“Brothers like me don’t live too long, that’s why I have to write so many rap songs.”– Scallops Hotel aka Milo aka my eldest child.
Last night as I was heading back to Maine after a long day at the office in Boston, I was deep in the midst of feeling the emotional and mental weight of all that is currently bogging me down. In those moments, the only word that comes to mind is heavy. A heaviness that is all-consuming and takes up residence in my body, typically in my neck, shoulders and back. A heaviness that once it settles in, is in for the duration.
In that moment, I allowed the heaviness to consume me knowing that sometimes, we simply must sit with what is and trust that eventually it will pass but also knowing that sometimes it doesn’t pass and when we are faced with the uncomfortable moments that aren’t fleeting, it creates a rage, a sense of disbelief.
To be Black in America is indeed to live with the uncomfortable moments that aren’t fleeting; the moments of perpetual rage and disbelief at the inherent unfairness that is sometimes comical in its absurdity but also fury-inducing. Reading about the story of retired tennis pro James Blake being assaulted by five New York City police officers was one of those moments while also serving as a reminder of just how fragile Black life in America really is.
James Blake was milling about outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel waiting for his ride to attend of all things, the US Open, where he was to make a corporate appearance. It seems the cops were on the hunt for a suspect involved in a credit card fraud case. Rather than making sure they had the right guy, the cops rushed Blake, slammed him to the ground and handcuffed him. Blake sustained minor injuries to his elbow and leg and thanks to a former cop who did recognize him, he only was handcuffed for a brief time. Of course, had the cops approached him like a human being and asked for identification, they would known he wasn’t the guy that they were looking for as he had his license and US Open credentials on his person. Sure, the incident was only a blip in time but as we should all know by now, these aren’t random incidents while living while Black in America. Blake was reported as saying that he was just happy that he wasn’t killed. That comment nearly broke me because it’s true. What if he had been having a bad day and asserted himself, what if the cops were having an even worse day? One different move and we could be talking about the dead tennis pro.
Life is not a bowl of cherries for anyone. We all go through the ups and downs of life, that’s the price we pay for the brief time that we are given to exist on this plane. Yet for some of us the stressors are neverending. Knowing that our very being gives people pause and in some cases reasons to hate us through no fault of our own. Lately I find myself thinking of the psychic toll of both being Black and being someone whose very work is to dismantle racism and discuss race. It’s overwhelming and it’s exhausting because somewhere along the line, you stop feeling like a person entitled to feel and just be. I think about the many Black women I know who struggle with their own humanity in a world that sees us as “strong.”
Eventually we ourselves start buying into the hype and our unable to lay our burdens downs and just be for fear that we are being “weak.” I wonder why can’t we be weak? Why can’t we fall apart and have loved ones help us come back together? Why is so hard to ask for help? Why instead do we hold this gooey and complicated morass together until we break our bodies down and eventually our spirits. Because society has very few spaces for Black people or Black women to break down and be human. Whereas society allows for white fragility and humanity, even allowing for a genre of books by white women openly discussing their broken moments. There are few spaces for the Black body to engage in the fragility of simply being human. Instead we are just happy to be alive knowing as my son says, we won’t be alive too long. For if our bodies aren’t taken too early, our spirits will slowly be drained away as we fight this invisible force that roots for our demise until slowly we become shells of who we could have been and eventually we fade to black and go back to the earth.
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