I am in the process of relocating back to the United States, a process I have been engaged in for several months now. I left the U.S. in 2002, returned for 18 months in 2007, and have been more or less happily away since. When I say happily way, I don’t mean to say that I have had an easy time of it. In fact, of all my close friends I seem to have the most unpredictable and at times precarious life. But one thing has been different the past 10 or so years, I have not had to wake each morning under deadly weight of being black in a land that has culturally (and legally) sanctioned the genocide of all people who look (in one way or another) as if they could be related to me.
In my mid-twenties I stopped my daily ritual of reading the newspapers. It was a matter of survival. Until the moment I stopped this ritual, I had gotten into the habit of reading the newspaper with my breakfast. It’s a commonplace habit. Many people do this simple activity without a second thought. Being up-to-date on current going-ons in the world and in one’s local space is an important adult ritual in which many in the U.S. and elsewhere take part. However, for me this ritual was unusually complicated as it was frequently accompanied with tears and heaving sobs: one more person shot dead, one more person raped, one more person physically or/and socially lynched. The news ‘wring mi belly,’ to use a phrase from my grandmother’s descriptive lexicon. There were days I cried so much that it was only through the emotional handholding of close friends that I was able to function in my then life as a dance artist. I knew I could not in some magical act change the world, but how could I survive in it when I was in a constant state of recovery, anxious and anticipating the next injustice.
Today, within only a few weeks of my return to this side of the Atlantic divide, and to the U.S. space, I am looking at ways I too can protest the recent killings, and the recent excuses as to why black genocide is possible and inherently necessary in the land of the free home of the brave.
I have walked in more protests than I care to say, my twenties and early thirties were spent protesting in whatever ways I could in the churches and universities and on the streets of New York City. Although I had stopped reading the newspaper I did not stop receiving the news. When it comes to Black Death, my twenties and thirties was a harrowing time, between accidental shootings and AIDS funerals were plentiful and I resented the ordinariness in which ordinary folk talk about the death and dying of people who look (in one way or another) as if they could be related to me. I took it all personally, for me it was personal. My attendance at funerals required a personal commitment to love and justice, love for those who had died and a promise to seek justice in whatever shabby corner of the land in which I had spent a significant portion of my life. My attendance at marches required a personal decision to bodily protest the bodily denigration so much a part of the cultural intuit of those less likely to be identified as related to on Black lives.
This year I spend my first holiday season in the U.S. in more than a decade and the stark reality of guns, righteous indignation, and daily violent deaths (particularly Black deaths) has saturated the air. I am called to remember that for Black bodies there has been, for as long as my memory and history can tell, a struggle to breathe in the land of the free home of the brave.