“Learning is peace of mind,” says the cat.

image by lance tooks

August 22, 2015

On the 7th of August I did something I am certain will extend my life expectancy because it has already reduced my level of stress — I exchanged my driver’s license for state ID. Sandra Bland’s death reverberated intensely for me. I am acutely familiar with all sorts of profiling in my everyday life and I am not strong enough put my brain on pause long enough to endure the threat of being stopped by the police while operating a vehicle. The straight and narrow path in this country for black people too often feels like we are just being led to slaughter.

Because I am black and from the United States, does that mean I must be consigned to narratives about imprisonment? About slavery? About finding the cure for racism? Because I am black, does that mean everything I say must presume I will only have an audience who thinks they get to decide the validity of my human dignity? As a person who is black, must I be relegated to identifying solely with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stress when talking about issues of wellness and mental health? When does the cycle stop?

I got the lab results back from my annual checkup a couple of days ago. My cholesterol is 144, down from last year’s 150. My iron is a little low but I take a supplement to fix that. My blood pressure stays around 100 over 60, and I weigh one hundred and thirty-three pounds. I am forty-five years old until November 6th. Overall, as an American in my age group, those numbers are monster. And also far too rare among American women of color.

I will not picket. I will not block traffic. I will not get into shouting matches with people, or develop elaborate narratives asking that I be accepted for what I already am…a human being anywhere I am in the world. I will not take over anyone’s podium — although, imagine what that might look like, a black woman…this one…taking the stage quietly to tell you a story about watercolor. The market for that, dear reader? My mind.

I wake up every morning secure in the knowledge of myself, which is good enough for me. I leave the conversation of the isms to those strong enough to immerse themselves in those subjects every single day. I tried for a while and it hurt way too much. I do not have the mental capacity to contemplate all of that. Not as a thinker. Not as a citizen of this planet. And not as friend to anyone who just wants to live outside the context of “life as constant struggle.”

My starting place is New York. I keep my passport current because my people are everywhere with culture — in music, in food, in paintings, in and out of religion — everywhere in the world. From all walks of life. If my birthright is, in fact, to talk about us, then it will be from a place that gives more than guns, chains, and the future of the history of slavery. I am black. I am a woman. We are connected to the world by so much. There is so much more to who I am as a history of a people than “the dozens”, acts of aggression, and teaching racists how not to be mean to us. Believe me, giving up the right to drive a car is a small price to pay for my sanity. We each do what we must for our own peace of mind. There are birds singing outside of my window as I write this. Focus on that for a moment…

I am very well aware of what my country thinks of me. But just because I was taught not to believe in the beauty of who I am does not mean I have ever learned that lesson. I hold fast to the words of my Constitution. Those words on paper and who I see looking back at me in any mirror shape my consciousness as I look out into the world. My written work leads to a place with more resolution...than any war I could ever lose or win.

Deborah Cowell

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