“These systems aren’t broken. They work exactly the way they were intended to.”
-Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, Intro to African Diaspora, Spring 2013
When they fired indiscriminately into that car a year ago, I said “enough”. No more snuff films will be broadcast into my bedroom, into my bed at two in the morning as I scrolled my Facebook timeline. No more bodies for me thank you, I am good. Finally at capacity for watching people who could easily be me or those I love draw their last breaths under circumstances that called for far more civilized solutions, it was time to shut it down. This was not to bury my head in the sand, but to preserve my sanity. I cried while putting on my make up the next morning. When I closed my eyes, I could still see him bleeding out in the passenger’s seat. My colleagues wondered why I wouldn’t stay after the ceremony for sandwiches and cake. How could I explain how full I already was? I was vomiting my grief in silence the whole time.
If you consider yourself even halfway woke, there has been so much bad news lately. There has been more than enough to write about and yet I couldn’t seem to find the words for what had settled in my chest about it all. And so as I sat in the back of my Lyft en route to happy hour with my cousin yesterday afternoon, and the Washington Post alerted me to the Not Guilty verdict it dawned on me. Numbness. A tiny laugh escaped my lips as I realized despite how hurtful the news was, despite how angry it made me, the mad woman who raged at the injustices of the world inside me had been tempered. Her nails bloody from tearing at the wallpaper inside, her voice hoarse from screaming, her fuel had been the surprise that people could be flagrantly indecent to other human beings. There was nothing left to be surprised about though, so she sat and laughed quietly to herself. And why not laugh, when this world is a joke and you are the punchline?
Growing up is a repeated shattering of innocence. It doesn’t happen all at once. Slowly the veils over your eyes are lifted one by one, and you see the world in all of it’s madness clearly. I no longer labor under any illusions about what all of this means. Out of all of my four expensive years of music school, the above quote from one of my professors outside of the music building remains some of the most poignant education I received. This country was built on contradictions and extreme cognitive dissonances. All men are created equal. Black bodies in chains. “Liberty and justice for all” has always come with an asterisk. Philando Castile’s murder and the lack of his conviction aren’t bugs in the system, they are a feature. The only thing broken about all of this is your heart. Ain’t that a bitch?
I don’t know what the solutions are. I don’t know if there are any at all. I know that to write a little bit feels like an exhale. I know that exhaling is necessary to survive. I know that these warring contradictions this country thrives so readily on will do their best to crawl into your brain and tear your sanity to shreds. I know you must not let that happen. There is too much living to do. Too much sweetness to draw from between the bitter rinds of this life. And you have an inalienable right to that sweetness. Your humanity is not a question mark. Despite what the courts, and the curriculums, and the political administrations say, your black life does indeed matter. The mad woman knows this. She will resume raging and scratching and screaming, but nothing sneaks up on her anymore. She is there to remind me that there is no safety in making yourself smaller. You could be chewed up and spat out today, and no amount of contortion of your personhood will shield you from that truth. It is a cruel joke. She laughs in the face of it all.