Grief

I continue to think about these recent tragedies. Continue to turn them ‘round in my head. Continue to think of them from one million miles away and one centimeter away. From all perspectives it’s loss. From all perspectives it is utterly sad and utterly senseless.

I think of past conversations on race I’ve had with my closest and how (mostly) terribly bad they went. How I was too much for them. How they were too much for me. How this particular topic seemed to be where every ounce of grace and understanding and love halted. And that, I think, is where I feel the most despair. I always think this is the black death that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is the one where scales fall from the blind’s eyes. This is when our unified white grieving finally begins.   I want to believe that’s true this time around. But it wasn’t true all the other times.   So it seems like people will just keep dying senseless deaths.

Stupid

People are stupid.  They tell you what to do and how to do it and that you should write if that’s what you want to do and not think so much about it.  That you should write for yourself and not for other people.  That you should just post your dumb first draft full of mistakes and incoherent thoughts and nonsense and then post your second and your third and your fourth and….

Like I said, people are stupid.  That is all.

Who We Look at When We Say Things

I had an epiphany the other week. It came in the form of an email—a Donald Trump article circulated amongst family members. An article about his appeal to white working class men. About the state of white working class men and how the institutions of labor and marriage are no longer working in their favor. About how the policies formed as a result of the civil rights and women’s movements “failed” us all in our quest to maintain that fundamental value that makes this country so great—freedom. Because, apparently, those policies forced us to start treating people as groups rather than individuals and that sent America on a slippery slope away from our roots of liberty, freedom and self-determination.

What the article forgot to mention is the Men’s Movement—particularly, the White Men’s Movement that is so pervasive it needs no name. It just always was. Movements are often difficult for white men to understand because when you were born in a state of having (the right to vote, the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement, the right to own land, the ability to make your own income…), you don’t need a movement and special policies to protect you. You came out of the womb with those things.

I wanted badly to “reply all” stating all of the above. I imagined how my bold and pointed statements would create new spaces of enlightenment in people’s brains. I imagined how this would be the moment when everyone on this e-mail would be silenced once and for all by my brilliance. Never mind that I’ve replied all plenty of times before, only to be met with nonsensical comebacks, guised insults or silence. THIS would be the time it all turned around.

And then a friend (who I’d let read the e-mail chain) casually remarked, “You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?” I looked at him like he had two heads. And then, an odd feeling washed over me…

Relief.

In all of my worst dreams I am desperately trying for something—to say a thing or get to a destination or warn an onlooker. But in these dreams I have no voice or my legs refuse to move or my phone won’t work or the person doesn’t see me; I’m blocked at every turn. I am tormented and frustrated and often wake up sweating and crying.

In my non-dream life I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to have reasonable conversations with unreasonable people. I always thought if I yelled loud enough or got enough diplomas or knew enough facts or read enough books or collected enough experiences or earned enough letters after my name then maybe—just maybe—the people I was yelling at would finally understand.

“You know you shouldn’t to reply to this, right?”

Well…no, actually. I never did imagine doing nothing as a completely acceptable or available option in this scenario. That would mean defeat. That would mean the other side won. That would mean all of the people and perspectives and lifestyles that have ever been misrepresented or shit on or lied about would go undefended on my watch. That would mean I’m not ultimately responsible for other people’s beliefs. That would mean that my voice is just as strong and just as true and just as meaningful and just as essential apart from said people’s attention and approval.

The more we recognize and live in our own power the more aware we become of the tactics used to undermine this power. Sometimes those come in the form of e-mails disguised as platforms for healthy discussion and debate but intended to assert dominance over others’ thoughts, beliefs and perspective. Sometimes the tactics are less subtle.

We don’t have to live our lives responding to untruths. There are plenty of people ready and, dare I say, excited to listen to my words, my ponderings, my questions, my theories. There are people who live their lives in states of malleability, willing to be challenged and humbled and chiseled. Unfortunately, those were not the people on this e-mail.

“You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?”

Turns out, my most powerful resource was right there the whole time—the ability to choose my audience.

Today we remember Leonard Strickland and Bradley Ceasar

A few days ago The New York Times published this special report about an inmate’s 2010 death at the Clinton Correctional Facility.  Leonard Strickland, an inmate who suffered from Schizophrenia, had been serving four and a half years for possession of a weapon.  Strickland got into an argument with the prison guards and ended up dead, suffering multiple cuts, bruises and internal bleeding by the time the ambulance arrived.  We’ve heard this story before.

We’ve heard this story before and we haven’t heard this story before.  Or maybe it’s that we haven’t heard it enough.  Another inmate (Bradley Ceasar) died a couple years before Strickland at this same facility under similar circumstances.  According to the article, several prisoners have filed officer brutality cases at Clinton and I’m sure with the right amount of research, one wouldn’t be hard pressed to find similar occurrences at jails and prisons around the country–deaths waived off as medical emergencies or necessary for keeping the peace.  Witnesses never allowed to testify or even sought after.

In the last part of this piece we see a glimpse of how our system of incarceration reverberates to families and communities.  Strickland’s 70 year old mother would take a six hour bus trip once a month to visit her son because, in New York State (and many other states), prisoners are kept as far from their neighborhoods and loved ones as possible.  Mrs. Strickland did not have the financial resources to provide a funeral for her son and he was buried at the Clinton Correctional Cemetery a mile from the prison–an ending no mother envisions for her child.

I wonder if Mrs. Strickland grieved the dreams she had for her son Leonard or if she grieved a system that allowed for things to end this way.  Or if she had long ago stopped dreaming.

The Personal vs. Political of White

Ben Fields.  You might recognize that name from recent headlines.  (It also happens to be the name of the best man at my parents’ wedding…but I digress.)  Ben Fields is a South Carolina police officer who made headlines last month for this video in which he violently flips a female high school student out of her desk on account of her allegedly not putting her cell phone away at her teacher’s request.  The video is horrific and a testament to the kind of violence that has been occurring against black and brown students for years.

Ben Fields is, in many ways, the perfect white villain–male, southern, aggressive, law enforcement officer.  Ben Fields is also a man.  He is a man probably not much unlike many of the men in my family and that I grew up with in Texas.  I was reminded today that Ben Fields is a man when I read this piece by his former high school basketball coach, Luke Hartman.

I was struck by how Fields’ former teammate and coach (who, I find it useful to mention, are both black) voice the complexity of the Ben who they know “as a loving human being” committing a senseless and disturbing act of violence.

I wish that more white people would notice and give voice to these complexities instead of rushing to protect their own when something like this happens.  Instead, we create dividing lines and make people choose.  Blue Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter.  Support Officer Fields vs. support the young victim. Why aren’t we allowed to say, “That person was a close friend, family member, etc.” AND “I don’t support this act, violence, word choice, etc.”  We need more brave and honest white folks to call out bad systems and evil acts while still holding their people close.  It’s not selling out.  It’s love in it’s purest form–embracing the good with the bad, holding close and holding accountable.

 

Alexander and the….

Sometimes nothing is right.
You can’t sleep.
And the errand takes 2 hours longer than it’s supposed to.
And the keys go missing
Just in time to need to move your car to evade a parking ticket.
And your hour haircut turns into three (making you late to work)
And no customers come
Because winter finally remembered its role.
And they forget the lettuce and tomato on your burger
After you waited an hour for it to come
And you’re so hungry because that errand took 2 hours longer than it was supposed to.
And the coffee lady is always so cheerful….but so damn slow.

And then, at the end of the day, you layer up, put your music on
And you run

Right foot
Left foot
Right foot
Left foot
Breathing
And running
running
running

And all the things that weren’t right
Are now specks behind you
Days behind you, even
And now, it is just you
And the ground
And the cold
And the music
And the river
Whose water you can actually smell
With each breath

Lady Liberty greets you with her steadfast confidence
Torch still burning after all these years
As if to stay
“I am still standing, still burning brightly.”

And her surety reminds me
And I too
Burn brightly

Me
and my breath
and right foot
left foot
the river
and this body
running and running and running

And at home
There is no hot water.