“drapetomania, the frenzy which overtook an enslaved person to run away to freedom.
i got madness in my genes.
when you want to get free, there will be many who stare at you blankly wondering when you will quiet down. they will wonder when the hell you got so big…and there will be times you wonder if you really are the problem, if you could only calm down/take it down a few notches/grow up/want less/get realistic.
reclaim your madness dear one. it is your birthright and it has been alongside you your entire life. —Naimonu James
My oldest brother often tries cases that seem impossible to win. Last month when I spoke to him about one of his most recent cases he told me that they would win if they got a fair trial. ‘Fair trial’ were the keywords, and I could sense that he knew that too because he himself had often seen it: the inability for black men to receive fair, jury by their peer trials, especially in majority white places. The guilt someone else has written on their lives before they ever enter the courtroom.
But he starts anyway.
What does it mean to start things that have already been ‘lost’ in many ways? In her critical work In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Christina Sharpe, she discusses the lived practices of “wake work,” which are sites of resistance and consciousness that provide a way forward as we live in the wake of slavery –a past that is not yet past. It is a consciousness that comes from living on the precipice of death. And how might we imagine life in the wake? How do we hold one another?
I think to start anyway is about the words of Pastor Ben McBride who reminded us of our ancestors standing behind slave quarters plotting their escape saying, “I believe that we will win.” The vision that others cannot see. Annotations. Redactions.
I watched a sermon a few months back by the Rev. Traci Blackmon about burning bushes. She preached about Moses and the burning bush in the desert. She asked the people listening how long they thought the bush had been burning and if anyone else had passed by? And she reminded us that the moment of the burning bush is not about Moses, it’s about God because the bush was burning because God was there.
Rev. Blackmon goes on to state that there are burning bushes everywhere, but that she doubts if anyone has stopped to see if there are burning bushes that are not consumed. She posits that because there seems to always be tragedy and crisis around us, that to see the burning bushes that are not being consumed takes a level of intentionality that we often do not have when we have normalized such situations in our lives and society. “God often gets our attention by allowing uncommon things to occur.”
Each of us must find our burning bush(es). They are often in places that we may not want to be –streets or jail cells. And I’m learning as I get older, as I have seen in my last year of life, that I have to be at home in those places that I am called to be because those are the places where God is. To do that takes undivided attention. I have to be attuned to how God is preparing me and which burning bushes He is drawing me toward. Toward the burning bush and toward Him. I want to be like Moses who turned and saw the burning bush where God was, and did not miss his calling. Some of those things that come to mind feel somewhat insurmountable at first, but that’s when I truly recognize that starting things that are ‘lost’ is wake work because we are only losing the things the world tries to claim as its own. But what do we –people of hope, of faith– say of the work? Annotations. Redactions.
Twenty-eight was a year of Trumpisms and feeling overwhelmed. But 28 was also a year of being able to count the victories and knowing that more is to come in 29.
And I leave myself with this:
“divide by the deaths you had to metabolize yesterday. divide by the shot echoes in your dreams. divide by the sleep you didn’t get thinking you had to hustle harder. divide by the water you didn’t drink either.
multiply by every pore touched, every memory made skin again, every word of love and the lips that share them. multiply by the sound of children. the sound that never stops. exponent of the will of the ancestors which will be dreamt. but not slept through.
all things are not equal.
wake up.” – alexis pauline gumbs