I spent my first seventeen years in this country as a Resident Alien. In these politically correct times such language is now frowned upon, but the truth is that it is by far the most accurate description of my experience living in this country as a dark skinned black woman – alien and alienating. Especially over the course of the last year.
I say frequently, to the chagrin of white and black Americans alike, that I am profoundly grateful and relieved that I was not born and raised in this country.
And I am.
I am grateful every single day that I was born and raised and educated in the so-called “third world”.
I am grateful that I had the experience of just being a child. Of people expecting me to be brilliant, and not being surprised when I fulfilled their expectations.
I am grateful that I had an experience of discovering what it meant to be me, without the confusion and burden of racial stigmata.
But I have also paid a price for this knowledge of a different life, an extremely high one – because I also know just how utterly and profoundly intolerable and extreme this current reality really is.
I know exactly how awful things actually are. And I cannot ever unknow it.
And this knowledge has broken me.
The shards of my shattered illusions cut into my soul and I am bleeding nearly all the time.
Yet I have learned to be grateful for the bleeding, because the flowing blood means that I’m still alive, and fully human.
For a time I taught a class in intercultural awareness in which I would explain to my confused students of all races that I actually had to learn what it means to be black in America.
I am still learning.
But everything I have learned so far points to the same unquestionable truth –
I’d be better off on Mars.
I get Dr. Manhattan.. I really get him. I understand exactly how it feels to be alien and naked and blue in a world that uses you without understanding you.
“Fly me to the Moon,” Sinatra sang.. But the moon is far too near.
Even Mars, I fear, isn’t far enough.
Fly me to Jupiter.
Fly me to Pluto
And then I remember – that’s where I already live.
To say that I lost my cool this year is a bit of an understatement. I had long prided myself on my ability to not break under pressure. I am generally that person that people seek out in the middle of a crisis. I stay calm, rational, and clear eyed.
I don’t lose my cool.
I didn’t lose my cool.
But this year…
This year of random senseless mayhem and madness. This year of so much Black Death. This year, I went ahead and lost my cool.
I lost my cool and became the one thing a dark skinned black woman should never become in this country – an Unapologetically Arrogant and Angry Black Woman.
Oh, the terror.
I raged, and raged, and raged, and raged, and raged.
And then I raged some more.
And I still do.
And I watched as white people – and black people – fled from me in terror.
Sometimes, they still do.
And the majority of the time, I simply do not care.
The ugly truth is that I do not actually regret losing a single “friend” who believed that my first priority should have been to remain calm and sane and rational and pleasant as this senseless insanity unfolded around me. To verify for them that this isn’t all that bad or upsetting or serious to me. To verify that I am as desensitized and conditioned to black suffering and death as they are. To verify that deep down, I’m really okay and I still believe in America because that is what they need to believe. Because it unnerves them that someone so strong would lose it so completely.
I don’t regret losing “friends” who expected me to be fine at all times for their own emotional comfort. I don’t care that I have been messy and irresponsible and lashed out. I don’t care if they think that I should be embarassed or ashamed of my behavior. I don’t care that my anger and sadness and grief makes people uncomfortable.
I don’t care because I am uncomfortable all the time and I will not pretend to enjoy it.
Nor will I return to illusion by manufacturing false comfort:
It is not getting better, it is getting worse. And it will continue to get worse because that is what those with power want, and most people simply do not care. Because black life has been and always will be expendable in this country. Because black pain is still not considered to be real in this country.
I know this, and it makes me angry. Extremely angry, and I do not care who knows it.
The very trouble with this white supremacist reality is precisely the fact that the emotional burden of it is not born equally. It is precisely the fact that you are expected to kill yourself inside so that you can remain functional.
Because the system needs you to function. You don’t really need to be alive, mind you, just functional.
Like a robot.
I need friends who feel, not robots.
I consider the Negro spiritual which says We shall not be moved and I shake my head in disgust. A gospel song about calcifying into a rock.
I am not a rock.
I am flesh. Frail flesh that has dealt with entirely too much pain for far too long in the midst of people who believe that this is why I exist – to bear pain.
As a strong black woman, I am to be a rock. A mule. A mammy.
I’m supposed to give comfort, not take it away.
Even as my own comfort and peace of mind is shattered again, and again, and again.. day after day by the senseless cruelty of this deeply unjust nation that is committed to maintaining injustice.
It is not my job to remain permanently unaffected by ongoing psychological torture and terror.
I am not a rock.
I am moved by the senseless violent random death that stalks those who look like me.
I am moved
nearly every day.
But I keep that to myself. And most days now I keep to myself in order to keep that to myself, because I will not allow my grief to be medicalized and pathologized and marginalized.
I refuse to calcify my soul and become one of the many black Americans who die early of heart disease and cancer and stroke because they have been strangling themselves internally, struggling to still their pain, until finally they still their own beating hearts instead.
I am not a rock.
I am a person.
And I will not apologize for it.
I know that there is ultimately nothing really wrong with me except for the fact that I live in a place where I do not belong.
I am an alien currently trapped in a country that actively wishes to kill me.
I type these words and I know that they are sadly not in the least hyperbolic.
On the weekend that I flew to Switzerland, because I cannot yet fly to Mars, Sandra Bland died. Needlessly, senselessly, she was forcibly removed from her car, slammed head first into the ground, and then hauled off to jail.
All for being angry and disobedient – a capital crime for a black woman in this country.
Sandra Bland’s death was meant as a rebuke to women like me, but I will not stop being angry. Just as I will not stop being aggrieved. Because I know that my grief is correct. Indeed, if everyone actually gave a damn, if the senseless loss of life at the hands of law enforcement that function more like a death squad really actually mattered to people enough for them to suffer and dysfunction under the weight of their anger and grief, all of this pain and terror would be over tomorrow.
The system cannot function without us.
They cannot actually replace us all with robots when we fail to cooperate and do business as usual.
But many have already done the work of replacing themselves with robots in anticipation of such a thing, and they will not be moved to authentically feel much of anything.
And so it is I who must must be moved…
Or maybe Switzerland… wherever I can find safe purchase.
I used to be a fool.
I used to believe in the arrow of time and inevitable progress.
I used to believe in the “future”. But not anymore.
The future, the flow of time, is something that is controlled by the powerful I have come to learn. The rest of us really have no say in the matter. We’re just along for the ride.
Each day when I wake up I check my newsfeed on Facebook, or turn on the radio to listen to the news, all in an attempt to answer this question –
when the hell am I?
I check the calendar to see what year it is.
Then check the news again to see if time travel was invented while I wasn’t paying attention.
when am I?? what year is this??
I look back on my childhood in the 1980s and 90s, and realize something stunning and terrible – that that was the future. I lived in the future, and it has passed. And America will never attain the future that I experieneced a quarter of a century ago in the third world.
When I say this Americans are invariably incredulous, yet consider that in 2015 we are just now celebrating a dark skinned black woman finally having a lead role in a TV drama. That is still not ordinary.
In 1989 when I was nine years old I was the lead in an original futuristic musical called Jackie and The Beanstalk. The play was about a nerdy girl gamer named Jackie who gets sucked into her favorite video game – the Beanstalk 25. She has to save the world from inside the game, much like in the movie Tron which inspired the play. At my small neighborhood elementary school we mounted a full production including building and designing the set. We worked on it for months. The show sold out every night it was staged. It was a marvelous success.
I grew up in Jamaica, by the way.
Did I mention that?
That was my life. In Jamaica. In 1989. Playing the lead role in a sci fi musical featuring a black female heroine.
“Hey! Level 7!! I’ll ZAP those aliens… I’ll get ’em this time!! [pause.. video gaming sounds.. ominous music] Oh no!!!! The dreaded black blob…”
A quarter of a century later, I still remember the first lines…
I look at Viola Davis win and consider that it is at least thirty years too late. Much like the removal of the confederate flag 150 years too late. But when such events occur I am expected to celebrate and consider this “progress” exciting and uplifting. I am supposed to play along.
But I cannot.
In my mind, I go to mars