conscious daughter empathic distress. Who is unable to completely mother me when I need it.
And now I’m supposed to take this, and have children of my own? I think I would be worse. If I look into my future and see fuzziness, how can I expect to be there for my kids?

“It’s just too bad,” someone told me. “I’d rather have your kids in the world than some of these other people’s.”
So would I. But it’s largely because of these other people that I don’t want to have them.

Want to make a joke? Tell someone on the edge of hopelessness to just stick it out; try a little harder; don’t give up. At the same time, admit that you don’t actually know how they feel, but tell them that there really isn’t that much to be upset about. Give them non-examples of things to be excited over, and expect that to replenish their energy.

“It’s hard to see the changes you’re making in your own lifetime,” she told me, “But they’re there. Like my mother, for instance, she never used to understand race relations. Whenever I’d talk to my parents, or try to correct things that were wrong, it would be like, ‘Oh, there’s Hippy Lacy, talking her crazy racial peace again.’ But now, with Trayvon Martin and, who was it? … Michael Brown! And all of those stories, they’re in the newspaper. My mom reads the New York Times, and those stories are in there. So now, she’s starting to think, and to recognize that maybe there is a problem, and now she’s sending me articles. That’s progress. All these problems and events are being covered, and that coverage is leading to improvements.”

“You do understand,” I said, feeling so tired, “That in order for any of this progress you’re seeing to come about, people have to be slaughtered. Innocent people have to be murdered, almost every week, and other people have to suffer and protest and exhaust ourselves emotionally. In my school, during the Baltimore riots, we had a blackout of the student center. We dressed in black, and gathered together, to mourn and share our experiences. It was beautiful, and horrible at the same time. Do you know what it’s like to sit in a space, sobbing, unable to go to class or even move very much, and have people stepping around you to get their lunch? Do you know what it’s like to observe the contrast between yourself, feeling stuck, and everyone else who feels unaffected enough by your situation to happily go about their lives? My friends and I are breaking, broken, and your mom is sending you a newspaper article.”
I did not know how to express how offensive I found the situation. I can exhaust myself to the point where I don’t want to leave my bed anymore, and that would be worth it to get a white lady to begin to think. People could put themselves in danger, plan, build, and march, so that a white woman could exert herself enough to put scissors to paper and cut out an article detailing the next murder of a black body. That was worth it.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. ‘Should I be the next martyr?’ I wanted to say. ‘Should I write a Black Lives Matter manifesto, tattoo it on my body, put it in my pocket and jump off a building? That would make headlines. That would get your mother’s attention.’
‘And what will you do?’ I wanted to ask. ‘You four, sitting in front of me unaffected. Perhaps you think that what’s happening is wrong. Perhaps you can see a headline, and shake your head in disgust. What else will you do? Why am I the only one at the table trying not to cry?’
You,’ I wanted to point to a girl at my table. ‘We go to the same university, and I have never seen you before in my life. I have never seen you socially, and I have never seen you as an activist. You didn’t care about the AfAm department; you weren’t there for black lives; or Muslim lives. You are in Kenya now, but you couldn’t go to the vigil for Garissa. And yet you tell me that I shouldn’t be hopeless, shouldn’t give up? Should I be fighting, to make You proud?’
Once again, it was impossible to speak candidly. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get everything out, anyway. The effort not to cry was rough.
Misery is sobbing in front of people who do not have the capacity to understand how you are upset.
“I only want you to do what you want to do, I don’t want you to do anything else,” she said, hurriedly.

Fast forward to the next morning:
A woman, a researcher, is in our living room telling us about Kenya, past and contemporary. She is a white American woman married to a Ugandan man, who has been living in Kenya for 47 years. An interesting lady, a funny lady, a cynic.
“Why is it,” she is asking, “That no matter how carefully I try to explain these things, and how precise I am, they don’t get it?” She is talking about Africans, diseases, and information about the spread of AIDS. She says, referring to Africans, that there is always a skepticism or a rejection of what cannot be seen. Because Africans cannot see the bacteria and tiny organisms that give them the diseases, they will not believe in the ways that prevent them from spreading their existence. Thus, no condoms or caution when it comes to sex. It’s interesting that she does not seem to see how this issue of skepticism or rejection of what cannot be seen can also be applied to Americans. Perhaps not in terms of health, because they know that health concerns can affect them personally. White people and issues of race, though? I can tell you to your face about problems, about my deteriorating mental health, and you won’t get it. You won’t completely believe me.

We’re back, and the last white girl is comforting me.
“Just remember your dream, and the eighty-three year old matriarch,” she’s telling me. “You can’t give up. Because that has to happen.”

I wonder what it’s like in her head.

Ghost Babies

The ghosts are back. Two brothers and a sister, coming as toddlers. I’m not happy to see them, and they’ve never seen me happy, but that hasn’t stopped their visits. They enter my room with smiles on their faces, and their smiles turn to frowns as they notice my tears. My crying scares them, and so do my arms that reach and clutch for the ghosts, pulling them close to my chest, but I can’t help myself, because I’m afraid, too. You would think that we would all get over this fear, this sadness and confusion, or that the visits would decrease. Instead, they come closer and closer together, and all that’s changed is the additional element of expectation.

Now, when I see the videos, or read the articles of black boys, girls, men and women being shot, as I start to curl up and cry, I know that it won’t be long before the ghosts of my children will be in my room with me.

It’s bizarre, seeing my children and not knowing if they’re ghosts because they’ll die, killed for their skin, or if they can’t yet live because they haven’t yet been born.

“I’m sorry,” I tell them. “I’m so sorry, babies. Please, just stay with me.” I pull my ghost children tight against my body. I can’t let go of them, don’t want to take my eyes from them, because I know what will happen the second I blink. I’ll blink, and they’ll be out of my arms, older, and dead on the ground. I can see my dead children. I can see my children, dead. They’re dead, and bleeding, and sirens that do not belong to ambulances will be blaring in the background. I take the dead ghosts back into my arms, and I rock and cry into their heads. I rock and cry and curse myself for bringing them into the world to suffer and be killed.

“I’m sorry,” I sob over their bodies, thinking that if I could pull them back inside of my body to prevent their pain, I would. As I press them into me now, I can feel them being hurt later. I can feel myself losing them. An invisible force sits itself on my chest, suffocating me before slicing into my body and trying to rip my insides away. I choke against the feeling, struggling to hold onto the ghosts. It’s bizarre, simultaneously having and not having my children, in all senses, and still wanting desperately to protect them. I want to undo my mistake, whatever I have done to put them into harm’s way, before realizing that I can’t. You can’t take back what hasn’t happened.

I can feel the ghosts inside me now. Unborn, not yet conceived, and the love I feel for them is stronger than anything I have ever felt. I know that to have them solid before me, not as ghosts, but as living and breathing people, would make me happier than anything else in the world ever will. I can imagine myself raising them, nurturing them, guiding their growth. I want to tell them that I’ll protect them, and keep them safe forever, but I know that I won’t be able to. It’s bizarre to think, to realize, that more people will be ready to respond to what they perceive as threats to their money, drugs, and religion, than to acknowledge their complicity in the perpetual threat to my children’s lives. Every time they leave my sight, I’ll be worried for them. I’ll never be able to trust that the steps they take will be on safe ground, when lives can somehow justifiably be taken for sandwiches and cigarettes, or for nothing at all.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fearing for the people I love. No one deserves that. I want to be able to trust that the world is balanced, and that each of my children’s actions will have an equal and opposite reaction, but maybe what laws are to physics are mere suggestions to people. Does everyone deserve justice?

No one deserves anything: neither happiness nor sorrow; comfort nor discomfort; pleasure nor pain. We only deserve life and death, and the opportunity to make something of our lives before the death comes. Perhaps it would be selfish of me not to give my children any chances at life. Perhaps it’s better to live, and risk having your life stolen, than not to live at all. Perhaps these interactions I have now, with the ghosts and the news, are my preparation for constant fear. One way or another, ghost or human, I’ll have my children. I want their futures to be as bright as I know they themselves should be. I’m just terribly afraid of having the world cast shadows on their futures to match the melanin in their skin. I’m terribly afraid of having them taken. I don’t know if it’s better to have them and lose them, or to be haunted by their ghosts. No pure happiness or comfort lies in either direction, but it’s hard to judge which side tips the scale further.

No decisions need to be made now, though. I have time, and I’ll have other opportunities to think about this—I just need to wait for the next news segment.

Being Asexual is Lonely

I don’t just mean in terms of not having someone to cuddle with when I want, or not being able to feel physically present even when I’m touching someone else. What I mean is that I can never completely count on anyone else to be there for me if/when I need them. Oh, I have friends, and they tell me that they support me and that they’re here for me, but they can’t completely be. They’re sexual.

One night, I was lying in bed unable to sleep. It was 4am and I was scared. I was thinking about life, and people, and why people do bad things. I was thinking about corruption, about how it seems that at some point everyone has to kill a little bit of their humanity in order to go on living. Whether that means dulling your feelings so that pain won’t keep you from doing the things you need to do, or cutting off empathy so that you can continue to live without always worrying about others and the consequences of your actions, there are so many ways we are expected to give up bits of ourselves, and it’s scary to think of how completely Not-Ourselves we’ll be when it’s finally time for us to die. I was wondering if it was possible for me to live without giving up my humanity, and if I could live an entire life without harming others, unintentionally or not, or if it would be better to just kill myself before becoming corrupted along with everybody else. I don’t like thinking about suicide, because I always know that it isn’t actually a viable option for me, and it leads me to thinking about One, and how much better things would be if he were here instead of me. When I think about that, I’m always afraid that I’ll start hearing voices, either his or someone else’s.

I didn’t want to go through that. I didn’t want to think, or hear anything, or move. I was lying paralyzed. I managed to move enough to find my phone and turn it on. I was going to call my friend.

This was the first time in a long time that I had tried to call someone when I was scared. I knew that he would be up, and I knew that he would be able to talk me through it. Did I really want to bother him, though? It wouldn’t be bothering him. He’d told me earlier in the week that it would bother him more if I didn’t tell him when things were upsetting me, and that I shouldn’t worry about how he would react to what I said. So it was only with slight trepidation that I called.

“Hello?” He’d picked up! Was I imagining things? Would my voice work? Would he know that I was crying? “Hello…?” he was saying. I forced myself to speak.
“Hi,” I told him, trying to make my mouth form the words around my tears. They were slipping all over the place, and it felt like my face was numb. “How are you?”
“I’m good; what’s up?” he asked.
“I can’t sleep,” I told him slowly. “I can’t sleep and I’m really scared.” This was it.
“Yeahhh,” he said. “I can’t really talk right now.” What?
“Oh,” I said. “Oh- oh- oh- oh —  okay” I finally managed to choke out. A sad laugh shot out of me as I realized that he was with a girl.
“Yeahhh,” he repeated. “Is there someone else you can call?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “Have a good night.”

When I saw him the next day, I asked him how his night had been.
“It was okay,” he said. “Not much happened. We just watched a movie.”

They’d been watching a movie, while I was crying. I knew that I couldn’t really be mad at him, because as a sexual person, he was simply going after what I couldn’t have: closeness. I was only his friend; not someone he wanted to sleep with. My friends aren’t assholes. They care about the people they want any sort of relationship with, and they understand that they need to put in time with the people they want to be with. That means that they can’t really have time for me.
That’s great for them. It means that they’ll probably have successful relationships, and the people they’re with will be happy. But what happens when you have no one? I have nothing to offer sexual people. I’ve been told that I should just give up my body in order to get the closeness I want, but that’s sort of like giving up your humanity in order to keep living. When it comes down to it, I don’t want to do anything with people unless we have some sort of emotional connection. These days, it seems that no one else wants to form emotional connections until they’ve experienced something sexual with you. For me to put myself in a position I don’t want to be in would be like me raping myself. That wouldn’t be good for me, and I know I would only resent the person I was with because of it.

When I look down the line at a life of either loneliness or self-rape, I don’t know. It’s scary. It’s sad. I’m not sure how to fix it.