San Francisco has been a hard move. It – and this year in general– has tried to steal some of my happiness that I had been building. But San Francisco had not realized that while it had power, forcibly taken and enacted through the violence of gentrification and hollow liberalism, that I was magic. That I was made of red clay to gain strength from the sun and was divinely anointed in my work.
But people often like you better when you are broken.
They like the ability to tell you when liberation is right for you and how freedom should look. Earlier this year I saw this thought manifest itself in the life of Korryn Gaines. Korryn Gaines, a black woman who was vilified and crucified for daring to name her freedom. But isn’t that the freedom Mother Harriet meant for us? Did she not say that God’s time is always near and we were meant to be free. Not in the time of the Civil War. Not for the want of freedom papers. But for the will to get up and leave.
In her piece “My Revolutionary Suicide Note”, Melissa Harris-Perry pens, “We like suicide as long as it is martyrdom. We are only shocked by the swift and sure final act that renders the black body unavailable for use by others. That says – this suffering will not be endured.” She goes on to retell the story of Igbo Landing:
“Igbo Landing. 1803. South Sea Islands of Georgia. The people were stolen from Africa. In return they have stolen the ship. They cannot turn it back. They will not be enslaved. So they turn and they walk. They walk all the way across the water. Back to Africa. Back home. Julie Dash tells us the story in Daughters of the Dust. The Igbo who walk back cross the water. Generations who tell the story of the Igbo who would be free. Until she reminds us: no one can walk on water. No one can fly. Igbo Landing is revolutionary suicide.”
MHP also reminds us that this suicide is not what one may expect. It is not a death wish, but rather the will to move against the forces that would crush you, even it it means death. Because, as Huey said, our strong desire to exist with hope and human dignity calls us to do so, because without them life is impossible.
For me, over the last year, this has sometimes come in the form of becoming dead to others, especially as this year—from Nate Parker and rape to the election—has proven that even those I would have named as friend or acquaintance did not have the will to support the full spectrum of my humanity. I am reminded in these times of Martin Luther King Jr’s note that the true enemy of the progress he sought were those who came in the guise of friends but asked black people to wait for their freedoms, and to only seek them in particular ways. These are the ideas that we are taught in schools that get reinforced by the systems in place. They are handed down as truths but are actually perspectives.
These are the reasons we so often speak of invisibility. How black women are not represented and are stripped of our voice. But I am the Invisible Woman. No amount of visibility has saved me in the way that my invisibility has. A few years ago, I came to the same conclusion that Claudia Rankine had – that no amount of visibility could change the way one was perceived. And facing that has made me equal parts angry and equal parts depressed over the years. But I would choose invisibility in the face of the soul-crushing death sentence of acceptable visibility. These perceptions handed down as truths are the things that must be interrogated and overcome. My pastor, Michael McBride, refers to this as the necessary job of becoming a life giver that does not re-inscribe bondage, but rather seeks the sweetness of freedom. So then I had to ask myself: What relationships in my life were robbing me of my life giving purpose? Those were the relationships that I had to let go of as I refused to participate in the world in ways that would move me further from the light I seek, because God, just as He instilled in Harriet’s heart, wants me to be free.
I am calmed when I recall the story of Hagar, as I was reminded of once more earlier this year by an inspiring black woman speaking to our church congregation. Hagar, a woman of color, worked for a wealthier woman Sarah and was cast out for jealousy. Hagar, in her despair, was comforted by God and declared, “You are the God who sees me.” We, black women, are Hagar’s daughters. We have seen and have been seen. I have seen and have been seen. Even when we lose the materials and spaces of this life, there is no such thing as invisibility or silencing when we dwell in those truths that cannot be undone.
27 had brought the darkest of nights when I thought that when I had sought to hear the quiet whispers of God’s guidance, that I had only heard silence. But in writing this now, as I am blessed to see another year, I have learned that it was in the depths of silence that He had sent His loudest messages: Love, courage that is revolutionary, and the audacity to continue living my truths.