This Is A Black Violence Tutorial
Your Blackness does not define you.
You are not just your hue. And it will be said peacefully, and it will normally be said by someone who does not resemble you, and you will either teach them, or hate them. But you will not be in the gray about this. Because those words can be the beginning of the shedding.
Because not everything is about being Black, but being Black requires everything in your being to acknowledge how your Blackness seems to affect everything else that surrounds it. The anxiety that can take hold of you when you begin to occupy the space that is not intrinsically what you are accustomed to.
Not everything is attached to your Blackness, but all of you is Black, because that is the first thing anyone will ever see or think to look for when their eyes first scan a room or a train or bar or 2 am vacant parking lot or 4 pm empty hallway corridor with an exit sign that still flickers because no one worries about violence there.
But there are other places where that empty hallway at anytime of pm or am will be scented with piss and grown human shit and the flickering exit will be a sign that many a body had been turned by a bullet; that many of the bodies there have seen violence done unto them in a way that is synonymous with slavery and Jim Crow and busing and systemic racism and broken and tattered school books and teachers with pensions and homes way outside the outskirts of Popeye’s and seafood and fried chicken spots.
There is a gap that is wide and large and it is a divide that is far beyond the scope of a Don Lemon CNN town hall meeting. And sometimes they will try — and you as well — to band-aid and repair the broken, but some things do not get fixed. Some things stay as is, and as they were.
Violence is a disease. Black violence is an epidemic.
Violence is not always sudden. It can be slow, and brutal. Robert Moses wanted to connect everyone in the Bronx, and in so doing, wanted to isolate those coming in from those being pushed out, to help convince the ones that were choosing to leave, to stay. The Cross Bronx Expressway cut through the heart of the South Bronx, with a badly sharpened scalpel and low lighting with doctors lacking doctorates figuring how to best slice poor people in halves.
Buildings would have to be broken down. Some would burn, and it would be an accident, or at least whatever the insurance policy a landlord would obtain in the burning would say. Some buildings would be old and under-managed and the burning would have happened with or without the consent of God and the public. This violence would leave many homeless, or stuck in abandoned buildings. Abandoned buildings are great places for people who want to run, because you can run and hide, and when you hide you will think of all your hurts, and your hurts will call and need an answer and your answer may be selling your sex and finding a pipe and ether and cocaine and learning how to smoke it, or finding ways to pay for your smoking of it.
And your children will smell like freebase and will wake to you with the sounds of tin foil and spoons clanking against one another and the rhythm will be succinct and loud, almost like a second heartbeat. It will be the elephant in the room with Nancy Reagan and Hollywood, old California Hollywood that still smells like tumbleweed and new money Republican status, denouncing the same drugs they were also turning a blind eye to the proliferation of, in regions where boys learn how to pee, shoot guns and farm coca leaves at the same age.
The violence there was not a murmur, but a loud shatter of dreams that burned when they built the American fence around it. The ash from the crosses flaming in the grass are still present.
And it is these sounds they will grow into. And when you are not home they will take things out of your wallet because they are hungry and that hunger will lead them to feed it. And sometimes, if they are listening to the crackling of concrete thunder under their soles, they will notice the smell of gun juice falling and they will learn how to feed themselves. The corner aches and so do they, and so they will dance, all three in a harmony sweeter than canned blackberry, bouncing from the cold, waiting to feed themselves, to feel human again.
This particular violence starts with the rubble of machines that tear down homes. Houses and homes, so different.
Luther knew, before whatever sickness got him got him. That a house is not a home, and that a house is only made a home when those occupying it have made it one. Because homes have memories and windows with gates on them to protect them. Eric Clapton’s baby fell from a window, and the guards went up. Many children who were not Eric Clapton’s fell, just as hard and fast and as high but no one knew them. No one cared to know them. This violence is not labeled violence, it is labeled reconstruction or improvements or revitalization. The labels affixed to the happenings being lived by the ones closest to the popping are not one and the same by any means. This is different. They do not match the painting much, if at all.
In this, those who are most affected cope: K-2, pissy mattress gymnastics, metro card swipe selling in train stations. On the D train headed uptown, later than anyone younger than fifteen years of age should be riding a train without adult accompaniment, I listened to two teens, one who seemed to be in a hotel for homeless families, or a group home, who spoke of the electric wire beating from someone who could be described as a mother, as easy as he would have described his breakfast. The other, a female who spoke the most, talked about cutting her classes and her guidance counselor who wouldn’t leave her alone and her boyfriend who spends the night under her mother’s eyes.
Still there is more coping — walking along 3rd Avenue in the Bronx to the chopped dialogue in front of the Checkers where dudes sell weed and whatever else needs to be sold and bought … the young man who “showed up” because “he ain’t no pussy”.
Some cope with the violence by attempting to add to the violence because everything is cyclical. Everything eventually turns back on itself. And that could be physics or hood politics, but both operate under the guise that numbers matter. And the numbers point to Black on Black physical violence weighing in on the same pointed scales as White on White violence or Asian on Asian violence, which is really to say body on body violence, or whomever is in proximity to another of the same flesh tone that can be harmed and damaged violence.
There is the violence of Paul Robeson. A beautiful and fully Black Robeson, who stood side by side with men who did not feed into the story of capitalism and was shunned for it, denied a passport and became a target in the McCarthy era’s Scarlet Letter witch hunt.
The outright defiantly Black and violence of the full bodied Jack Johnson, with his fire and manliness and women who were curious about him and his speed and girth and the way he whooped all of those men in that ring, all of them, who dared think he was not better in every way possible, and how they would make him pay forever for it.
The violence that is Serena Williams and her C-walk and the way she owns the racket and the records and the court, whether it is clay or indoors, and how they shame her for being so much greater than everyone alive.
The villainous and vile violence portrayed in the film Lebron James and Dan Gilbert, and how your Blackness is deemed dangerous when it no longer fills the void; the violence that comes when you build something and the ones who benefit from the building still want you to keep building and giving because you owe them. Because you are Black and they are not and you are always a slave this way, paying and paying and paying.
There is the violence in Sandra Bland’s cigarette, lit and unbothered and yet still a menace because she cannot be controlled or tamed. To not be willing to succumb to threats is to be too wild to walk free, they say under their breaths with their dashboard cams and body cameras and missing garbage bags in cells, and no one will ask why is she dead but everyone will ask why did she not listen. Why did she not just do what he asked? As if to say she should ignore the same laws that were made to protect her. In reality, those laws were not made to protect her and yet she followed them anyway. Their laws are not our laws. They have never been.
We are at once attempting to follow the Constitution, as persons who were not deemed fit to be a part of the Constitution.
These were not Sandra Bland’s laws. Nor were they the laws of the young girl in South Carolina, flipped and dragged by Ben Fields. The videos always look the same, sound the same: distress in the voice, what feels like the breaking of spirit and flesh against the ground.
Black violence looks like a clock that could be a bomb, or maybe Skittles.
It could be a wallet, or wrong place wrong time, or after a wedding, or on a couch, or in broad daylight. It could be while standing still, while selling cigarettes, or could be you taping the assault and watching your bail jump higher than everyone else who has ever done anything wrong worth mentioning. The violence can be in the way we ask for a President’s birth certificate in a way that no one who believes in the America they speak so highly of would ever allow.
These are not micro or macro aggressions; they are assaults, vicious and real. The blood spilled soaks up the mouths of those who watch the viral, happening over and over again because the need to watch the bodies swaying high and dry like the days when picnics would be had for the torture of the flesh of the Black ones was and is still apple pie, the kind of hominess it embodies for the spectators involved. There is no burden in the watching, only of those affected by the affliction of it all. They will burn from the sharpness of the cuts, the cleanliness of the strokes of death painted. Because Michael Vick will always be the dog killer, no matter where he goes, or to whom he gives, or how many times he apologizes.
We are always in-between something — a flight, a light, a conversation, a sex partner, a poem. Sometimes in-between thoughts, or circumstances, people and religion, bullets and words and Bibles and churches. We could be between lies and comfort, or whatever is in-between loss and the feeling of poverty and desperation. The humbling crumbles of being in half of yourself.
There are pieces still in my head I have yet to write on paper. They’re not ready to be there, I think. I am not ready for them. They are still miles away from home for me. They are from me and a part of me and yet apart from me they lie, still, like the umbilical cord is still attached. I wait.
I wait for them because it is violent to share some thoughts whilst Black.
Waiting when you’re Black in spaces where everyone else is not is a test of dexterity. The text has a weight comparable to an Uzi. And on one hand, you worry. You worry that your presence can incite something scary, or wrong. Because you are waiting. But, there is always waiting; waiting for something to fall or die or walk or run away somewhere far from any hands willing to chase it or bring it back to some place, any place, that feels less than remote — more familiar, familial even.
Like there is a kindness in its kinship to you. And that feeling plays across the shattered masses still waiting on their wants to be seen as real. There is this threat of the Black idea, of the ideals lying hot in them. They can be stolen and replayed and edited like Chuck Berry’s Rock N’ Roll, or Little Richard’s Rock N’ Roll, or Muddy Waters’ Blues, or our durags and cornrows and us taking Timberlands made for construction and turning them into everything else that has made them iconic.
The emulation and appropriation, so wide and thick, thick with the air of those who want to feel unsafe and dangerous and who want to wear the Black aesthetic, a mask for them. For those that fit into this criterion, it is easy to take because they think Blackness is just a culture and culture can be taken and stripped down and changed and given names like Thanksgiving.
They will ask you to be a part of their brand and to stand with their brand and be loyal to their brand, but you are not of their brand. You are a token, an easily identifiable commodity to be used to bring more who look, feel, taste, and seem to think like you do. We are the think tanks of the nation.
Blackness is seen for what it is, but not accepted for what it is, and that is the greatest form of violence.
Because this violence will not be named as such. It will be mass incarceration or the war on drugs or broken windows or we’re gonna be tough on crime or all lives matter. It will be can I touch your hair or why can you wear locks and I can’t and this isn’t Blackface it’s a costume or why can’t I say nigga too? They will attempt to replicate, to bottle, to sell this violence as anything but what it is, and will ask us to drink from it, to share it amongst ourselves and to cackle with heads tilted toward the sky, like we are waiting for Jesus, or reparations.
Because it is easy to repackage this, us, and have us buy it back with interest, and market it as redemption or freedom or salvage.
Because they will make Michael Jackson into a criminal. They will make Nina Simone crazy. They will chase Assata away. They will strip Ali of his crown. They will make Dave Chappelle move to Africa. They can make you look like anything and anyone, and purport the facts and evidence because we once believed the Earth was flat and that Columbus discovered America and that Mike Brown shouldn’t have ran and Eric Garner shouldn’t have fought and Trayvon should have been home and those kids should have turned their music down and those other kids were rowdy at that pool.
Excuses for why we live and their ghosts hover above us.
This sort of violence permeates the fabric of these glorified states, built on slave labor and illegal booze, but it is cleaner to blame the one who sheds the tears and loses the blood than the one who inflicts the pain and causes the bruise. And the healing can only happen when the violence is brought to the light. And this silent embracing of wounds will always beget more violence.
So still, I will wait. I will wait until it is time. But while waiting, I will write, still. And I will not apologize for the violence in those words scribed while the waiting happens. Because that is all I know how to do now.