Tag Archives: Racism

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.

Surreality

“How are you?” my white coworkers ask me at a meeting. I’m at a meeting.

This morning, I woke up and saw that Trump was elected president. And then I re-saw it, and re-saw it, because I couldn’t believe it was real. I don’t believe my reaction was uncommon. Apparently, though, it was uncommon enough to allow for the reality of the election results.

I really am a minority in this country.
That’s something you always know, but it rarely feels concrete to this extreme.

And now I’m at my real meeting, waiting for it to start, with real tears welling up in my eyes.

I am so. Scared.
And. Disillusioned.

“At least Trump is pro charter schools,” one teacher says. “So we’re safe! We still have our jobs.”

I don’t want to work here anymore. I don’t want to work here anymore.


“These charter schools weren’t even started by a black person, but they’re supposed to help black people?” he said angrily, at my old campus. He was a product of one of the first. “So much of it is bullshit. I used to get in trouble all the time, because if you cut corners in line you’d have to go to the end. They had colored lines on the floor to tell you where to walk! I was not about that shit, like are you serious? It was way too controlling, so I always cut corners just to show how stupid it was, and then I’d get sent to the end.”

“I think the benefit people see in these schools is that they recognize some of the world we live in,” I said. “We live in a white-dominated society. So if a white person wants to create schools that teach black kids how to successfully conduct themselves in white society, some people are for that. Some people think it can help. And we hope that along the way, the kids will gain confidence and connections. Maybe they’ll turn out like you, and see it all as a system of bullshit and wrongness, but at least you ended up at an elite university, with better tools to attack your problems.”

“Who would want to function well in white society though?” was all he had to say.


I always bought into the idea of teaching the whole person. I thought that learning chess would help with decision making, and round out the soul. I believed that it would help to learn how to conduct oneself in the master’s house.

What do they say? You can’t dismantle the master’s house with his own tools?


I need to go away. I’m still at my meeting, being antisocial as anything. I’m the only woman in the room, and I’m already pretty quiet to start with. I’m the only black adult in the room. White men, white men, white men!


“We’re not being sad today,” they say. “It’s bad, but we still have hope.”

“My friend got called a nigger in Times Square last night after the results came out,” I didn’t tell them.

“I’m just going to put positivity into the world today,” one guy says. “I’m going to smile at everyone I see.”

“Dude, you can’t do that!” The leader of the meeting says. “You’re a white man with a bald head! Someone called me a racist today when I ordered my coffee, and I voted for Clinton!”

“Clinton is racist too,” I actually do say.

I need to get out of here. I need to go to sleep.

No. I can’t sleep anymore. I need to be active. I need to do something. I need to quit my job. I need to take my money out of the bank. I need to join a gym, and get in shape. No longer for a rape revenge fantasy, but for actual survival. I need to cut down my eating, and cut out bad things. Carbs, sugar, anything that’s processed. I need to change my lifestyle.

I need to watch the news and read the papers. I need to stop hiding from everything. I need to be fully present in the world, because not enough people are, and then something like this happens. And in order to be fully present, I need to fully process every bad thing that has happened to me. I need to cry for a week, understand how things have happened and why. I need to get the flashbacks out of my head, or at least get to the point where my lions are only kittens. I need to, I need to, because my president has advised grabbing women by their pussies, and I have never taken the time to fully think about those implications.

I need to make art, and join festivals. I need to learn how to sew my own clothes, so I can stop being dependent upon companies, because if I lose my job, I lose my ability to go out and be frivolous.


“Political consultants have been predicting this for months,” one guy says. “It’s not about reality to them. It’s about opinions. And if people think that there are more pink Skittles in a bag of Skittles, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

Am I a Skittle? Are people like me Skittles?

I need the white men in the room to stop asking how I am without really caring about the answer, or I will scream.

Blasts

WecantbetogetherbuttheworldisburningandlifeissoshortandtakenfromyousosuddenlyandIfeelsadandalsoscaredandIwanttoreachouttoyoubutIknowthatIcant.

Please, comfort me.

At the top of their stairs is a wall of bookshelves. It used to be like a house library, except filled with children’s books. The kind of children’s books that aren’t necessarily classics, but ones that every child should read. A collection of all the stories you vaguely remember, only it’s been such a long time that you aren’t sure whether the books exist, or if you made up their ideas. And then suddenly, you see the book in front of you at the bookshelf, you understand that everything was real, and your memories transport you back to that time period. The last time I was here, I found the Crestomanci chronicles. The last time I was here, I was by myself, and it was three years ago, and William hadn’t overdosed. Most of the books are gone now.

At the top of the stairs is a shrine.

I am facing photo after photo of the dead brothers. I’m even in one of the pictures. Edward’s arm is around me, and we are smiling into the camera. It’s Christmas of 2010, the year I caught onto his alcoholic and anorexic tendencies enough to worry, without knowing to be alarmed. It had still been a great Christmas. They used that photo in his memorial service. Proof of how apparent it was to everyone that we were connected. My aunt stays looking out.

I can look at our photo, and be okay. I know that he isn’t around, and I truly believe he’s in a better place. But what they left behind. Two parents who don’t like each other, are miserable together, but stay together for the benefit of their only surviving child, the daughter who graduated, who broke into tears during her graduation speech and then pulled herself together to thank her family and friends. I look at a picture of William, young enough to still be blond, before his hair naturally darkened to brown, smiling and pretending to work as he sat next to his father at his desk. It’s connected to a picture of baby Will on Uncle Steve’s shoulders.

“It was never so clear,” another cousin would tell me, “Two parents who absolutely had favorite children. Aunt Lori found Will’s body. She lay down next to him and told him to take care of Edward. Her speech at his funeral was all about how they could look after each other now. And Steve’s was just a really specific memory of Will. It was hard to watch.”

“No one chooses to be born,” Will said, at Edward’s funeral. “So I guess it’s good he got to choose when he died.”

I wonder if Will chose his death. It’s hard to tell. He’d been clean for a minute. It seemed like he was turning his life around. And then

I look at the happy babies with their happy parents. I look at the cards from their funerals. I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of, What’s the point?

You’d think it would be hard to go into Edward’s room, but it’s surprisingly easy. It’s also right next to the stairs. His cats lurk around like ghosts. They don’t run away from me like they used to; they just watch me as I sink into his couch. I wonder what that means, and then I try to stop myself from romanticizing the situation. Maybe our energies just match. We’re all still hiding together. Them from the family, and me from the babies.

What’s the point of crafting a life with someone, if that person will hurt you? Love fades, love sours. I guess that’s why people have children. So there will always be something to love. But then even when white, even when wealthy, your children can still grow up to hate themselves, and their lives, and maybe even you, a little bit. And they’ll leave you, and your suffering will only increase.

I guess it doesn’t have to be like this. These are just the examples I’ve been given.
I cry, silently, and Edward’s cats watch me.

“You know, Lucas believes in the same things we do,” their sister is telling me. “Like gay rights. He knows that Edward was gay.”

Lucas is her crush. They’re friends, and she wants more. I wonder if she knows about Orlando, and how she feels. Maybe Edward didn’t kill himself. Maybe he and Pat were just on vacation and got shot up for their orientation.

She shows me a picture of him.

“He’s pretty cute,” I say, and she side-eyes me. “But don’t worry, he’s all yours.” I put my hands up.
“Hey!” She says. “You take my guy, and I’ll take yours.”
“You couldn’t, even if you tried,” I tell her. “I don’t have a guy. I don’t think we can even hang out very much anymore.”
“Why not?” She wants to know.
“Because, it’s painful.”
“When I’m with Lucas,” she tells me. “It’s painful. But I keep spending time with him anyway, because he’s important to me. We have a connection. And I think that one day he’ll realize it.”
“But that’s why it’s painful,” I say. “We know we have a connection. He already realized. And it just gets stronger the more time we spend together, but he isn’t ready for it. It’s a tease.”

The next morning I wake up, and fifty people have been killed, with fifty-three injured, at a nightclub. Brown people. Gay people. I spend so much time worrying about my future, and theirs are gone. Taken.

America is burning out, and we don’t have very many friendly places to go, and hundreds of legitimate refugees have been and are drowning. Does anyone have a future? Does anything matter?

This is when I want to run back to Niles. Because with all the uncertainty, why would you not want to hold onto something that is sure? Like the fact that two people are in love. And if the future isn’t guaranteed, then why even think about it? I consider the guys who currently, actually, want me as a girlfriend, and wonder if it’s something I even want. Not because of him, or them, but because of myself and where I currently am, home for a few weeks before going somewhere and becoming unreachable, preparing to start work, trying to get it together enough to move into the city. Being In Love with one person, sure, but also loving different people in different parts of the world. Do I actually want to be in a strictly committed relationship right now? Not really.

But I do want to be in love, and be a priority, and not have to worry about seeing someone I care about hooking up with someone who isn’t me at a party. I want to be able to call someone when I’m down, and have them make me feel better, if only through distraction. I want to nestle in bed with someone and make them feel good. I want to hold hands, and feel safe, and truly believe that we’ll be together when we’re meant to.

So what does that mean? What is the healthiest option? For me, for him, for now, for the future that might not even be there?

And all I can think about now is how there was a moment last year, during our big fight, when we almost hooked up. I’m not sure he’s even aware of that, but it happened. I looked at him, and in the midst of all my anger and sadness I felt this overwhelming attraction, and I knew that if we hooked up, I would enjoy it. But I also knew that if we did hook up, that would be the end of us. So we didn’t, and here we are now. Now, I don’t know if we’re at the end, if I’m supposed to kill my internal flame, or if I’m supposed to run on hope that eventually things will work out. If one of us got shot tomorrow, would the other have regrets?

I’ve been exercising my arms, like he told me to. I can do fifteen pushups now. Next week, I’m going for twenty.

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.

Impressionable Childhood

I love my nose. I’ve always been supremely proud of it, to the point where it’s almost a fault. As a child, I was somewhat obnoxious about it.
I have an African nose!” I used to walk around saying. “You see how it curves so beautifully out of the arch? You see the symmetry of the sides? Look at this bridge, free of crookedness or bumps! My nose is perfect, and beautiful!” Even thinking back on those days, I can’t help but laugh with glee at the tremendous amount of satisfaction my perfect nose gives me.

The funny thing is that all this nasal confidence came completely by accident, due to a childhood misunderstanding of ‘big words’.

In elementary school, we had this program called WINGS, which I guess was sort of our public school system’s version of the ‘gifted children’ class. We all went to regular classes, but at certain times of the day, or on certain days of the week (depending on which grade you were in) all the WINGS kids would go to a classroom downstairs to learn about other things. We did advanced math; studied Greek mythology and ancient societies; looked at abstract art; played chess; all that great and random stuff. The class was taught by Ms. Leonard, an African-American woman who still visited her family on The Continent and would sometimes take breaks to talk about it. Looking back, Ms. Leonard was probably the first person outside of my family to ever give me somewhat of a grounded and positive representation of Africa. I did not fully appreciate her at the time. She was a little too testy for someone who worked with children, and we were never completely comfortable in her classroom.
One day in WINGS, we were talking about mummies. It was the Ancient Egypt section of class, and I was excelling. I was super into learning about ancient societies, Egypt in particular, and I was very much being a know-it-all explaining the mummification process, pyramids, and the systems in place to trap and confuse pyramid robbers.
“That’s right,” Ms. Leonard was saying. “People throughout time have broken into and stolen from a number of pyramids. In fact, it was in the news a little bit ago that some men found mummies in one tomb, and hacked off their noses.” This seemed like a very strange, randomly rude thing to do. We wanted to know why the noses had been hacked off. “Well, African people in particular are known to have very prominent noses,” she told us, “And the men were attacking that.”

Understand that I had no idea what the word prominent meant at the time. Ms. Leonard was actually telling us about a hate crime. Whoever broke into the tombs saw the noses sticking out on the mummies, and hacked them off to make them smaller and respectable, effectively ‘fixing’ the large ‘African nose’ problem. It’s beyond disrespectful, and pretty disgusting.
I thought that prominent meant something like stately, and important. So to my understanding, Ms. Leonard was telling us about a different sort of crime, still disrespectful, but of jealousy. In my mind, when the vandals saw the magnificent noses on the mummies, they recognized that their own noses were unimportant and worthless in comparison, and out of jealousy for the gift God had given the mummies, they hacked off the noses to feel better about their own. It made sense to 9 year old me.

In the car going home that night, I retold the story to my mom.
“And then they just hacked the noses off, Mom!” I said, “Because the mummies had African noses, and they didn’t like that! Imagine if that had been me. I mean, look at my nose. It must be pro-mi-nent. I have an African nose too, right?”
I could tell that my question had made my mom confused and slightly uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure why. She made some noise in between agreeing and disagreeing, and I realized that she must have been embarrassed about her own nose, which was very nice on its own, but rather small in comparison to mine. Looking in the rear view mirror, I began to compare my nose to my mother’s. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how amazing my own nose was. If someone were to come up and want to hack it off out of jealousy, I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe my mother wasn’t just embarrassed, but worried that this might actually happen. Bad things happened to beautiful people all the time, people with noses much less perfect than mine. And it was, I decided, a perfect nose.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I told her, as she still hadn’t completely responded. “You don’t need to worry; you can just be happy for me!” I went inside the house, and have loved my nose ever since.
I loved my nose because somehow the idea got into my head that it was something to be proud of. It was only in that one not-even-discussion, too. I had never thought about noses before. No one ever said anything else about noses for years after, until we read Tintin comics in a French class, and people began to talk about how racist Herbés drawings of black people were. By the time I realized that this was something that might cause people shame and hurt, it was too late for my self conscious to switch gears. I simply decided that all the racists out there were particularly stupid in this area, and I even felt a little sorry for what they must obviously have lacked.

Sometimes I wonder, if my vocabulary had been better back then, would I love my nose today? If someone had said something negative about big lips to me, would that have stuck, also? I was lucky to grow up in a world with Angelina Jolie and J. Lo, paving the way for me to accept my larger body parts and understand them as things to be desired. It’s just scary to think about the little ways in which our perceptions about right and wrong; good and bad; attractive and unattractive have been shaped. There are so many insidious influences waiting to warp us as we grow up. This is how we have so many social institutions that we can barely understand.
Thank goodness my nose escaped, perfect and safe.

Third World Black America?

I went to the Union Square vigil last night, the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality. I spent a minute chanting with the protesters, but decided that I wanted to hear what people at the vigil had to say, rather than walk through NYC. It was nice, being surrounded by people I did not know, who had all come out to support the same cause. There were a lot of us. We were a community with potential.
Community.

One morning on the walk through Kibera, there was a sort of mob forming at one of the intersections of our path. It seemed ominous, although its animosity was not directed toward us, but at whatever was happening at its center.
“Mzungu!” One man called out to the volunteer in front of me, “Come and look at this!” Other members of the crowd laughed, but we didn’t pay attention. We had to get to school, and despite being curious about what was happening, the vibe coming from the people gathered was scary.
We later found out that we had passed by a stoning. Someone had been caught stealing, and when this happens, the perpetrator is stoned to death. In this case, they stopped before the guy was actually dead. It was still slightly unnerving to hear about.
The way that it was explained makes a lot of sense, though. Kibera is a community. An actual, beautiful community, “where everyone looks out for each other. If someone is having a party a few houses down from you, you go to it, even if you don’t know them that well. You go, because they’re your neighbor. When you buy, say, a radio, that’s only possible after taking the time to save up for it. Once you have it, it is precious to you. If someone steals your radio, they are also stealing your security. You cannot trust them, because the same people who steal from you will also come into your house and rape you. A community without trust between its residents is not a community at all, and Kibera can’t function the same way unless that trust is restored. So the community must punish the person who breached trust severely enough to ensure that it will never happen again. They do not trust the police to help them, because they know the police are not their allies; they only hurt, and never help.”

Throughout the experience, I would be annoyed with other volunteers for looking at things that were happening in Kibera as sad aspects of a developing (some people actually still said Third World) nation that was behind the United States. Certain people actually seemed to believe that in four weeks, we would make everything better and set a good Western example for the people we supposedly helped. Meanwhile, there seemed to be no reflection on the United States’ own issues.

This was one that I almost missed. I didn’t really think about it until, while listening to speakers at the vigil, I found myself wondering about Mike Brown’s body lying in the street. When you find a body in the street, who do you call? Who do you expect to move it? It’s funny, because my automatic reaction would be to think of the police. You’re supposed to be able to call the police when you find a dead body, and they’re supposed to rush over and then do their detective thing, find the killer, and put the killer to justice. Right?
Right?
But what if the police put the body there in the first place? That sounds crazy.
That sounds crazy. What if the police shot the body and left it there to rot in the middle of an active street? And what if they shot the body for no viable reason? What if the police are actually killers?
Who do you call now?

There are those stupid Youtubers who have their racist “In the Hood” pranks, where they harass black people into beating them up. One especially stupid one involves them going up to random black guys and snatching the cell phones out of their hands to “check” the time. They Know it looks like they’re stealing the phones. They Know they’re going to be beaten up. They Know they’re creating extremely fucked up situations, but they keep creating them because they Don’t Know that they’re participating in yet another form of racism.
If you can get shot for being black, are you really going to call the police when a shrimpy white boy takes your phone? That’d be stupid. You have to take care of it yourself because you don’t even have a community to stone with you. Black people are not enough of a community yet. I have hope. It can be done. If black people continued to come together and didn’t just wait for the next abominable killing that made headlines, there Could Be a community.

But for right now, it seems that we’re behind Kibera. This must be when what Monsignor Ivan Illich meant when he told volunteers to stay in America and fix its own inequalities first. Who will fix this?