Jesmyn Ward, Introduction
I, too, grew up in a place that could sometimes feel as limiting and final as being locked in an airtight closet, the air humid and rank with one’s own breath and panic. A place where tor all the brilliant, sun drenched summer days, there is sometimes only the absence of light: America, and the American South. A place where the old myths still hold a special place in many white hearts: the rebel flag, Confederate monuments, lovingly restored plantations, Gone with the Wind. A place where black people were bred and understood to be animals, a place where some feel that the fourteenth Amendment and Brown v. Board of Education are only the more recent in a series of unfortunate events. A place where black life has been systematically devalued tor hundreds of years.
“You can only be destroyed by believing the you really are what the what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it.
“…people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are.… If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created the Bible in song by the slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.”(James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time)
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, The Weight
What Baldwin understood is that to be black in America is to have the demand for dignity be at absolute odds with the national anthem.
“…Europe is no longer a frame of reference, a standard-bearer, the classic model for literature and for civilization. It’s not the measuring stick. There are other standard in the world.”
Baldwin left the States tor the primary reason that all emigrants do—because anywhere seems better than home.
We see Baldwin’s name in connection to the present condition more often than we see Faulkner’s, Whitman’s, or Thoureau’s.
Once Baldwin wrote, “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, tor each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible tor life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.”
Wendy S.Walters, Lonely in America
I resist thinking about slavery because I want to avoid the overwhelming feeling that comes from trying to conceive of the terror, violence, and indignity of it, I do not like to think of it happening in my hometown, where I work, in my neighborhood, or near and of places where conduct my life.
Throughout the tour Charles occasionally used the word “servant” but never the word “slave.”….often the term “servant “ is used as a euphemism for “slave” in New England and how there is a presumption that Africans here were somehow “smarter” and treated better than those in the South. This misperceptions, he pushed, is because people don’t want to remember the dehumanization. Without hesitating, he went on to say, Slavery is violent, grotesque, vulgar, and we are all implicated in how it denigrates humanity.
When a story is unpleasant, it is hard to focus on details that allow you to put yourself in place of a subject, because the pain of distortion starts to feel familiar. Paying attention often requires some sort of empathy for the subject, or at the very least, for the speaker. But empathy, these days, is hard to come by. Maybe this is because everyone is having such a hard time being understood themselves. or because empathy requires us to dig way down into the murk, deeper than our own feelings go, to a place where the boundaries between our experience and everyone else’s no longer exist.
…we may have lulled ourselves into believing that the struggle was over, that it had all been taken care of back in 1964, that the marching and bloodshed had established, once and for all, the basic rights of people who had been at the bottom for centuries. We may have believed that, if nothing else, the civil rights movement had defined a bar beneath which we could not fall … But history tells us otherwise.
It seems the rate of police killings now surpasses the rate of lynchings during the worst decades of the Jim Crow era. There was a lynching every four days in the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s been estimated that an African American is now killed by police every two to three days.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “The Dear Pledges of Our Love”
[Wheatley’s] poetry had rebutted Kant’s ordering of the nations with Africans down at the very bottom.
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Clint Smith, Queries of Unrest
Maybe I’m scared people won’t thing
of the poem as a poem, but as a cry for help.
Maybe the poem is a cry for help.
–Black and Blue (Garnette Cadogan)
Serendipity, a mentor once told me, is a secular way of speaking of grace; it’s unearned favor. Seen theologically, then, walking is an act of faith. Walking is, after all, interrupted falling. We see, we listen, we speak, and we trust that each step we take won’t be our last, but will lead us into a richer understanding of the self and the world,
I strolled into my better self. I said along with Kierkegaard, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”
Claudia Rankine, The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning
Anti-black racism is in the culture. It’s in our laws, in our advertisements, in our friendships, in our segregated cities, in our schools, in our Congress, in our scientific experiments, in our language, on the Internet, in our bodies no matter our race, in our communities, and, perhaps most devastating, in our justice system. The unarmed slain black bodies in public spaces turn grief into our everyday feeling that something is wrong everywhere and all the time, even if locally things appear normal. Having coffee walking the dog, reading the paper, taking the elevator to the office, dropping the kids off at school: All of this good life is surrounded by the ambient feeling that at any given moment, a black person is being killed in the street or in his home by the armed hatred of a fellow American.
This truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us. Our deaths inside a system of racism existed before we were born. The legacy of black bodies as property and subsequently three-fifths human continues to pollute the white imagination.
And, as my friend the critic, and poet Fred Moten has written: “I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world and I want to be in that.” This other world, that world, would presumably be one where black living matters. But we can’t get there without fully recognizing what is here.
Susie Jackson; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; DePayne Middleton-Doctor Ethel Lee Lance; the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr.; the Rev. Clementa C. Pickney; Cynthia Hurd; Tywanza Sanders; and Myra Thompson.
Mitchell S. Jackson, Composite Pops
While plenty mothers in the world deserve the most huge hurrahs, what I want to say to this poet and other like minds is this: no matter how much we lambast men and high-note praise women, a woman maketh a father not.
Daniel Jose Older, This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution
In college I scribbled a quote from Eqbal Ahmad in the back of my notebook:” … this out-administrating occurs when you identify the primary contradiction of your adversary and expose the contradiction … to the world at large.
In a way, these words confirm the same conclusion as the other quotes I’d copied around it: that art is a creator and a destroyer and no less a player in the great stage of the world than politics or violence.”It is in the nexus of representation, words, and space,” Michel Foucault wrote, “that the destiny of peoples is silently termed.” Or the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani; “Our deliverance is in drawing with words.”
But Mr. Ahmad dispenses with the formality of arguing the power of representation, and jumps directly into strategy. Unlike so many of the texts we read in college, this passage is not concerned with making people comfortable or rehashing basic truths that are deemed controversial only because they agitate overprotected egos. “I argued that armed struggle,” Eqbal Ahmad writes at the beginning of that paragraph, “Is less about arms and more about organization, that a successful armed struggle proceeds to out administer the adversary and not out-fight him … Ahmed is concerned with victory, which is to say, survival.
Edwidge Danticat, Message to My Daughters
Citing many recent cases of police brutality and killings of unarmed black men, women, and children, Haha Jorjani, an immigration attorney and law professor, wrote in the Washington Post:
Suppose a client walked into my office and told me that police officers in his country had choked a man to death over a petty crime. Suppose he said police fatally shot another man in the back as he ran away. That they arrested a woman during a traffic stop and placed her in jail where she died three days later. That a 12-year old boy in his country was shot and kjlled by the police as he played in the park.
Suppose he told me that all of those victims were from the same ethnic community .. a community whose members fear being harmed, tortured or killed by police or prison guards. And that this is true in cities and towns across his nation. At that point, as an immigration lawyer, I’d tell him he had a strong claim for asylum protection under U.S. law.
Parents are often too nervous to broach difficult subjects with their children. Love. Sex. Death. Race. But some parents are forced to have these conversations early. Too early. A broken heart might lead to questions we’d rather not answer, as might an inappropriate gesture, the death of a loved one, or the murder of a stronger.
That day [President Barack Obama’s inauguration], the world ahead for my girls seemed full of greater possibility—if not endless possibilities, then at least greater than those tor generations past. More doors suddenly seemed open to my girls, and the “joyous daybreak” evoked by Martin Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech, a kind of jubilee, seemed to have emerged. However, it quickly became clear that this one man was not going to take all of us with him into the post racial promised land. Or that he even had full access to it. Constant talk of “wanting him to fail” was racially tinged, as were the “birther” investigations, and the bigoted. commentaries and jokes by both elected officials and ordinary folk. One of the most consistent attacks against the president, was that, like my husband and myself, he was· born elsewhere and was not really American.