*If you are looking for the speech I gave at Sixth and I please click here*
I was reminded today that there is no cosmic scale weighing the oppression of Blacks in America.
There is no ledger listing the wrongs that have been done to us.
There is no mystic reckoning that will bring wholeness.
There is no justice in this world beyond that which we make.
Power concedes nothing without demand and I fear it will be a long time before our demands are met with anything but violence.
So I will no longer allow my life to be defined merely by struggle or pain.
If we are to walk to Calvary like Sisyphus,
bearing our cross up this racial mountain only to have out feet taken from under us
Or if we must continue to build national idols to freedom that mock our bondage
I will love each and everyone who bears these thorns and stones with me.
I will love each and everyone who feels my pain.
I will love each and everyone who wishes this death march to end.
I will love, despite all my pain, because it is only while experiencing love that I feel truly human.
I will love, despite all my rage, because it is the most radical political act I can convenience of.
There is a feeling of empowerment one feels when you realize that you have made the conscious decision to live. Few people ever get to experience that feeling but I’d be hard pressured to call myself lucky to be one of them. I remember standing on top of tall building overlooking the courtyard of my college. I remember thinking how easy it would be to step off. I imagined feeling the wind flow over my body for a few seconds that would seem an eternity. I remember thinking it would be so quick, so easy. I had battled suicidal thoughts before, but never had the thought of ending it seem so easy. I chose then to live, or many reason I have talked about before. I made the conscious decision to continue living.
This moment, in retrospect, was a watershed moment in my battle with mental illness. It was a moment, a memory, that shepherded me through the darkness. It reminded me, when the would seemed cruel and pointless, chaotic and thoroughly beyond my control, that I at least had chosen to continue living it. I recognize now, as I did then, that it is in many ways a false choice. Living is all I know. Equally important, it was not in reality, that choice that made the pain bearable. It was the perspective that narrative gave me. I constructed a narrative that gave me power and I used that power heal myself. Time and hours of self care later, the teenager who stood on the roof top feels like another person.
Earlier this month, I was reminded of that boy again. I was walking away from a massive protest, one that I had been waiting for for weeks. I was filled with rage. The tinge of injustice pulsed through my vein with such force that I felt on fire. I wanted to scream, to shout, to break, to shatter the world in a vain attempt to ease the pain. My hands started to tingle as I balled them into fists. My body tensed with a desire to fight something concrete, something physical, something as visceral as my despair. I have learned over the years that little good comes from such rage left unchecked. It must be processed rather than merely released. So, I made the decision to leave and take care of my own emotional health. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of good friend who smiled and waved. I did not wave back. I did not, and do not, feel bad about not waving back.
In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open up before me. A path in which I could cast off my connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring. You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea. I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear of the response. I just wanted to rage. I’m not talking about just rioting. Rioting is a way to communicate something you can’t verbalize or refuse to process. Rioting is the language of the unheard. It is the way we communicate to a society that otherwise ignores us. I’m talking about giving in to the part of me with no concern for justice. The part of me with no need to heard by jury becuase it doesn’t have any stock in the idea of peers. It’s part of me that I like to pretend isn’t there. The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. Give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.
In that moment, I choose love.
I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.
Hate just isn’t not strong enough until it destroys you.
I knew that the only part of life I have ever found worth living were the connections I made with other people. I knew, that all I really wanted was to not be alone in my pain anymore. I knew that for all my rage, for all of my politics, I want America to want me. It’s a hellish false choice, but I knew that in choosing hate I would be the demon they think I am.
In choosing love, I stepped back from the ledge. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world. I choose to love this nation that hates me, not for my slice of the America dream or out of some Obamaesque vision of the American family. I choose to love this nation because as James Baldwin said “We are here and to be here means that we can’t be anywhere else.” I had to love America because America is where I find myself. Loving America (as a community of people not a patriarchal nation state) is a messy, inelegant solution but it is best I’ve got. I have no other home.
I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope. In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love when I articulate my humanity loved ones validate me by articulating theirs and suddenly it all feels worth it.
It is, I know, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity in tact. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. My love is not magical. But like that moment when I decided to live, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. It gives me to power to stand to those who seek to set themselves above me. It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before my. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own. Love gives me the perspective to hope that one day, when we reach the mountain top, we will not be sent tumbling down, with nothing but our cross to break the fall. Maybe this narrative with be replaced later. Maybe time will change my tune. But for now, in this moment. I will love. I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human. I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.
“It is our duty to fight
It is our duty to win
We will love and support one another
We have nothing to lose but our chains”
A Mantra of the Black Youth Project, based on the words of Assata Shakur