Sometimes I wonder if I’ll spend my entire adult life trying to recover from my childhood.
Therapy. Self-help books. Mantras and affirmations. Fading 3×5 zen meditation cards curling at the corners, yet somehow still able to stay wedged into my bathroom mirror.
All of these signs of “recovery” are really my feeble attempts at dressing my wounds.
Flesh wounds that literally put “blackness” into my brown skin.
Flesh wounds that literally put “girl” into my vagina.
Wounds are plentiful where meaning is made.
My apartment is beginning to feel like a medicine chest. Healing is all we talk about these days.
Trauma. For some reason when I hear the word “trauma” I’m reminded of a guy I knew in graduate school who worked on race and trauma. At the time I couldn’t quite figure out what that meant he was studying. What was “trauma” anyway? I was 21 at the time and unaware that I was living in a state of constant trauma.
It’s strange that we can live our lives without really knowing what’s happening to us. I remember sitting in the grad commons at UC Santa Cruz, caught up in poststructuralism and feeling like this Foucault guy was on to something when I came across this line: “we don’t know what our doing is doing.” Okay – I might be paraphrasing, but the point is still well taken. Understanding, awareness, full sight of the possible outcomes and implications of our actions are simply, and painfully, limited. We don’t know what our doing is actually doing.
We can also experience really obscene shit and not know how traces of that violence will surface in our lives later. So that means we don’t always know what someone else’s doing is doing to us either.
Traces. Resonances. Reverberations. It’s like Freud’s Mystic Writing Pad all over again.
When I was a teenager I used to wonder what would happen if I told the truth about my stepdad. I wondered what his mom would think if she knew how much of a motherfucker he was. I never said anything though. She was always so wonderful to me.
I really loved his mom.
I wondered if she knew that he drank until he stank and would hit and throw shit at my mom. Or that he once wrapped his hands around my neck and choked me. Or that he once put his hands on my ass and pulled me close as we passed on the stairs in the morning and then said, ‘Oh, I thought you were your mom.” I wondered if she knew how scared of him I was. I wondered if she’d be disappointed in him. I used to wonder what she’d say if she knew what happened in our house.
When I was in college I thought all of the problems were “out there” – out in the world somewhere, and that I somehow stood apart from it and could launch a seamless critique of oppressive social, political and cultural conditions. But, trauma is like a stamp – at least in this world, in this 21st century neocolonial menagerie – it’s like the world’s way of leaving it’s mark on you.
On you. On me. On all of us. Trauma puts social problems “in here”; inside of us, as us.
Peter Levine argues that in the face of danger or fear some animals(?) will get bigger and more exaggerated to fend off their foe. (Fight Impulse.) Others will get smaller, docile or even play dead. (Freeze Impulse.) Others still will flee. (Flight Impulse.) Similarly, when an infant cries and it’s cry is ignored, the baby will either cry louder to get its care taker’s attention, or it will suppress its need and stop crying altogether.
Maybe we are hardwired to have one of these three responses instead of one of the other two. Me, I’ve always been a runner. An escape artist. A let-me-find-the-rabbit-hole-and-I’ll-sure-as-hell-jump-down-it kind of person. I never literally ran away from home. But I did find several ways to dissociate from my experiences.
School was my primary distraction. I poured myself into my classes, books, writing, student council, basketball, the school newspaper, and then, my after school/weekend job at the tv station. I was a type-A overachiever who spent as many hours away from home as possible. I don’t know how old I was when I left my body – but it took me until I was in my twenties to realize I wasn’t in here at all. It was like my mind/spirit and body were a venn diagram, overlapping and interstitial, and totally out of alignment.
After high school, school wasn’t a panacea anymore. School became the site of more trauma – racism, sexism, classism.
1997. GenXers. I almost forget that moniker until my Millennial friends remind me that I’m older than them.
In 1997 it didn’t occur to me that the dream of integration transformed into Diversity Initiatives might just be a dystopic one.
Just the other day our first black president hosted a Gay Pride celebration at the White House. Sounds so progressive doesn’t it? Then he did some regressive shit, which is another way of saying he did what just about any other mainstream politician – especially POTUS – would do: he shut down and kicked out a transwoman of color who demanded to know when equality would reach the farther recesses of marginality – those ignored, disdained, and ostracized areas peopled with actual PEOPLE. She asked Obama, what about Us? What about the repetitive killing of transwomen of color? And he told her she was yucking his yum – it wasn’t the time to talk about it.
But, death is pretty fucking urgent so she persisted and he kicked her out of the White House.
It bears repeating. He had her removed from the White House.
Intersectionality is a bitch. For reals.
Before I could catch my breath SCROTUS said hey gay boys and lesbians, go get married wherever you want, we got your back. Just as long as your not a QTIPOC, and just as long as you’re not fighting for any kind of radical change that benefits the most vulnerable people in society, feel free to participate in the jacked up institution of marriage all you want. You’re welcome.
Wow, what a shit show.
10 months after police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO…
11 moths after Eric Garner was murdered by the NYPD for selling loosies…
8 months after the killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland cop for playing with a toy gun…
Month after month of watching QTIPOCS slain with little media coverage;
And just a week and a half after a middle-aged white male cop body slammed a fifteen year old black girl in a bikini on the concrete,
A white boy in Charleston, South Carolina sat in one of the oldest black sanctuaries in the country for an hour.
He sat there for an hour as members of the church sang, prayed and fellowshipped.
He watched them in their most sacred space, their safest place, and then murdered them all.
6 black women and 3 black men killed in a black church by a young white supremacist sporting Rhodesia and apartheid patches on his jacket.
In the days that followed five more black churches would be set afire across the south.
The neutered liberal media finds ways to reduce deeply complex issues to pithy soundbites. It’s not about the confederate flag. But I’m glad as hell Bree Newsome scaled the pole and took it down from in front of the South Carolina State Building where it unapologetically hung after the Charleston massacre.
I didn’t know that when black radicals declared 2015 A Year of Resistance that white supremacy would up the ante so wantonly; so aggressively; and at so many different points of articulation.
I wonder what James Baldwin would say about Charleston; about the psychosis of white supremacy in Obama’s America.
Baldwin’s America and the white folks of Baldwin’s day were just as psychotic as Dylan Roof. And yet it seems to me that something is different about the kind of anti-black violence I witness and experience today.
There seems to be something particularly cruel about it.
(And, maybe I’m just seeing things from my limited historical vantage point, making “cruelty” a relative concept. I have to ask myself, Isn’t stealing someone, holding them against their will, beating them, stripping them naked, poking and prodding them, and displaying them for sale on a block of wood the epitome of cruelty?)
But I still wonder: maybe it feels so cruel because it feels like adding insult to the deepest injury.
Systemic racism is quite effective at eviscerating opportunity and self-esteem, triggering codependencies of all kinds and generally making life really fucking hard.
So it seems especially pernicious when we are gunned down in the street.
Weaponless. Hands in the air.
Each execution is a not-so-subtle reminder that in this axiological field I call home there is overwhelming evidence of my “worthlessness”.
Disbelieving the lie of black inferiority means living with cognitive dissonance at best.
Can a crazy world make you crazy too?
Every now and then I’m struck by the realization that starting a public discussion on racism as a psychosis is close to impossible in today’s America.
But I’m even more struck by how few people say hey, maybe people who think they’re better than everyone else, steal people, sell them and abuse them have some serious mental health issues that we should be worried about.
Racism is so obviously crazy when you think about it objectively, that its persistence as one of the organizing principles of my daily experience is itself insane.
Behaving as if nothing is wrong is — that is, if I’ve done the math right – is a symptom of how ill the world actually is.
Therapy…must heal abandonment issues.
Self-help books…must learn that I’m good enough.
Mantras and affirmations…black is beautiful…I am perfect, whole and complete.
Fading 3×5 zen meditation cards curling at the corners, yet somehow still able to stay wedged into my bathroom mirror:
Peace // Tranquility // Transformation // …
Feigning health in a sick world is exhausting, it’s confusing and crazy-making; it’s fucking frustrating, saddening, depressing, and most of all, a disingenuous way to live.
This is what it feels like to live inside the psychotic dream of white supremacy: to be made to play the role of the boogey-monster, the dark other, the flat, fixed, image upon which all kinds of grotesqueries are projected while at the same time struggling to speak, breathe, be oneself outside of, and in excess of the outlines whiteness has drawn.
Thank the ancestors for Bree, for Alicia, for Patrice, for Adrienne, for Wazi, for Robbie, for Ashley, for Cat, and for the countless others who keep being human; who keep telling the truth; who keep showing us what sanity looks like in an insane fucking world.
Thank ya’ll for that.
I’ve come to understand that it’s okay to hate my experiences sometimes. I’m learning to discern between Life and the shittiness of my existential reality. These two things are coeval, but not identical.
It’s rare that my defenses fracture so much that the insidiousness of the world and my pisspoor reactions to it depress me. In other words, I’m rarely cynical. Rarely despondent, belligerent and wanting to break shit, or cut people, and fuck up situations. In this moment I give zero fucks. I just might say anything to anyone. And, by ‘anything’ I mean, I’m might say the fucking truth.
I like to live within the lines as much as possible. Decorum. Etiquette. Manners. My respectability inheritance. My grandfather is a baptist preacher and a navy vet. I grew up working class, but not fully aware theater were poor. In other words, I didn’t know that my behavior was a strategy for surviving in this minefield of heteropatirchal racism.
But aging is like, for some of us at least, a slow reveal. The older I get, the more aware I become of the fuckery around me.
Black music. Black pain. Black joy. Somehow the three are one in the same. I feel odd listening to Marvin Gaye in a gentrified part of Oakland, sitting next to a white guy, we’ll call him Frank Trump, who thought it was okay to make a historically and racially ignorant joke to me. Indeed, the degradation of black suffering has reached such epic and distorted proportions that this muthafugga could fix his mouth to ask me how a black guy ends up with an Irish last name. Really, Frank Trump? Really?
And yet, here we are in our multicultural present where anything goes and PC politics are derided as an anachronism, held by the staunchest of single issue political zealots.
It’s not hyperbole to regard whiteness and capitalism as instances of canibalism. White folks eat each other, they’re hungry for your flesh, your soul and mine too. Capitalism is no better, consuming everything in its path, constantly turning in on itself.