Grounding.

For all I am
For all I’m feeling
I will be true and
I will seek
Gave away my pain
And all the chains
‘Cause I’m no slave
Yeah
For I am King
For all I am
My ancestors tell me so
My blood it tells me so
My being it tells me so

“I Am King,” Ray Hodge

While I was on a work trip to Providence, Rhode Island last year, my Lyft driver was a very friendly black, immigrant man. At one point on the ride from the train station to my hotel, he started talking in earnest about the beauty of black people across the globe and our immense strength. He marveled at the legacy each of us is born into, the courage and strength of thousands of lives who envisioned better for us and each generation. How we were taken far away from our homelands, across seas, toiling in the sun day after day, and yet here we are. He paused and shared a small smile with me before stating that he did not believe that any other group of people on earth could have endured what our people have for centuries and still find ways to survive and thrive. I agree.

Last week was hard. I couldn’t find a single area of my life that I thought was smooth sailing. My spirits were low, and I felt drained of energy and inspiration. It’s during weeks that those that I ground myself in what I know to be true:

That there is nothing I cannot do through the creating powers of God.

That I am not bound to this earth.

That I am more than I can produce in a day, a week, a month, a lifetime.

That I do not have to cling to my pain.

That I am the descendant of magnificent kings and queens who may have lost their land, but never their purpose.

That I am the daughter of two visionaries, who crossed an ocean to build the type of home that goes with me wherever I am.

That I am loved.

And love.

And continue.

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Breaths and Promises and the Quiet Whispers

“there are feelings. you haven’t felt yet. give them time. they are almost here. – fresh” 
     –nayyirah waheed 

Two weeks ago the sermon in church was about how God starts beginnings, the ways He takes nothing and makes it into something. He breathes life into a void and sprouts new life. Pastor Mike posed the question that it might be that there are no limits to the creative and powerful possibilities for the Children of God when they tap into that life-giving breath. See I like the imagery of God breathing something into nothing, because it means that I don’t have to have all the makings of who I will be now for God to put me in the places I need to be, to do the work that needs to be done. It’s easy to see all the things we aren’t, to get anxious that there is so much to learn and become, and to get impatient in what often feels like waiting spaces.

I return often to these words: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” But now I return to those words, and I can add that we also do not know when God’s breath will show up to breathe new life into us that starts us on a journey, even if that journey is long and slow. Two years ago when I was reflecting on my 27th year of life, I wrote about how it was in the quiet that God shouted his messages to me the loudest. I shared that with a friend the other day who is weighing his own life transitions. I still close my eyes and hope to hear the quiet whispers of God’s answers and promises in the night. And sometimes it still feels lonely when I believe I cannot hear it. But maybe this year is about feeling hands leading me even in the darkness.

I used to mark my years by the tragedies, the pains, but a few years ago I started to mark them by the promises. And they’ve both turned out to be spaces where God has been.

 

Revisiting.

About a year and a half ago, before I even had a  year under my belt living in the Bay, I went to a conference held by the National Association for Adventurous Black Women. The keynote speaker that day spoke on a message that I still return to and meditate on, and it recently came up for me again in a conversation with a friend during our day-long writing retreat. Her message was about how as young black girls, we learned to put aside and hide certain parts of ourselves or certain dreams. That someone had said the things or set in motion the events that made those parts of ourselves retreat, and we learned to continue life without them. And now we are adults living ‘whole’ lives, but they are lives that are lived in absence. So the speaker challenged us to reach back for that girl and the things she was, the things she wanted, that others told her to let go/to hide/to minimize, to even destroy, because they were convinced she had to for her to be sitting in that room today. But they weren’t things that were killing or hurting us –they were just the things that society did not want to see or honor. She challenged us to reach back and remember that girl, and to begin the hard work of loving and wanting those things again.

Who were we before the world said no?

I don’t think it’s ever too late to find out. I always loved the stories of people who went back to school, or who started new hobbies. One of the best advice I ever got was to never let anyone tell me I could only be one thing.

My friend’s word of the year was ‘truth,’ and if I were to choose one it would have to be ‘revisiting.’ I spent a good part of the holidays thinking about my ancestry and reading stories from my mother’s childhood. In this revisiting, I hope to tell myself the types of stories that make up who we are because they’re in our very blood; the types of stories that continue to reach back and pull out the pieces that bridge the divides to now.

“Black Museum” and the Precipices of Death

In the last episode of season 4 of Black Mirror, “Black Museum,” the realities of black suffering and torture on the precipice of death is front and center. I’ve read several interesting pieces on the episode that discuss a range of topics from black torture porn to black revolt. For me, it isn’t just the imprisonment of Clayton Leigh’s mind in the museum that is disturbing, it is repetition of his electric chair-driven torture that brings him to the precipice of death day after day, hour by hour, each visitor who sees it as a chance to relive the pain of someone who is viewed as non-human in this operation. Leigh’s pain is seen as normal, a passing entertainment and attraction for others, where they are drawn to black pain, black body suffering, and moments of possible death. In fact, Leigh’s story was building in the background throughout the story, presented in news clips to build sympathy for the missing woman.

In a world painted in anti-blackness, one of the most significant markers is the claim to ownership of where and when death occurs. It’s the same marker that leads to street executions and migrant drownings. The state exercises power over black movement and lives, dictating through laws and societal acceptances who lives and who dies – which is often directly related to ‘use.’ Leigh presents a clear use for Haynes, a man who presents his belief in Leigh’s guilt as an excuse for the entrapment of Leigh’s mind. As people lose interest in the museum and Haynes turns to selling longing moments with the torture switch to more sadistic museum-goers, it’s almost as if we are meant to believe that these latter set of visitors are worse than the former. There is no difference in participating in active or passive torture porn, as the levels of satisfaction in seeing the pain, the harm, and collecting the souvenir to constantly return to relive is the same. Only the pulling of the handle is longer, and at this point, Leigh is already the silent and shell version of this ‘self’ that we see in “Black Museum.”

That was the hardest moment for me to watch. The growing silence and disorienting of Leigh. A silencing and disorienting so familiar and intimate. And so often, such events go unspoken of, with no one to bear witness.

Clayton Leigh doesn’t have a past that is presented to us in “Black Museum,” but as Christina Sharpe reminds us, we as black people live in the wake of slavery – a past that is not yet past. In the wake of slavery, we constantly find ourselves on the precipice of death. A position that if we let it, results in new ways of engaging with one another and the world. While Leigh does not survive this episode (another topic that my friend Preston reminds us is necessary to discuss), we see the love that Nish has for her father that centers her in her journey to free him from the continued precipice of death. In the wake of this reality, she found a new way to bear witness to the present and the final death of her father.

In this way, “Black Museum” perhaps suggests one way to confront intergenerational trauma. When Nish sets the museum on fire, it is revealed that she shares the spaces of her consciousness with her mother, who voices pride in the acts of her daughter. Acts that she would have been able to witness and voice opinions on as Nish engaged with Haynes, much in the same way that our triumphs and our traumas are complex threaded weaves of connection from one generation to the next. While such trauma writes itself onto our very DNA, perhaps in deciding where and when particular traumas end allow us to move forward in new paths along and beyond the wake.