Artist| activist| scholar: working at intersections of arts, health, healing, and activism, my practice focuses on the performance and performative articulations of vulnerable bodies, examining expressions of identity and belonging. I hold particular interest in the lives and aspirations of African Diaspora/Black Atlantic bodies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
In the midst of dual pandemics and ongoing BLM uprisings Dr. Melissa Barber has published Thirty Days of Thanks – Journey Towards Healing and Deliverance, now live and available in the Kindle store (ASIN B08C2QDL6L). The paperback version (ISBN: 9798646708770) is “in review” and is available at Amazon.
“Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true” Nikole Hannah-Jones, THE 1619 PROJECT.
Since the inception of what would become the United States, this landscape has been soaked with the blood, breath, and spirt of persons viewed as ‘Other’ in the eyes of immigrants who would come to identify themselves as White. In the process of becoming White, collections of disparate Europeans used language to deceive and corrupt their way into power. From broken treaties with the land’s indigenous communities to esteemed documents declaring and supporting these United States as a nation, language has been used to twist and corrupt the human spirit of its members and destroy the lives of those they are hellbent on oppressing. As Nikole Hanna-Jones eloquently points out, it is the group of racialized people who would become know as Black American whose lives, blood, bodies, and audacious hope fertilized the soil of this nation and made the United States a democracy.
As more and more private and public institutions release impassioned anti-discrimination/anti-racist/pro-diversity statement to their communities, all the while aware that these statements will be disseminated to publics beyond their institution, the air thickens with the duplicity. I am not the only one to suspect (know) that these statements are thinly veiled emotional marketing strategies, ritual performances of whiteness and white ideology that cloak language in order to continue the rape and murder of Black bodies and the human spirit. The bringing of truth to the rhetorical deceptions cultivated in this moment will become another burden for current and future generations of vulnerable bodies. I would personally like it to stop!! Keep your statements, safe the ink and paper and electronic space they are written on/in. If there is truly will good, get about the crafting of policies and laws within and outside your institutions, change your institutions NOW, not some day. Hold your people (all of them regardless of seniority) accountable to the future world of equity and justice that this present moment is laboring for and pushing to bring into life. In short, get to the work of doing THE work.
People seek justice and support liberation in many different ways. All contributions are valid and valued.
Let’s celebrate the varied ways we can engage by using our voices, bodies, and imaginations as families and a community!
Below are some ideas and options for safe family friendly activities right in our own homes, blocks and neighborhood in direct response to ongoing profiling and harassment of people of color, and the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many more before them.
Choose what resonates and feels right for you! Feel free to share additional ideas and plans! We are stronger together!
Let’s stand up to extreme injustice and be a force for change with our families!
SIDEWALK CHALK ART:
Friday, June 5 8am-8pm
Create bold, expressive, artful messaging for everyone who walks by. What do you want them to know and do right now? What kind of change do you want to see in the world? We will gather participant’s addresses via text, and send out a list – pack up your chalk and go leave a note, some art or message for your neighbors!To participate:1. RSVP “Going” on FB event page2. Text “Chalk + (your address)” to 917-355-1983(“chalk 408 East 136th”)
If leaving the house for a gathering doesn’t work for your family, but you still want to participate in a protest with your family – Make mini-protest signs with tape and small pieces of paper. Grab your stuffed animals, action figures, and dolls and give them their own voice about what needs to change.
Create art if it feels right, you may incorporate the following words that resonate with this moment (or simply use them for inspiration):
POWER * JUSTICE * UNITY * CIRCLE * LISTEN * STAND * HEAL * RESPECT
Light a candle (or several) for the Black and Brown lives impacted and lost to the pandemic, to racism, and to White supremacist ideology.
SAY THEIR NAMES:
George Floyd, David McAtee, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed Nina Pop, Charleena Lyles, Atatiana Jefferson, Clare Legato, Dominique Clayton, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Eric Reason, Natasha McKenna, Bettie Jones, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown
Each one of these people belonged to their own loved ones, their own families, their own communities. Design their names in chalk, in a notebook, on a T-shirt, with a paintbrush. Let the world know that their lives mattered.
It’s 2020. Black Death, Black pain, and Black anger stagnate the air. The toll of life under the unrelenting weight of whiteness has unearth the rancid and left bare the U.S. history, the rangled bodies of buried and un-buried Black people yearning to breathe free. The metal shackles of enslavement morphed into the financial shackles of low-waged employment, unemployment, amidst economic booms performed out on privileged bodies – non-Black, careless, callous and reckless.
It’s 2020. In the U.S. 100,000+ are dead in less than a trimester, the air quickly cleared of pollution as automotive and air travel halt. The same air thickens with the pungent taste of racism – some the lips and tongues smacked sweet as the cellular tug of the ancestral call for rituals of dehumanizing acts onto the bodies of Black Others. Prove whiteness: affirm belonging and allegiance to segregation, Jim Crow, the Action Block, the dislocation of millions of African peoples. Some lips smack with delight. It’s feasting time.
It’s 2020. And, Coronavirus (COVID 19) eats its way through African American communities collecting breath like trinkets for souvenir. The current occupant of the house on the hill, chest puffed, laughs. Life is Sweet. Lips smack with delight minute by minute, the delicious aching tug of racism’s ancestral calls. The pandemic that has been with US for 400 years years.
It’s 2020. Fiber-optics in the ground. Satellites in the sky. Internet live stream Black Bodies fighting for a full breath of whatever air is possible. ‘I can’t breathe’. Yearning to breath free. Tear gas, pepper spray, bullets, and Coronavirus (COVID 19).
It’s 2020. The street are filled masked and unmasked. Truth and clarity – the gift of Coronavirus (COVID 19). Everyone sees. Not everyone breaths. Noxious, obnoxious, and obscene innocence – the lie of whiteness identity and allies.
It’s 2020. Black bodies piled high on street corners, in funeral homes, hospitals, jails, parking lots, and on lawns.
After much soldering up and preparations (three sheets of hand sanitizers in the right pocket and an additional two folded paper towels in left pocket with hand gel, masks on faces, and a set of plastic gloves in the breast pocket) my partner and I headed out grocery shopping. We navigated the maze of people on the street – some with masks, some actively practicing social distancing, many moving through the sidewalks carefree and caviler – as we and fellow social distance-ers strategically dodge through performances of ignorance and/or arrogance. At the grocery store (located in the basement of a prestigious building) the shoppers we encountered were for the most part more aware, doing their best at social distancing while maneuvering through narrow aisles.
At the cash register, the mask-less late twenties/early-thirties-something African Diaspora female cashier smiled gently as she informed us that she could not pack the bag we had brought with us (Somewhere in our minds we knew this but forgotten and brought our own) because of the virus; all the time she maintained her distance from us and we from her. We thanked her, smiled, and likely passed a joke between us as she packed our groceries in the store’s bags and carefully passed them to us. Suddenly, apparently out nowhere an equally mask- less co-worker, a white colleague, appeared within kissing distance of her face and less than four feet from our own, laughing in animated expressiveness; yet with no apparent reason for her presences. Our cashier looked quizzically. A bit jarred by the encounter, my partner and I, our masks still in place, thanked the cashier and hurried out. On our arrival home we followed the recommendation on bringing groceries into the home, sanitizing everything including ourselves.
In this time of the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic it is more crucial than ever that African Americans and African Diaspora people in western spaces design and codify strategies for health and wellbeing and staying live. With lifelines above ground measured in six-feet distance, I have mapped six-feet into my acts of love and respect. It is with six-feet that I show love to friends and family members who have been a part of my life for more years than I can remember; and, it is with six-feet that I respect the lives of strangers whom I pass on the road while out on errands or my regular run. On paper it seems so simple, just stay six-feet away at all times; but in practice, this mandate is much more complicated. In recent weeks I have gained a profound understanding of the privilege of six-feet; it is a privilege many cannot access in any consistent and relevant way to positively impact health, well-being, and life. For those who are privileged enough to be able to regularly and consistently engage in rituals of six-feet distancing, we have learned that this six-feet ritual requires deliberate mindfulness and the ability to predict with relative accuracy the movement of others and respond accordingly. In the field of traffic safety, the ability to predict the movement of others, anticipate, and respond to risk in the environment is referred to as ‘hazard perception’ (see Frank Mckenna 2014), Hazard perception is beyond the concept of situational awareness – awareness of ones surroundings (a term used in the related field of human factor). Hazard perception is the ability to predict potential hazards. So important is this ability that in some western countries, such as the United Kingdom, one must pass a hazard perceptions test in order to qualify for a drivers license.
My Spring 2020 errands through the urban center where I reside and through the aisles of the grocery stores, test my ability to perceive and respond to potentially hazardous encounters – these are grueling tests that literally impact life and death. As coronavirus (COVID 19) takes away whatever illusions one might entertain of dignified death, missteps are not evident immediately but instead carry additional anxiety an up to fourteen days of wait – a crash in which the full impact unfold in a fourteen-day slow motion montage.
My journeys out of the apartment are well planned – an internal map of the streets likely to be less traveled, at times the grocery store will has less customers. This strategizing takes a great deal of psychic and emotional work – like most level-headed persons negotiating this unprecedented time, caution is essential. Still, using a technical term from human factors and traffic safety, crashes happen. A crash is an unplanned encounter with a moving object that results in impact.
The scenario that begins this essay is an example of a crash. My partner and I, and the African Diaspora cashier, understood that a particular way of being-in-the-world at this moment in time is necessary for health and well being, and survival. Metaphorically you could say we were, in that moment, in the same car. We chose to proactively engaged in following the guidelines set forth by the experts on how to be safe in a coronavirus (COVID 19) world, off how to be safe on the road. But, the cashier’s white colleague had other concerns/understandings of health and well-being in the age of coronavirus (COVID 19); or she may have had an alternate understandings of what constitute health and well-being. In my metaphor, this colleague could be said to be in another, more reckless, car. Pointless to speculate as to why someone would put themselves (and others) in harms in the age of coronavirus (COVID 19), though I am reminded that (especially of working-class and poor whites) the exercise of whiteness regularly involves much of what I term nonsensical behavior in high risk situations.
Driving metaphors have been useful to me in thinking about and thinking through my mobility in the world coronavirus (COVID 19). I view encounters such as the one described at the beginning of this piece as slow crashes. It will take fourteen days before we completely apprehend the severity of the encounter beyond the immediate (in-the-moment) psychological and emotional disturbance. Most drivers on the road are road allies, accepting and following the rules of the road so that each with high degree of regularity travel to and from their destination without harms. Yet not all drivers are road allies and so too not all persons moving about the sidewalks, grocery stores, and running paths in my neighborhood are allies. Hazard perception is an essential skill for all in these times, especially for African Americans and African Diaspora in western spaces.
NanaEfua B. Afoh-Manin (BAM) MD, MPH, NanaEfua B. Afoh-Manin (BAM) MD, MPH, and Briana DeCuir, MD, (founders) are launching a free telehealth app and online portal called myCOVIDMD that safely connects individuals to resources in real-time, by real people.
I have stated elsewhere that this is the time for an Underground Railroad of Health Care Professional working to save lives in African American throughout the United States and African Diaspora communities throughout the western world. These three female ER Doctors apparently had a similar idea. They have started the process of a movement I believe is needed globally. I will tentatively call it The Underground Railroad of Health Professions for Us (URHPU).
As the rain falls,Poverty thickens& certain communities are forgotten & countless bodies are dying. Self-contained,Fibrotic lungs short of breath& Fever ridden exacerbated muscles aching, crying out for testing that will never comecrying out for portable hospitals that will never be constructed. One or ten.Grieving hearts are silenced by unmourned, cremated and unburied loved ones. The plot thickens. Medical personnel cross contaminate.
As the rain falls,It’s exposing the pre-existing racismthe pre-existing neglectthe pre-existing corruptionand the consequence. Countless covid-infested bodies are dying.
The World As We Know it Has Stopped!
By: Halifu Osumare (March 22, 2020)
The world as we know it has stopped! We are told to social distance, but that we are all in it together
We’re supposed to stand six feet apart, while supporting each other
The contradictions are a part of the empty streets and closed restaurants
Online dance classes, instead of sweating together in the studio
Spiritual webinars instead of Sunday church
We were looking at our phones
now we’re looking at each other and asking why?
We are quarantined, isolated in these uncertain times
“But how do we quarantine a tear?”*
We are helping each other to get through this with phone calls, not texts
With a real smile as we pass each other in the streets,
But still a smile emoji on an encouraging Facebook post
or a reassuring zoom business conference
Is the world ending?
maybe, as we know it
Giving us a new start?
Bishop T.D. Jakes says,
The Coronavirus is waking us up
about Tribalism, Politics, Race, and even Age
The virus could bring about new Unity
A resurgence to Re-Examine our Values
A focus on the Continuity of Love, not Extremism
The world as we know it has stopped!
Now we have a chance to take a deep breath in and out!
and listen to the wisdom of the Ancestors in the Wind that still blows