They Don’t Know

He don’t know how hard it is to be black. He can’t even imagine somethin’ harder than what he doin’. I could tell him but he wouldn’t believe it.

~ From Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley

Every once in a while I lay down my armor for a moment and wonder what peace would look like. Sometimes it’s a glancing thought. Other times it’s an extended conversation with a friend. It’s hard, when you finally realize what this world is, to step back and visualize what the world could be. But you try.

The problem is simple: there’s no desire for understanding. Every human has their own struggles, their own pain, their own stories. It takes an open, patient human being to hear of another’s pain, listen and believe it.

Sara Bareilles’ Armor

Let it begin, let Adam in
Step one: original sin
Underneath the leaves, Adam found Eve
Both of them found something sweet under the apple tree
Then it was over, roads divide
Step two: learning how to lie
Let me ask a question to present day
How the hell did Eve end up with all the damn blame?
All the damn blame

Black women are different. Indian women are different. Hispanic women are different. Native American women are different. Palestinian women are different. Muslim women are different. Biracial women are different. The armor is different. The source is complicated. The mode of survival twisted and more confusing with each cultural intrusion.

Pay Attention

Paying attention often requires some sort of empathy for the subject, or at the very least, for the speaker. But empathy, these days, is hard to come by. Maybe this is because everyone is having such a hard time being understood themselves. Or because empathy requires us to dig way down into the murk, deeper than our own feelings go, to a place where the boundaries between our experience and everyone else’s no longer exist.

~ Wendy S. Walters “Lonely in America” from The Fire This Time

Once a person truly dons this empathy, it demands that they keep their mouths closed and disregard everything they think they know. It requires them to listen with an awareness that opens their ears to something they’ve never heard before, something that sounds so unbelievable that, in any other context, they might think it fiction. When they choose to pay attention they may find that boundaries dissipate, but they may also find that, in some ways, the life they live is a fantasy and some wake up every day in hell.

Just a Thought – The Quiet Game by Greg Iles

Grief and remembrance are not sacrificed to the false gods of propriety and decorum but released into the air like primal music, channeled through the congregation in a collective discharge of pain.

~ From The Quiet Game, Greg Iles

 

I really only have one thought about Greg Iles’ The Quiet Game. It’s a thought I vaguely remember having while reading the Natchez Burning Trilogy. These stories always start with the death of black people, but end with these deaths being little more than a footnote. Sure details of their demise are woven into the twists and turns of the plot, but whiteness remains central. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Maybe Natchez, Mississippi is like most places in this country where the sudden and tragic deaths of black people are background noise to the interests of the majority.

My Life Is My Own?

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

~ From The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

I want this to be real. Maybe it would be if she had gentle hands. Her hands are calloused, rough, sharp, hard, tough. Her pride is intrusive. Maybe I could believe this if his strong silence had come after I spilled my emotions and not after she hurled ridicule. Maybe if their opinions were set aside to make room for mine, this could finally feel true. Maybe I could live, confidently.

Instead I shudder because I fear the fight. I keep my life sheltered and distant because it’s the only way I have the strength to truly live it my way. I step away when I feel pushed. I walk away injured by opinions and exhausted by the tension between respect and self-respect. I close my eyes and arms to the possibility of progress because I’ve battled too long to hope for different.

Criminality and Blackness

Criminality, once it touched black life, was a stain hard to remove.

~ From Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke

Truth isn’t necessary. A suggestion is enough. A picture of an unsmiling face and a narrative rife with descriptors that imply an aggressive nature will suffice. It only has to happen once. It doesn’t take much. And when these narratives are presented, there is often no way to refute them. Alternative narratives don’t matter. Disproving claims of violence or criminal behavior isn’t effective either. And if these humans are ever victimized, know that they will immediately be criminalized.

Grief and The Year of Magical Thinking

Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.

~ From The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

I don’t like to think about death. It scares me. It’s not the mere fact of it or the inevitability. It’s the loneliness.

I remember when my grandfather died. I was 22 and had just started graduate school. My world was shaken by his absence from it and the truth was it had been a while since I’d seen him. I had been so busy with work (I was working two jobs) and the transition back to school that I just didn’t have time. So I was broken by my lack of time. I could have had more time. I ran out of it and that hurt. But I couldn’t imagine what my grandmother was going through.

I remember seeing her at the wake. We all showed up and sat around waiting to welcome the people who would come, view my grandfather’s body, share hugs and encouragement and then go about their lives. It was hard to just sit there. But I remember my grandmother doing just that—sitting there. I wondered what she was thinking. What was that first night like when she realized she would no longer have her husband to continue life with? Did she feel empty? Did she feel lonely? Did she cry?

I didn’t see her cry that entire weekend. At the wake. At the funeral. She just sat there and looked ahead. I wonder if her thoughts were much like Joan’s. I wonder if she hoped there was a way for him to return. I wonder if she thought relentlessly about his last moments, last words. I wonder if she replayed the last conversation they had over and over in her mind. I wonder if she walked through the home they built together and felt the emptiness to the point that she no longer knew how to function in that house, where to sit, where to eat. I wonder if she still, nine years later, feels alone.

There were glimpses of her grief I was aware of. Family members mentioned that soon after his death she refused to go into the bedroom where he lay in hospice care. I noticed the last few times I visited that the chair my grandfather frequently sat in to watch westerns on VHS was no longer in its spot. I don’t remember when I first realized it wasn’t there. I don’t know when it was removed or why. But it’s gone.

I remember one day around Christmas time my cousins and I decided to go visit our grandmother, spend time with her and do her nails. I don’t remember what the conversation was about, how this happened or what the exact words were. But my grandmother basically said she didn’t have a husband anymore. He left her. My heart sunk in that moment, but I had no clue how to respond or if she realized she had spoken those words aloud. I just felt sadness for the loneliness she must have felt since September 2009 and the loneliness she was feeling in that moment even as four of her grandchildren were sitting with her. I just hope that our presence gave her some comfort and that as the years have passed she has begun to remember, with joy, the good times instead of sinking in the reality of his absence.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to use could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.

~ From The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

~ Zora Neale Hurston from How it Feels to Be Colored Me (1928)

 

Printed in Citizen: An American Lyrics by Claudia Rankine
Printed in Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Nashville has changed me. In this space where liberalism excuses itself and distances itself from explicit racism, but still participates in the subtle prejudices couched in the racism they claim to disavow, it becomes very difficult to come and go. Any space you enter could be filled with people wearing masks of acceptance, secretly more comfortable with your absence and silence. And they will smile. They will engage you in debates about the issues of our day. You will avoid these conversations until you don’t and your opinion is overridden by the deep understanding they have of the ways people of color move through the world—information they have gathered within the walls of their white world.

And in this same space, there will be a moment when they wear their racism around you and point it at you accusingly with no fear of retribution. And the people who witness this moment will feign surprise and create distance, but the truth would have already been uncovered. And you’ll relive the emotions, anger and frustration in the pages of a book you were recommended by a black woman who walked through this space and actually saw you.