For 26: A Look Inward

It has been a few days since my birthday, and I continue to ride the high of assisting my brother in his first murder case that was a big win against a leading prosecutor. Throughout the entire process I was really emotionally and mentally invested in the case, especially for the sake of the client and his family. I kept thinking how he was only 2 years older than me, and how being in the wrong places opens you up to a world of people who will be quick to judge, quick to assume, quick to codemn. If 26 has shown me anything, it is that people build these worlds around themselves, lies that become the cornerstone of their reality as Barbara Kingsolver so eloquently wrote, and if they were to examine what they have so blindly crafted, their world as they know it would fall apart; cease to be.

So I have let people go. I shed. And I shed, and I shed, and I shed. Because it was no longer about saying we just respectfully disagree on an issue, but rather who can cradle the pains of humanity in the palms of their hand and weep because there is so much to do at any given time. It is about recognizing that some ideas are just ignorant and harmful and have no place in any conversation. When people say that makes me uncomfortable to talk about or if you would only say it this way, people might be more receptive, or that protesting students are ‘petty’ and ‘soft’, what they are really saying is how completely terrified they are of their world as they know it to crumble as we look to them and say that the lies they had convinced us of about ourselves and the lies they told of the world, we see and will no longer accept. We are capable of having these confrontations and coming out better on the other side. There is a lot of hate in this world. There is a lot of exhaustion too. I treasure the moments of harmony; of lives coming together in various ways, and I have to believe that there are still many good people in this world. “Not everything is lost.”

In reflecting on the last year, I think about what has come to settle in my heart even more firmly than before. As we become more and more a world where we can hide behind keyboards and computers, we think we have access to learning more. In a way, the computer age has given us the world at our fingertips. But it has given us a world at our fingertips in the most robotic of ways. While I believe that there are amazing ways that social media and the internet has brought about connecting globally in times of crisis and pain, I have to wonder if it also makes ‘think pieces’ and hashtags a substitute for action. There can never be a substitute for real change and real action. The internet can help with that, but it cannot BE that. We have to also never forget what it means to connect in the spaces of reality.

I try to live my life by the mantra (and Mother Theresa quote), “Do not look for God in the far lands. He is inside of you–He is you.” If I am a part of Christ, then I am His body here on earth; the extension of his goodness, even when I can never match it. The durabilty of my faith is one thing that has never changed in the years I have been alive. It never will.

My fifth year reunion is coming up next May, and for it we were asked to write a ‘report’ for this “Red Book” they publish of what each one of us from our class has been up to for the last five years. I thought about what others might write–stories of graduate degrees, jobs, new cities, etc. I could not think of anything that I wanted to share with everyone, when anyone who I love already knows what I am doing. I thought about the last years and what has truly stuck with me, and I submitted a short poem reflecting on the black lives lost (far too many), how grateful I was to be alive when this world has shown my degrees do not protect me, and why I must keep doing work that honors those who have died and those who still fight, even on the days when getting up means getting through the day on wounds that have not quite healed.

Twenty-six was about cutting off my hair and starting over again. About telling people when they had no authority to speak on a subject. Twenty-six was about reading less news and hugging more people. Twenty-six was about securing the language I use and who I share language with. Twenty-six was about research that mattered, and learning along with 8 incredible young men from Indianapolis to London about how and why we creatively craft our own spaces. It was about recognizing the distractions of racism and choosing to not bear that burden. I am here. There is nothing for me to prove. No validation of my worth is required. Only to love myself, and to demand that I am given the spaces to do so. In all of this, 26 was about taking care of myself better. Taking breaks because if I stand still, the world will go on for those minutes without me.

I prayerfully look to 27. I say this because the world is on the brink of something explosive. I can feel it. I will be ready. I know where I stand. And I also know that I don’t always need to be ‘at war’ because it will destroy me. In the words of Nayirrah Waheed:

You do not have to be a fire for                                                                                                                                   every mountain blocking you.

you could be a water

and soft river your way to freedom

too.

–options

 

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Close Encounters

black women breathe

flowers, too.

just because

we are taught to grow them in the lining of our

quiet (our grandmothers secret).

does not mean

we do not swelter with

wild tenderness.

we soft swim.

we petal.

we scent limbs.

love.

we just have been too

long a garden for sharp

and deadly teeth.

so we

have

grown

ourselves

into

greenhouses.

-Greenhouses by Nayyirah Waheed from salt.

Last night I went out with a good friend of mine I have known since middle school. We decided to dress up and hit up the town, which for us is our not-so-large city of Indianapolis. The night was going really well, and I was in a great mood coming off of a good basketball game, great conversation, and a pint of my favorite beer. We were enjoying ourselves at Revel, this nice lounge spot, dancing and meeting new people, when we decided to check out a few spots before we settled in for the night at one place. We headed down the road to Bartini, which ended up being a great choice for a better DJ, and we quickly found ourselves covering the dance floor to some of our favorite jams. As we were dancing, I noticed a white man (colloquially speaking he would be deemed as “white trash” where we are from) leering at us, but I naively believed that if I just paid him zero attention he would go away. This was untrue. After a few minutes he came right up against my back and cupped then slapped my ass.

For me, the fun immediately stopped and even though the music was still playing, all I could hear as I turned around to face this man was my own anger, loud in my head. I walked right into his space and pointed my finger at him and told him if he ever laid his hand on me again I would break his hand with my index finger. While some might thing that was a violent threat, I have to pause and say something:

I have tried it all.

All of it.

The reactions have been the same which is why I so often opt now to say something in the moment–especially if there is sufficient crowd around. I have done the ‘Oh, I have a boyfriend. He’s in the bathroom’ to the fake engagement rings, to the polite smile and no, as if I was apologizing for luring them in with my potent powers, the same kind men will actually talk about when they claim that a woman was begging to be raped. I won’t apologize for being; for existence. I have never been here for any of those types of men.

And this man just shrugged and smiled at his friends who also smiled at the situation, with mirth in their eyes, amused at this girl who had dared to say something. My friend and I moved away from the location, ceding the space as women of do, as they know the  consequence of not doing so is to be punished as the perpetrator themselves. This man then followed us to the back of the bar and tried to approach me once more, and again I stepped up to him and told him to not even look in my direction. He walked out the door. At this point, I wanted to be far from this location, and we decided to leave and return to Revel. As we walked down the street, we saw the same man standing on a railing outside another bar as if he was waiting on us to pass. We quickened our steps to pass without any type of engagement, but as we passed the man loudly declared that i was “that black bitch.” I was not even surprised by this introduction of race, as I knew it was coming, and had always been at the back of his mind. I told him that if he was going to harrass me so much, that he could meet me at the end of the railing to face me (my mother would certainly admonish me for this, as she did when I went after a man who stole my phone). He started laughing and said he would tell the cops, an element he must know would not make me feel safe.

But #IfIDieInPatriarchalCustody I want you to know that ‘black women breathe flowers, too.’ That the trope of the strong black woman eclipses the truth that she is looking for water too.

We continued to walk on. I was never going to fight him. Not when the ring would have been the public spaces that are his stomping grounds. As my mother reminds me, ‘Do not enter the ring prematurely.’

Last week I wrote a piece with my friend Jesika Laster about silence when it comes to the negative treatment of black women, especially in regard to our bodies. Tonight I am reflecting on that piece once more, and what I have often written about in my pieces: the objectification of women’s bodies in public spaces (which can often run into their private spaces as well). It goes like this: a woman puts her clothes on and she walks out into the street or walks around in a public building, and suddenly becomes the property of everyone else around, especially when that relationship is so rooted in history that has been manufactured to repeat itself.

There was a post I saw several weeks ago about how when women want to get away from men who they do not like, they move away from them, create their own spaces without them. However, when men encounter women who they ‘dislike’ they often do everything to be around them, coming into the spaces they create, harrassing them, and threatening them. When I read such words, I vividly remember and am transported back to my year living in Ghana when one of my co-workers stalked and threatened me to the point that I had to move so he would no longer know my location. He would text my phone and say that I was no longer in America and no one would come help me, and he would come into my room at night and have his way with me. He would text me with threats on my life, and he had verbally assaulted me on more than one occasion. All this because I had rebuked his advances. And my boss would not fire him, even after I showed him these pieces of evidence. He was afraid that this co-worker would go hurt himself if he did. (My boss eventually felt deep regret for his inaction.) So I alone stood (with one close girl friend) at the police station filing my reports. I went to work and prayed that I had timed myself going to the office in a way that would avoid us being left alone or running into each other. My life was the one that had to be disrupted for committing no crime.

One year after I had left Ghana, that same co-worker wrote me to say that he forgave me for the lies I told about him, and hoped one day I would be able to confess what I had done so I could go to heaven. It is a wonder that these type of men do not choke on their own egregious views of the world. But then again, so much of it is upheld in daily practices and systems and institutions. My encounters in which I expose or confront this…those are viewed as the infractions.