“And what shall we do, we who did not die? What shall we do now? How shall we grieve, and cry out loud, and face down despair? Is there an honorable, non-violent means towards mourning and remembering who and what we loved?” -June Jordan
I will always remember when I was talking to a friend about some of the scenes of extreme poverty and underdevelopment I saw in parts of Ghana, and how they told me that there would come a time when I would see such realities so often that I would become numb to them. I always think back on that conversation and how horrified I was of that potential day, and still today I think, ‘Dear Lord, don’t let today be that day. Don’t let it ever be that day.’
Being unmoved is a rejection of our basic humanity. Paul Harding writes about the ache in our hearts and the confusion in our souls being signs that we have not yet forgotten how to be human, still alive and capable of sharing in the ebbs and flow of the universe.
This year, if it can even be summarized, has been a year of coming undone. And I have watched the land I call my place of home come undone from windows across the sea. Sometimes I feel so far away but I lived/live it and know very well that feeling of striving, of pain, of the need to forgive, of the weight of hopelessness, of the stretching out of hands to find the love and hope that keeps us moving forward. It isn’t God who made me black. It is society that made it so and America that reminds me of it daily. It’s God though who helps me through it and emails from my mother reminding me that a time will come when she and I will not have to grieve in silence, and that she knows that change will come and I will not only see it, but be a part of it. I try to live by those words.
And it is silence that is demanded of us, as to speak out would be too much, cause too many issues. Why make it all about race, they ask, when everything is going so well? And I ask in return: America, the beautiful, who are you beautiful for?
As a teacher in Liberty City in Miami, there was no shortage of students in perpetual states of grieving. Nothing prepares you to see young lives torn apart by gang violence and senseless acts of pain, some right before their very eyes. I had one student who I tried to just be a witness and listener to her pain that I could only help so much, and she would beg me to help her leave because in the midst of such horrors, she had come undone. And it’s enough to make me, as the adult, come undone as well, hearing day after day that it did not matter. This pain, this disconnect of reality and classroom, did not matter. That we had to, that we must, go on. I was told repeatedly that there was no time to stop to grieve, that this was something that they had grown used to, and they would move on.
Numbness makes you lose your humanity. And if we felt it, as we are starting to feel it now, we would become ‘dangerous.’ But the bread and circus is over–we have paused at a great mirror and saw in the reflection someone we hardly knew and we. are. taking. it. back. Because #blacklivesmatter.
I had a conversation this term with a coursemate and I was expressing feelings of guilt for leaving my students behind to pursue this degree at Cambridge and also a wider feeling of knowing there were those I was hurting in my absence. She asked me if that was my responsibility. I did not understand the question.
I did not understand her question because I have always been a ‘we.’ I do not attribute successes to single, brilliant instances that I orchestrated myself. I, one of the ones who did not die, am the sum total of all those who did die and for those who run head first into the street shielding me from the bullets.
So what shall I do now? I will begin to wail, just loud enough for them to know I’m here; just enough to begin the moment when my grieving is not in silence. I am so very tired of being told that being vocal or showing my grieve makes me angry. In the words of Toni Morrison, “I want to feel what I feel, even if it’s not happiness.”
But I’m not angry. I’ve grown wary of anger. I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife and preparing for the moments when the realization hits that Ferguson is more than a moment, it’s a movement. And the revolution will be televised.