by Mia McKenzie
I’ve been trying to write about the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME in Charleston for five days now. I keep telling myself I will, and then I keep not doing it. I’ve started a few pieces, but after a few minutes of writing, I stop. I sigh. I go back to staring at my Twitter feed.
I’m angry with myself because I should have something to say, I should have insight and critique and analysis to offer. It’s what I do. It’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to feel compelled to speak about a history of racist violence that never went away (there hasn’t been a month in the history of this country that a black person wasn’t killed by white supremacy for being black), about anti-black media coverage (stop watching CNN, for Christ’s sake) and oppressive forgiveness narratives (I’ve never seen anyone talk about Americans forgiving Al Qaeda for 9/11, but black people are always supposed to forgive, because the taking of our lives isn’t worth holding a grudge, right?).
I should be writing pages about all of these things. I can’t, though.
I was at the airport on my way to give the keynote at a commencement dinner at Antioch college when I heard about the shootings in Charleston. My first thought was to go home immediately. I texted my partner and told her what was happening and she offered to come and pick me up from the airport, where she had dropped me off only a short time before. I couldn’t think. I had an obligation to fulfill but I didn’t want to go. My flight was about to board and I couldn’t think straight.
“You want me to come get you, baby?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”
In those moments, I felt trapped. I felt afraid. I felt sad. I looked at the white people around me and I couldn’t imagine having to spend hours on a plane with them, breathing the same air. I wanted my people. Only my people.
But I couldn’t think straight. And there wasn’t time to think it through.
I boarded the plane, still not knowing if I’d go all the way. Maybe I’d turn around once I got to my connecting city, and book a flight right back home. Once I was there, though, it seemed silly to do that. I was already on the other side of the country from home. I might as well just do the damn thing.
I spent the next couple of days mostly holed up in my suite, watching cable news as long as I could bear it, which wasn’t long (because cable news is a boil on the ass of humanity) and reading stuff my friends linked on Twitter. When I had to interact with people, it was a blur. I vaguely remember buying donuts in a grocery store and almost leaving my credit card on the counter. A white man yelled out to me, “Is this your card?” and held it out. I reached for it, but didn’t grasp it, and it fell to the floor. I felt half-asleep.
When you see racism happening every day, and they keep telling you it doesn’t exist, you start to feel crazy.
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When Rick Perry called the shooting an ‘accident’ I took a deep breath and disconnected.
When the judge urged everyone to remember that the white killer’s family are also victims, before the actual victims are even in the ground, I disconnected a little more.
When people on TV asked, “Are black people not safe in church anymore?” I thought about the fact that black churches were targets of white supremacist violence throughout Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era, and as recently as the 1990s, and I wondered what ‘anymore’ means.
When it came time for my speech the next evening, I gave it. It was about people with privilege getting over themselves and doing the damn work, because oppressed people are dying, still, and we don’t have time for liberal change anymore, we need radical change. I gave that speech and then I left, I walked out as hundreds of people gave me a standing ovation. I smiled but I kept going. I didn’t want anyone to try to talk to me. I didn’t want any micro-aggressions. Any macro-aggressions. Any of the “well-intentioned” violence that comes with interacting with white liberals. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle that, so I dropped the mic and bounced. I needed to get the hell out of there.
I went back to my suite and stared at Twitter some more. I tried to come up with topics for a piece on the shootings but nothing I could come up with felt worth writing. I’ve been writing about racism for years. What can I even say anymore?
I looked at photos of the victims, the congregants of Emanuel AME. I looked into their eyes and was struck by the idea that so many non-black people wouldn’t have seen them as people. That I could look into their eyes and see human beings, with favorite foods and songs stuck in their heads and heartbreaks, because I haven’t been socialized not to see that, but so many people can’t, because they have been.
We are people.
Our deaths are not lessons for others to learn. I’m tired of black people’s blood being the catalyst for so-called ‘progress’ in this country. It’s 2015. Why do we still have to die so the rest of you motherfuckers can learn things?
Since returning home, I haven’t left the house. There have been moments when I feel normal and can laugh at my friend’s tweets or watch TV with my partner. But underneath there is still this numbness that won’t go away, and this dreadful feeling that there is no way out of this for my people. That our enemies are evil to the core and the universe is indifferent.
I don’t even know how to end this piece.
I don’t know what there is left to say.
Mia McKenzie is an award-winning writer, a speaker, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous.
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