I Have a Book!

Before I was a blogger, I was a poet.

Or I should say before I am a blogger, I am a poet.

The first creative thing I ever wrote was a poem, back in fourth grade.

In 2005, I started a project: I decided to turn one of my favorite poetry collections of all time–Sylvia Plath’s Ariel–into an original collection of centos.

[Centos are poems made out of other poems.]

I worked on this project for 10 years intermittently.

Between the death of my maternal grandmother, having a baby, suffering for PP for 22 months, dropping out of graduate school, among other things.

And finally I finished a full collection last year.

Which one of my good friends published in December.

The name of the book is Ariel in Black.

Here’s the explication of the project from the text:

The original text [Ariel] captured, for me, what it must have been like for Plath as an intelligent, ambitious, complicated, creative, and passionate woman in the mid-twentieth century that also happened to be white, middle, class and educated–and so privileged.

I thought it’d be interesting to take the pieces of these poems and use them to reimagine Plath’s project. To write a series of pieces that speak in the voice of an intelligent, ambitious, complicated, creative, and passionate woman in the early decades of the twenty-first century. That also happens to be black, middle class, and educated–uniquely balanced on the margin between privilege and privation.

The book opens with an essay that delves more into my love for Plath’s work and how I relate to it as a black woman–“Letter in November: My Black Girl Ode to Sylvia Plath.”

Then, there is the series of nine centos.

Then, there are other poems I wrote about Plath over the years.

This is one of my favorites–I worked really hard to incorporate imagery from Plath’s poetry into this metaphoric telling of her love story with Ted Hughes:

Concentration Camp

Ted and Sylvia

 

The soldier has fallen for the foe.

The blonde, long-waisted, bony.

He gauges her from his window,

The thin sun lighting her lampshade skin.

 

Once, her shawl drops in the mud.

He runs out to retrieve it;

Sneaks it to his face, sniffs.

Her stink stings his eyes. Blood-sweet.

 

She comes to him, gnashing,

Demanding reparation.

He can have the shawl, ich,

For a night in his room.

 

She soaks in the tub,

Fingers the sheets,

Sleeps straight into morning.

He paces, hungry, a panther.

 

She comes again, for her pound—

Squashy flesh, imperial red.

She dances him through holocaust nights.

Lust ferments in his veins.

 

Each sunset, he sneaks to her barracks.

Watches her stoke the mother.

He wonders that they haven’t broken.

The pitiful Jews—burnt matches.

 

The mother glowers. She knows.

She begs the girl, blaybn.

Her mouth is a brick, obdurate.

But her eyes are filmed with fear.

 

The lovers act the same scene nightly.

He, hanging from a plinth.

She, covetous, disbelieving.

Girlish, faraway, fearsome.

 

He offers leftover soup, cakes of soap.

Pride and greed wrestle in her belly.

She asks if the others were given gifts.

He vows, nein, es gibt keine anderen.

 

She curls in his arms, an ill, wormy baby.

He strokes her mewling face.

Kisses her bang smash on her mouth.

Fat and wet, a fresh-picked poppy.

 

So close, he hears the rage buzzing in her,

Swarming to life as he lays her down.

She smells his cologne—ivy green.

Its luxury shames her.

 

She weeps—storms the room.

Topples the dinner tray. Shatters the lamp.

His papers go up, flame, black.

Blame, thick as ash, sticks in his chest.

 

Her screams catch in his silence,

Drip, gold, into its crags.

He extracts, hands over the opus.

She rocks shut, sleeps, a grave.

 

Killing, he has learned, is an art.

He has mastered it.

He plays snake charmer

To death’s barbed wire.

 

The morning after her gassing,

He goes to her emptied bed.

He rummages for the shawl,

A colossus lodged in his chest.

 

2005-2015

 

Here’s one of the centos in the Ariel in Black series–another favorite:

 

Cento No. 6

Jezebel’s Requiem

 

Remember—

 

lies

have propped

the walls

of

your

hothouse—

 

strings attached

in the valley of your

thighs

that revolve

around

the

wheels

of

their

terrible brains.

 

Remember—

 

they crap and puke

lies—

 

they

wake

and

sleep

lies—

 

they

walk

and

talk

lies—

 

the staticky

noise,

the

 

churn

of

the impotent

man.

 

Once—

you were beautiful.

 

Untouched and untouchable.

 

You—

have fallen a long way—

 

Your body

drags

history

after it

like a dark crime—

 

Grief

worms

like plasma

through the beautiful

pink

of your

waist-high wet.

 

Once you were beautiful.

 

Your

sweet sex

was

a pearl.

 

It is love you

were

full of.

 

Clambering

blackly

in its strangle of

flesh.

 

These maniacs—

marshals, admirals, generals

of everything—

of business—

 

these

great

vulturous

light borrowers—

 

emptied

you

of

sugar.

 

I

have

buried

your

mottled

body—

 

this apparition—

 

With excessive love.

 

I

have

swabbed

your nakedness

clean

of

tarnishes.

 

 

Pinned

flat pink roses—

desperate butterflies—

to

your

hair.

 

Goodbye.

 

Do not be ashamed.

 

Do not be ashamed.

 

You

are

something else

over

and

under

your

tongue,

breasts,

hands,

privates,

knees.

 

Remember—

 

your

sunken

heart,

 

your

flowery

kindness,

 

your

immaculate

mathematics.

 

Remember—

 

your

radiance,

 

your

beauties,

 

your

blood.

 

Remember—

 

every

body

is

a whore—

 

 

but

the soul is a bride.

 

2015

 

These are just a few of the 68 pages in the book. I’m extremely proud of it, and I just wanted to share it with you–readers–because it represents my first literary love and a huge part of my identity. It’s another way that I express my feminism as well as my creativity and passion for living.

If you want to buy the book, you can here: http://blackgirlpoet.wixsite.com/michellesmith/publications

It’s pretty to look at and read:

arielinblack

In addition to letting you know about it, I also want to thank everybody that follows the blog, reads, and shares the posts. I really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much.

I carried so much anxiety around about my writing for so many years before finishing the book and starting this blog. Putting both things out into the world, and having people respond to them with such generosity and positivity, has been an amazing experience for me.

I finally feel like a bona fide writer after 30 years of practicing and honing my craft.

It feels wonderful.

 

 

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Rebellion: Against Hypocrisy, Gender Racism, & Rape Apologetics

I can’t fathom, for the life of me, how men have such a hard time comprehending why raping an unconscious woman isn’t “sex” or consensual or why rape is such a destructive act of misogyny, but I thought I’d try to explain it here. In terms that might make it plainer for them.

My students always respond better to scenarios than a stream of decontextualized facts and statistics, so I’m going to create a scenario. Bear with me. My fiction writing isn’t as sharp as my nonfiction writing, but I believe my gift for metaphor transcends both genres.

So, imagine you’re leaving work one night. You drive by your homeboy’s apartment and think, I wonder what this nigga’s getting into tonight. It’s Friday; you have tomorrow off, and so does he. You text him: “What’s good?” He says drop by.

You hit a U-turn, go back to his building, park, walk up to his floor. He opens the door, and the music and conversation happening inside of the apartment spill out into the hallway. “We lit,” he tells you and holds a smoked-down blunt up to your lips. It’s obviously on.

You go inside. There are a few other dudes you know, but none of them as well as your boy. Y’all greet each other, and one of them hands you a beer. You thank him, and he introduces himself. You recognize him from a few night spots you frequent, and you tell him your name. “Nice to meet you,” he says.

Y’all start chopping–about Lebron, Trump, this, that, the other. Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s the weekend. A hour or so later, the beer is gone, but the vibe is still good. Dude that you just met offers to buy a few bottles for everybody because he just got a bonus check. You’re not sure what he does, but you don’t care; free liquor sounds amazing to you right now. “Ay, go with me,” Dude says. And you don’t mind if you do. That way, you get to influence what bottle he buys.

You jump in the car, and he starts playing the new Kendrick. Some of it is garbage, but some of it goes. You talk back-and-forth about music, then you pull up to the state store. He buys four bottles including the Jack you want. “That’s all you, nigga,” he says. You figure it’s because you just told him about your son’s mother–how she keeps playing on your phone. He sympathized with you because he has a son, too, and his own “crazy” baby-mama.

You’re heading back to your homeboy’s apartment. You tell Dude you wish you had your vaporizer because your homeboy’s weed is medicinal. It’s some of the best shit you’ve smoked in a really long time. “Let’s go by your crib, then,” he offers. “We can get your shit, and then we can go back.”

So you give him the directions. He takes you back to your apartment. While you change clothes and put your vaporizer in your bag, he gets a text from his brother or cousin or somebody. It’s blurry because you’re finally starting to feel those shots you took back at your homeboy’s.

“He’s trying to get up,” Dude says, “but he doesn’t want to drive all the way back out to So-and-so’s.” Fuck it, you tell Dude. Tell him to drop by here. You open up your Jack and start sipping. You break out the vaporizer and some shit that Dude has on him. Y’all smoke up.

You turn on the TV and start watching “Fear of the Living Dead” on demand. Dude’s phone buzzes. It’s his brother or cousin or whoever. He has another dude with him. They come in with beers. Y’all chop and watch the show. Shit is crazy. Y’all empty out the Jack and start on another bottle.

Your homeboy texts you: “Where you at?” You text him back: “I’m at the crib.” You need to piss and drop your phone on the way to the bathroom. You forget about it.

You keep drinking. Laughing while these niggas talk shit about the zombie apocalypse. You start feeling super sleepy and go lie down on the couch. You black out in slow patches.

Imagine waking up a few hours later. Surfacing. Your head is pounding, and your anus is on fire. You’re naked from the waist-down except for your socks. Your ass is damp, and, when you feel the cushion underneath you with your fingers and bring them back around to your face, you see blood.

You shoot up from the sofa, and you see Dude, sitting in your lounger, laughing and wiping the barrel of a gun clean with your discarded boxers. “I robbed you, bitch,” he says. “You tried to fight me, so I put this pistol up your ass. Calmed you right the-fuck down.”

He snatches a stack of bills from his pocket and fans them at you. You know where he got them; they were hidden inside the cover of your Bible.

“It’s stupid of you to keep money like this at the crib,” Dude says. “It’s stupid of you to drink all that shit with a bunch of niggas you don’t know. You a stupid nigga.”

You don’t even have the vocabulary to describe the things you are feeling or what those emotions are doing to your body. Your heart is flopping in your chest like a fish stranded outside of its bowl.

You want to lunge at Dude and do any- and everything you can to hurt him. You want to kill him. But he’s holding that gun on you. He’s laughing and taunting you.

“You like these bitches out here,” he says. “Getting fucked for a bottle.”

He says if you report him to the police, he’ll put the pictures he took on Facebook.

“You look like you’re enjoying that shit,” he says as he scrolls through the gallery in his phone. “You probably did. Enjoy that shit. Ugh, nigga. You’s a fag. I knew you was a fag.”

He starts laughing again and gets up from the lounger. He tosses your boxers at you, and he walks out of your apartment like nothing just happened.

He leaves you sitting in a dried puddle of blood, assed-out, in nothing but your tee shirt and socks.

Tell me now, all my cishet black male readers–

Would this be all right with you?

Would this be “nothing” to you?

Would you just “get over” this and move on?

Would you shrug this off as just another Friday night?

Would you feel like you deserved to be sodomized with a gun, robbed, and blackmailed simply because you let down your guard and hung out with a guy you didn’t know that well?

Or you drank too much and blacked out?

What would you do if this man that assaulted you actually went ahead and posted those pictures of you being sodomized on social media?

Would you call the police and tell them what he did to you? Would you tell your friends or family members?

Would you tell your woman?

I venture to guess that if someone violated your sense of self–your sense of sanctity, safety, privacy, personal agency, and masculinity–in this way, you would feel like you awakened in a whole new world as a whole new person.

And not someone that you want to be.

You’d feel ruined. You’d be destroyed.

Shame and rage and panic and regret would subsume you.

You might even kill yourself because it would be impossible to return to the man you were before you were assaulted.

You could never go back to a time before you were raped.

You could never forget what happened to you.

If you can comprehend the hellishness of living with this sort of victimization, then you can understand what a supreme violation of a woman’s humanity it is to rape her, especially while she’s unconscious.

Like Nate Parker at Penn State.

You can also understand why Parker’s involvement in his victim’s rape cannot and should not be swept under the rug simply because he is famous or he made a “good” movie.

You can understand, too, that silence doesn’t equal consent.

Parker’s victim didn’t “deserve” to get raped because she went to a guy’s dorm room, drank too much, or passed out.

They didn’t get a “pass” because she wasn’t able to say no. They took one.

But if the scenario that I sketched out at the beginning of this post horrifies you, then you get that. You understand what they did was wrong.

You understand that rape is not sex, and women are not faking or exaggerating the degree of damage they experience when they are raped.

You understand that rape is a crime tantamount to murder in that it annihilates a person’s identity and replaces it with a pathology.

So this is what you should do. To show that you’re men and not lemmings or monsters.

You should stop defending rapists just because they are men.

You should have the integrity and decency that they lack.

You should hold them accountable for making a choice to rape, not treat them as if they fell into some “trap.”

The DSM-5 does not recognize the drive to rape as a symptom of any mental disorder.

Men rape out of things like anger, hatred, contempt, resentment, vengeance, and egotism. Controllable emotions.

So you can only excuse a man for “losing control” and raping a woman if you can excuse a man for “losing control” and committing a crime like the one illustrated in my scenario.

You can only make light of what Nate Parker’s victim suffered if you’d be willing to suffer that same fate yourself.

Her pain only stops mattering when human pain and suffering stop mattering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do They or Don’t They?: On Black Lives, Fruitless Sacrifices, and What It Really Means to Be a Warrior

No.

No. No. No. No. No.

I will not.

That is all I could think when I finished reading the article on Feministing.com about Korryn Gaines.

No.

In the article, Jacqui German writes:

She loved her son enough to teach him not to be afraid, to know the truth of American anti-Black violence and stand decisively against it. She loved her children enough to model resistance as she believed and understood it.

And my mind screams “No!” in response.

Adamantly.

I don’t think that’s what she taught her son at all.

While I agree with Germain that Korryn should not be demonized for how she interacted with the police previous to her killing, or staging the standoff with police, or refusing to surrender to them, I don’t agree that she taught her son anything other than his mother was more willing to die than to do what she needed in order to remain here, in this life, with him.

We’re talking about a pre-schooler here–not a high school or college student capable of intellectualizing and contextualizing her actions as political.

Mother-child attachment lays the foundation for all other relationships a person forms throughout the rest of his or her life. It shapes the way in which people generally view relationships–as either winning or losing situations for them.

In the mother-child relationship, the mother can either function as primary caregiver and secure base from which the child can explore and to which the child can return for safety and comfort, or she can not.

When she does not, she gives the child a shaky or nonexistent psychological base for entering the world and other relationships.

You can’t tell your three-, four-, five-year-old “You let them know that they stole your mother” and make him or her unafraid.

By intimating that you can be taken from them, you do the opposite of making them unafraid; you terrify them.

Brutal truth about racism and armed resistance may be strategies that “black mothers throughout history in this country and across the globe” have utilized in their attempt to protect their children from racial violence and oppression, but, as we can see from not just Korryn Gaines’s narrative, but the current racial climate in the US, it doesn’t work.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work.

Respectability strategies–compliance, assimilation, aspiration, integration–don’t always work, either, in keeping us safe, but it is much more likely that Korryn would be alive today if she’d paid her traffic tickets, showed up to her court dates, and/or opted not to greet the police at her apartment door with a pistol grip shotgun.

I don’t say this to justify her killing. I say this to make a larger point.

The cops shouldn’t have killed her because she had documented developmental disabilities and brain damage that likely affected her perceptions and interactions, decision-making and planning.

White police have a traceable history of working through armed confrontations by white assailants–with or without mental issues–without killing them, and they should’ve done the same thing with Korryn.

I maintain that racism and sexism are what impelled them not to.

The fact that they were wrong doesn’t make Korryn “right,” however.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order to deserve not to be killed.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order for her death to be a source of outrage or cause for protest.

We don’t have to mythologize her in order to honor her.

We should honor her. She is another black person taken from us by senseless, racist violence. Her death is a tragedy.

But we shouldn’t mythologize her.

She isn’t a warrior.

She isn’t an example we should follow.

I’m sorry.

Korryn’s resistance is a slave’s resistance.

I say that because institutionalized racism was in its adolescence during slavery. It didn’t quite know what it was yet.

So the slaves couldn’t necessarily or intelligently extrapolate white people’s reactions to mass resistance efforts.

This is true, too, because slaves were kept isolated from each other, from plantation to plantation, city to city, and state to state. There was no Internet on which they could read daily news reports from all over the burgeoning US.

Masters and overseers were extremely careful about letting news of other slaves and their doings get back to their slaves, lest they be encouraged to run off or riot. Slaves often had no way of knowing what other blacks were experiencing because they weren’t largely literate, and they weren’t given access to papers or allowed to carry on correspondence.

(This is one of the reasons in slave narratives that so many of the writers were so disappointed by the so-called freedom they acquired in the North.)

Because slaves often lacked knowledge of how the lands around their farms or plantations were situated or populated, they lacked a sense of the distances between southern and northern populations, and they were overly reliant on things like the element of surprise and psychological shock factor; they were able to believe that a couple dozen or hundred slaves could effectively free a whole county.

Since mass resistance efforts were few and far between, considering how long slavery lasted, and the political background for the institution changed often, it was probably a lot easier than we think for slaves to assume that they’d chosen an opportune time to rise up.

Just about every mass slave rebellion or uprising in American history ended with blacks being executed or slaughtered by the dozens in retaliation, though.

Slave rebellion ended slavery in Haiti, but not here in America. The Civil War did that. A conflict that affected the economic structure of the white ruling class.

That said, I think slaves like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey and their conspirators and followers were willing to risk their lives in abortive rebellions because they were slaves.

Slavery was, to them, conceptually, worse than death, so they risked almost certain death for freedom.

We are not slaves. We are not as free as we should be or deserve to be–as we have a right to be–but we are not slaves.

I’m not diminishing the worth of their lives. Their lives were precious because they were human beings. They are precious to us because they borne our lives. I’m not measuring theirs against ours.

But I am saying that if and when we choose to live rather than die like Korryn, we’re making a much different choice than those slaves that remained in bondage, refusing to escape or rebel.

And I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t fight for that freedom to which we are entitled.

I am saying, though, that American is in the full-grown adulthood of institutionalized racism.

The police have gelled as the paramilitary arm of the capitalist government that keeps the POC and poor from essentially fucking up the infrastructure and money. Nothing more.

If each of us chooses to hole up in our houses with our unpaid tickets and unanswered court summonses, and our shotguns, they will choose to kick in each of our doors and shoot each of us and any of our children that get in the way.

It’s simply not a problem for them or their bosses. That’s what they’re all paid to do. Keep us under control.

So we can’t consider this sort of resistance as viable.

It won’t work.

And, honestly, at this point in our evolution as a people, we should value ourselves more than to put our lives on the line for little or nothing.

I just told my fiancé the other day: “I don’t want a white person to kill me. I don’t want them to have that. I want to die as much on my own terms as I possibly can.”

That’s freedom.

This is my life. I want every gasping, black-ass breath of it. I don’t want white people taking it, especially for something as trivial as unpaid tickets and court fees.

Korryn Gaines is gone. Her son is shot. Both her son and her daughter must grow up without their mother. They are five and one in the inimical grip of the American welfare system.

Has Baltimore changed the way it serves warrants because of that? Has Baltimore changed the way its police deal with those with developmental disabilities? Has Baltimore hatched a plan to change the way it trains its cops? Has Baltimore changed its policies on deploying its SWAT officers?

No, no, no, and no.

So it isn’t cruel or inaccurate to say she died for nothing.

She was, as we like to say, everything. Black. Beautiful. Strong. Passionate.

But she died for nothing.

Claude McKay wrote this poem back in the days of the Harlem Renaissance:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain . . .

I stop it there because even McKay had some remnants of martyrdom in his psyche, which is perfectly understandable for a man born in 1889.

But none of us was born in Reconstruction.

We are newer negroes than McKay and his cohort could’ve imagined.

Or are we?

We say black lives matter. But do they matter? If we trade them in for hashtags and Internet encomiums and nothing else?

Korryn Gaines antagonized the cops.

That’s not an accusation; that’s a fact.

She put a gun to the face of repressive authority and dared it to do something that she knew it could and would do.

For better or for worse.

It was her Second Amendment right to own the gun, but history, instinct, and common sense should’ve kept her from leveling it at those cops and risking her life and the life of her son.

Dying isn’t an accomplishment if it’s done in vain.

I don’t believe that acts of resistance like Korryn Gaines’s will ultimately yield us anything more than yet another wave of grief-stricken and morally outraged social media and Internet responses.

I don’t think that canonizing Korryn Gaines will galvanize us in a way that truly creates change.

And isn’t that the point of all of this?

Change?

If we’re supposedly fighting racism and oppression to end their hold on American culture and government, then why are we continuing to do it this way when it doesn’t work?

No. It. Doesn’t. Work.

To make symbolic points that have already been made?

To work up people’s emotions in order to do nothing appreciable with them ultimately?

To commit elaborate suicide in what we perceive as the face of inevitable loss?

What?

We like that word–“warrior.”

We use “warrior” to create a linguistic link to African history and culture.

But I think that we tend to blindly valorize African history and the continent’s various cultures in the same way we valorize violence and death.

When we call someone a warrior, we are signifying that his or her violent deeds are more important and purposeful, in our opinion, than someone else’s.

We want to be race warriors. We call those that we respect and wish to honor “warriors.”

But warriors don’t fight to become mere symbols of toughness. They don’t seek to become tragic drops in a historical ocean of blood.

I cannot and will not say what Korryn Gaines should’ve done when the police kicked down her door on Monday morning and trooped into her house with their guns and seemingly boundless authority.

But I will say that a warrior–if we’re going by the actual, historical definition–might’ve been more and better prepared than she was with just her shotgun and chest full of righteous rage.

Warriors aren’t fatalists or nihilists.

If we as black people seek to be warriors, we need to understand what it truly means to be warriors, so we know what we really need to do to fight the enemy, which is institutional whiteness (imperialism, racism, patriarchy, hegemony) and not necessarily white people.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

That means they concentrate on becoming experts in combat and warfare.

This requires study, instruction, and training.

This requires more than purchasing a gun and putting it in someone’s face.

This requires more than strapping on fiery rhetoric and outmoded ideology.

G’s lash out. They shoot everything they can before they get shot. They go out in a chaotic splash of meaningless violence and over-inflated subjectivity.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

Warriors exist in tribes or clans.

They move as a unit.

They use strategy, and they have each other’s backs.

One woman or man with one gun is not a tribe.

Tribes fight in formation.

(I couldn’t resist the reference. It’s the bad black feminist in me.)

Warriors fight to protect their people, lands, and culture. Not ideas or ideals or imagery or their own egos.

Warriors also have strict behavioral and ethical codes under which they live and fight.

I won’t claim to know anything about Korryn Gaines’s value system. I won’t defame her by saying she didn’t have a code of ethics or rules for how she behaved, but I do question the ethos of that code.

I remain deeply troubled by her seeming willingness to risk her son’s life in that standoff, and I wonder what exactly she wished to accomplish by having him there, in the way of such tremendous potential harm.

The Bushido Code, followed by Japanese samurai, is typified by eight virtues:

  • Righteousness
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Self-Control

Other virtues that were highly regarded within samurai culture were wisdom, fraternal respect, and filial piety or deep respect for family.

In a book titled Honour in African History–for those that want or need a diasporic reference–author John Iliffe explains that aristocratic and pastoral African warriors adhered to codes that stressed manners, self-control, reserve, and courage, among other things.

Muslim warriors in Africa, according to Iliffe, displaced the hero and “egotistical pursuit of personal reputation” in order to serve the Prophet. Christian Ethiopian warriors emphasized hand-to-hand fighting. However these codes differed, though, region to region, people to people, or religion to religion, honor was their universal objective.

Iliffe writes about the concept of “household” honor in addition to personal honor, which relates to defending and protecting family and community through conciliation and negotiation.

Yes, according to historical records, African warriors did negotiate with their “enemies” and make peace when it was possible and peace did not subjugate their people or their needs.

And what will we as black warriors do?

That’s what I want to know.

In order for it to matter, we must do more than die with our guns gripped in our hands like flaccid dicks.

Freedom in the “hereafter,” again, is the victory of the slave.

We are only slaves if we remain bound to useless ideas about what will get us free.

“What else is left to try? What else can we teach ourselves and our children? What can we tell our kin to keep them safe?” Jacqui Germain asks.

I don’t know, but we know what doesn’t work. Nothing that our forebears did in the past has worked.

So we honor their efforts, of course, but we do something else. Something we’ve never done before.

And that ain’t dying.

I want to be clear.

I am not one of those complacent middle class black people that thinks we should just wait patiently for conditions in this country to change.

I don’t think we can “buy” change in exchange for respectable behavior.

I do think that there should be a revolution of American culture.

I think the federal government should mandate that every state and local government enact the six perennially suggested reforms to their police departments (community policing, de-escalation training and re-training, mock scenario and role-playing exercises, more racially diverse police departments, more open communication with media, more rigorous psychological screening of recruits) and cut off their grants if they refuse to comply.

I think there should be state-assembled tribunals to adjudicate on cases in which police officers are accused of using wrongful and/or excessive force or committing other crimes against the people.

I think these tribunals should be comprised of psychologists, criminologists, law enforcement experts and analysts, military experts and analysts, former and current police officers, local government officials, and community leaders.

I think that officers found guilty of murder or manslaughter should be barred from working in law enforcement and sentenced like civilians found guilty of these same crimes.

And I understand that the government will never “gift” the black community with reforms of this scale.

I understand that if we want them, we will have to fight for them.

We will have to war against this power structure that is so deeply invested in maintaining the capitalist, racist status quo.

War is not defined, though, as violent conflict.

It’s defined as “armed” conflict.

We have guns, but they have more guns. They have tanks. They have drones. They have bombs.

So what else do we have?

What else can we do besides rage?

Jacqui Germain gets that right in the end.

“The cycles of dashcam, body cam, and cell phone footage keep coming, relentlessly. The names of the deceased keep flooding in no matter what we do.”

So what so we do, other than hand our lives over?

What, new, can we do?

Armed resistance is seemingly futile.

Going out like G’s is still going out.

We can’t die our way to freedom. It’s clear.

We need our lives in order to enjoy it.

We need our children secure and sane, not scarred, if they are going to outlive our devastating history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mind Over Matter: On the Killing of Korryn Gaines

One of the most difficult things to teach students, as an instructor of composition, is how to avoid making sweeping generalizations in their writing.

Take abortion, for instance.

I’ve lost count of how many papers I’ve read with the thesis that “Women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions because having an abortion is taking the easy way out of being sexually irresponsible.”

This thesis ignores the facts that 1) many women get pregnant while using birth control methods that just happen to fail; 2) many women get pregnant as a result of rape or incest; 3) abortions can be physically damaging to women; 4) many women choose to get abortions because their pregnancies are threatening to kill them; 5) many women choose to get abortions because there is something drastically or even fatally wrong with the fetus; 6) abortions are costly and difficult to obtain under all of the new laws instituted by Republican leaders over the last few years; and 6) the shame and stigmatization that many women suffer after having an abortion can be emotionally and psychologically traumatizing.

Hence, abortion is not easy. It’s complicated. Like most things in life are complicated.

When students engage with issues dogmatically rather than critically, though, they often arrive at theses like this–theses that fail to engage with an issue in the whole of its complexity.

I think that many of us engaged in the struggle against police brutality–as admitted students of its history, sociology, psychology, and criminology–are doing the same sort of thing as we attempt to have a meaningful discourse about Korryn Gaines.

Yes, the killing of this poor young woman, and the shooting of her son, by Baltimore police, is yet another example of how law enforcement in America makes undue victims of black people.

However, this is not an instance in which the police killed an unarmed person for committing a minor infraction.

The conversation that we have about what happened to Korryn and how the police got it wrong shouldn’t be conducted in the same terms as the conversations that we’ve had about Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.

If anything, it should be more along the lines of the conversations we’ve had about Tamir Rice, but, even then, there’s more to Korryn’s situation than his.

But I understand the desire to keep the paradigm simple.

If we admit that a black person killed by the police might have done any tiny thing to incite the violence used against him or her, then we risk losing the argument that cops are disproportionately and excessively violent towards blacks.

However, if we don’t talk about situations like these in exact and accurate terms, then we risk losing that argument anyway, because we are undermining our credibility.

If we do not stick to facts and logical principles in our discourse about racism in law enforcement and police brutality, we make it that much easier for politicians and pundits to discredit and ignore us.

And the facts are these–

The police had access to court records that indicated that Korryn Gaines had suffered acute lead poisoning, and she had developmental disabilities and brain damage as a result.

This meant that she could not process her dealings with the police or court officials at the sophisticated level necessary to make sounder or safer decisions about how to handle herself.

Developmental disabilities, according to the CDC, include autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability (what we formerly referred to as mental retardation), and various learning disabilities.

Imagine someone with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or a severe learning disability trying to process all the media coverage of the recent spate of racist police murders.

Children often mimic what they see on TV and in movies, and it seems to me that Korryn Gaines was incredibly child-like in her thinking, as a result of her exposure to lead.

She thought she would fight fire with fire, and this would somehow save her from becoming another BLM hashtag whose murder would go unanswered.

Even though black people balk at others’ binary thinking about us, there is an oversimplified binary to which many of us subscribe when thinking about the type of black people we are–

You are either a punk–a disgrace to your people, both intimate and formal–or you are a G.

Punks walk away from fights. They pause to weigh the possible consequences of a confrontation and often decide that they are too risky, so they don’t engage.

They damn pride and ego and opt for safety. They use sensibility and justification to camouflage what many regard as weakness and cowardice. They are said to lack “heart.”

According to the G’s, they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that there is no winning if you fight The System, so they don’t.

They accept that they are powerless. They choose their lives over their prospective legend.

They don’t care what people say about them, only that people can continue to talk about them in the present tense. As in “He’s a punk.” Rather than “He went out like a G.”

G’s don’t walk away from fights. They don’t flinch at threats. They don’t care who has weapons or what those weapons are.

G’s are hard. They don’t turn their backs on anyone talking shit or getting in their faces. They may not start fights, but they certainly aim to end them.

The only adverse consequence they seem to consider when facing a confrontation is looking like a punk if they opt out of fighting.

They don’t allow fear to dissuade them from doing anything they think will gain them respect or make a point about who they are or what they value.

G’s will stake their lives on their pride or their ego. They fight for survival rather than opting out of a fight in order to survive.

Survival for them, though, is more metaphysical than physical. They care about surviving as a symbol or example, of strength or resistance, rather than living to see another fight.

They choose legendary status over the preservation of their lives.

Tupac was a G. Cleo in “Set It Off” was a G.

Past tense.

There is a miniscule grey area between these two archetypes, but it is a space in which most adult black people navigate.

From what I’ve seen, and read, punks and G’s are people that have experienced exceptional privilege and comfort or exceptional pain and loss. In either case, they’ve developed a skewed sense of how the world works and how they fit into it. If they are not very educated, or they are disabled, or they struggle cognitively, then they are less likely to enact their archetype with any sort of nuance. They are more likely to misunderstand how workable each of the archetypes is. They don’t get that a black person in American will be forced to fight to protect himself or herself, but he or she should do this fighting strategically and with more than brute force and weapons if he or she seeks to make a lasting impact or walk away with his or her life.

When I look at this shooting that just occurred in Baltimore, I can’t help but think of this binary. I can’t help but think that Korryn Gaines took a decidedly adolescent route to dealing with all of her interactions with the police and courts, and, then, when she was forced to be accountable, decided that she would go out like G.

I can imagine this young woman–with her mental capacity–watching all the news coverage of the BLM murders–reading countless tweets and IG and FB posts–and deciding that if the police ever came for her, she would be ready for them.

News reports that I’ve read have even included a link to one of Korryn’s 2015 social media posts, in which she bragged about acquiring the shotgun that she held on the cops on Monday.

“Hope they sending in clones,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m waiting tho [sic].”

This post doesn’t just convey Korryn’s intense distrust of the police and their willingness to use restraint–her expectation of excessive violence from police and fear of dying at their hands–all of which are perfectly understandable.

It conveys a profound miscalculation of what she could do to protect herself against the police as one woman with one gun. It conveys a deep flawed sense of what is justifiable, plausible, and ultimately in one’s one best self-interest.

It conveys, too, a profound miscalculation of just how deeply entrenched police training and procedure is in the preservation of cops’ lives and the extent to which cops’ racist attitudes can influence their actions.

Now, before anyone gets up in arms about victim-blaming, internalized racism or patriarchy, anti-feminism or anything like that, I want to be clear:

I’m not saying the cop was right to kill Korryn Gaines for the misjudgments and mistakes she made. I don’t believe that.

However, I’m not going to be generalize for the sake of making arguments or points that parallel those made in other discussions of other police victims.

I’m not going to say that the cop that shot Korryn should’ve waited for her to fire her gun before he fired his.

That’s just not realistic.

And I can’t say that I would’ve waited. Even with her son there.

I hate to that this is true, but it’s true. I wouldn’t have waited.

Self-preservation is among the strongest animal impulses, and humans are animals. We have a tremendous gift for objective analysis, but fear cancels out our ability to access that gift at its fullest capacity.

Whatever else Korryn did or didn’t do, she held a shotgun while she was or wasn’t doing it.

She presented a tangible and plausible threat to the lives of the cops inside of her apartment.

Yes, they had SWAT backing them, but I can imagine the cop that shot thinking, “What if they’re not fast enough? What if they miss, and she doesn’t? I don’t want to die.”

These are natural thoughts for someone to have when faced with an overwrought person wielding a weapon.

That said, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop could’ve waited for Korryn to shoot because that’s not an argument that can be won, really.

We can only make assumptions about the truth of the claim that Korryn threatened the police and the actual impetus for the cop’s decision to shoot.

We can’t say for certain how serious a threat to one’s safety a person can endure without making a move to protect him- or herself. That will always depend on the person.

So, no, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop killed Korryn in the same heedless way that the cops in Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota killed all the others.

There is the undeniable and very complicated mitigating factor of that shotgun, and it prevents us from defending Korryn in the same way that we defended Mike, Eric, Tamir, Sandra, Alton, and Philando.

I think the argument is that the cops knew, from court documents, that Korryn had developmental disabilities and brain damage, and they made a huge professional mistake in treating her like the “typical” assailant.

I think the argument here is that law enforcement needs to adopt different ways of dealing with people with different intellectual capacities.

I think the argument here is that they probably didn’t employ any alternate methods of dealing with Korryn Gaines, if they knew any, because she was black, she was recording the incident, she had a record, and she had a history of expressing anti-police sentiments on social media.

That’s where the racism and failure to effectively and fairly do their jobs entered into this situation–at the point where the cops’ knowledge of her background should’ve informed their interaction with Korryn.

I don’t know whether the cops dealt with Korryn like someone with a typical intellectual or cognitive capacity because they failed to do their research; they felt “stuck” to procedure; or they allowed racism, sexism, or some other discriminatory attitude to override their empathy or willingness to improvise a peaceful solution.

But I do believe that a white man or woman with Korryn Gaines’s same challenges would’ve been given the opportunity to talk with some sort of intervention specialist before he or she made the mistake issuing a death threat and inciting that cop to kill her.

And that’s the problem–that I can imagine the cops giving that sort of preferential treatment to a white man or woman, for having a psychological or psychiatric issue–not even a cognitive issue.

I don’t even have to imagine it;  there are actual instances in which cops apprehended, without killing, white people with toy guns or real guns and seeming disabilities or mental issues.

However, I can’t imagine them giving this same benefit of the doubt to a black person with a mental issue–putting themselves at risk to keep that person alive.

Tamir Rice wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt, and Korryn Gaines wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt. He was killed. She was killed.

And there’s only one absolute commonality in their situations. They were black suspects. They were more susceptible to racist profiling or stereotyping.

I can’t be sure, but it’s not implausible or improbable that the cops in Baltimore failed to exhaust their options in dealing with Korryn Gaines because they allowed their racist assumptions (that blacks are intrinsically defiant and combative and culturally anti-authority and anti-police) to override their factual knowledge about her particular case.

Nevertheless, in discussing the tragic shooting of Korryn Gaines, I think we need to be precise in saying that this is our grievance–

The cop(s) killed someone that couldn’t fully grasp the ramifications of what she was doing rather than helping her to remain safe, which is their job.

I don’t think we should “lump” Korryn in with the other victims of racist police murders because her case has some very singular, significant factors.

By playing past them, we miss the opportunity to hash out how mental illness or special needs put blacks at an even greater risk of becoming victims of police brutality and the opportunity to fight for interventions and solutions that will help sisters like Korryn and brothers with the same wild cards stacked against them.