I Can’t Even Mourn
Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
I’ve been sitting in my car all day, crying intermittently. Screaming on the phone to my friends, my conversation has shifted from rage to grief, fluctuating between profanity and tears. There is no word for the kind of emotion I feel right now. Anger and sadness have blended into each other, prompting me to want to both burn something down and light a candle for another loved one who was lost. I’m emotionally paralyzed, spiritually drained, and physically weak. I have nothing left to give — except my words. So here they are.
I would first like to say that my emotions stem from both the fact that we lost another one as well as the fact that white people still don’t get it. Almost as soon as I heard the news, I also saw a tweet from a woman who felt the need to remind us that Alton Sterling had a criminal record. I struggled with white people who wanted to let us know that “all lives matter,” and that blacks shouldn’t “get violent” on the other side of yet another police killing. I crumbled under the weight of my own blackness, realizing that my very existence is, on a good day, a sociocultural and sociopolitical burden, and on a bad day, could become the very reason for my own death.
In these moments, I try to find some kind of inspiration. Some kind of something that will make it possible for me to move on with a smile on my face. But I haven’t found it. All I found were the words of Ecclesiastes and Job. In both of them I found a sobering reality: this world doesn’t give a damn about us. This kind of reality brings us to the point of near insanity, wherein we simply throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know what to do.”
We therefore end up kind of like Job: after Job lost all of his children, his health, and all of his shit, he sat on ashes, scraping his scarred skin with a piece of broken pottery. He sat silent for a week, not saying anything, struggling to make sense of it all, because he really didn’t know what to do or say. His friends sat with him for that week, respecting his silence by participating in it. And in that moment, they were amazing friends; they were comrades who knew that the power of presence is most important.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Here’s the problem, though. As I cried today, I came to a very depressing realization: we don’t even have the space to mourn properly. People from elsewhere (read: white people) do come, but they don’t come to be with us, they come to shift attention toward them. We don’t get to express our anger, our sadness, our whatever-the-fuck feelings we might be having right now, because it will quickly be swallowed by white fragility, white guilt, white apathy, or white hatred. We send a tweet out genuinely expressing our frustrations, and will be reminded that other innocent people die all the time. We’ll post on Facebook and be met with criticism and condescension. We’ll protest or riot — because we’ve run out of peaceful options — and be told to “not get violent.” Or what’s maybe the worst of it all, we’ll be directed to forgive the person who killed our family members just a few days ago. The very possibility of collectively weeping and mourning is snatched from us by white supremacy, embodied in and manifested by white entitlement to both our feelings and our thoughts. We don’t get to pray, not because we don’t pray — we do — but because people always attempt to stymie those prayers with their reason, retort, or remorse.
And what hurts me the most about all of this is that, despite the hype, black people have always had an “all lives matter” approach when tragedy has struck people from other communities. Many enslaved men and women mourned the deaths of their masters. I don’t know how many black folk, including myself, mourned publicly and loudly when Sandy Hook happened or when deranged white men shot up movie theaters and college campuses. I cannot count how many tears were shed when Gabby Giffords was shot, or how many people mourned when terrorists lost their minds in Paris. We were there. Our prayers were there. Our thoughts were there. We preached sermons and sung songs. We held vigils and bowed our heads in silence. We cried tears, genuine tears, when we heard that white lives were lost — not black lives, but white ones.
What hurts me the most is that we’ve always had an “all lives matter” approach when tragedy has struck people from other communities.
But when we mourn the deaths of our own, when it is our folk on the front of the gun, the rhetoric shifts. We aren’t afforded the same grace we can somehow muster for others. We aren’t offered the solidarity we generate on a perpetual basis. Instead, we’re reminded of our criminality, we’re provided with justifications for our own death, and doled out healthy doses of apathy and disdain. We get told that we should do more about black-on-black crime. We’re overstimulated by repeated showings of police shootings and bombarded with “experts” who are spewing stupidity, making money off the backs of our dead brothers and sisters. We’re trotted out for political campaigns. Our tears water the soil of presidential candidacies; our anger fertilizes the garden of white supremacy.
Ecclesiastes told us there was a time for us to weep and mourn. Dear White America — no, Dear White People: can you at least give us time and space to love on one another, unimpeded by your white entitlement? Can you give us space to mourn uninterrupted by your guilty feelings, cheap fragility, or perpetual animus? Must you make everything about you? You killed us; shouldn’t that be enough? Or must you try and take our souls along with our bodies?