African American

When Memories of Former Lovers Resurface

 

Our bodies remember the traumas we dare not speak.

A week before my ninth birthday, my dad moved out, and my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Nearly two weeks before I turned twenty, I decided to end a healthy relationship with someone I wasn’t connected to intellectually. One week before my twenty-second birthday, the first person I trusted fully and loved deeply walked away from our relationship — this shattered my spirit in ways I didn’t know was possible. Two weeks after I turned twenty-four, one of the most intimate platonic friendships I had ended. We’ve since reconnected but…

My body remembers the history of unexpected endings every November.

She braces herself for premature goodbyes and a rush of intense memories she would rather forget. Not because the memories are too painful to revisit but because they remind her of a significant, interrupted soul connection.

Breakups are difficult.

I’ve been through three romantic endings in my life, but only one crushed my spirit. It was the person that would become my “first love,” and the relationship I still reflect on nearly eight years later. Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder how different we probably are now, but other times — well, I just miss his energy.

More than anything, I think I miss the intimacy and the artistic connection we once shared. Because I still think about him so many years later, I decided to write a poem in hopes that releasing it will allow me to release his hold on my memories.

Missing Memories

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep the past in its place / And I’m a bit of an insomniac so often I stay up late / And some nights / I / Mix together letters that form monikers of lovers I’m no longer connected to / Just to catch a current glimpse at their intellectual development/ And currently your musings are reminiscent of the revolutionary spirit I inherited / And in these moments I wish we were relatives or close friends that could get lost in sociopolitical discussions / Exchange writings like we used to, read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution / I was never really interested in pursuing / So now I’m seven years out still periodically considering your whereabouts / Wondering how you’ve been / Wondering if you ever regretted our final conversations / Or if I was a necessary loss that simply got lost in your quest to maintain a burgeoning relationship / But whatever the motivation, the callousness lingers, and it appears to be transferrable so I continue to meet hordes of inconsiderate people / And again I wish I could keep the past in its place because periodically mulling over past times can be painful / And I’m not really into self-inflicted injury / I’ve been in two committed relationships since the last time we spoke and tried to get to know quite a few people in between but it seems the true intimacy we once shared continues to evade my reach these days / And to be honest, I’m tired of reaching / Tired of trying to cultivate close relationships in an era where superficiality, meaningless sex, and guardedness reign supreme / Tired of meeting new people with the same archaic, apolitical points of view / Tired of missing memories and rituals we shared so long ago / Remember / Forehead, eyelids, cheeks then lips type of kisses we shared before we parted ways? / Damn that shit feels like way, way back in the day / But what do I do when what was reappears in my dreams so vividly? / I wake up feeling guilty when my subconscious self thinks of you / And I feel inauthentic if I force myself not to / And don’t even get me started on how foolish I feel knowing someone else has your heart but you still have an emotional hold on me / I used to think about the next time we’d meet again / Quite frequently / To the point I had to relinquish my imagination for a second / Just so I could sit in the discomfort of what happened and accept it / Then a few years back, I thought I saw you from afar in Charlotte / I wanted to speak so desperately but I couldn’t bear the thought of being just a distant memory / When you meant so damn much to me / So / I didn’t chance it / I decided if there’s any chance for us to ever enter a radical friendship you would have to extend it / On occasion I waver and consider reaching out to you / It’s like I know if we were relatives or even close friends we could get lost in sociopolitical discussions again / Exchange writings like we used to / Read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes / Disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution I was never really interested in pursuing / But then again / I could never exchange an experience that allowed me to explore the transformative power of vulnerability / I guess I’ll just have to get used to periodically missing memories we shared so long ago

In memory of a love lost in history.

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Disillusioned by the Ballot: I Did Not Storm the Polls

 

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Over the past few weeks, I have heard ongoing rants suggesting abstainers and independent voters bear primary responsibility for the results of the 2016 election. It’s as if the masses are unwilling to critique how choosing the “lesser of two evils” supports the maintenance of our flawed two-party system. It ensures our uninterrupted participation in binary thinking and limits our ability to imagine radical alternatives for the people. I am not interested in limiting my thinking. I believe we can think up new possibilities when we aren’t forced to choose between two problematic options.

In school, I was taught to trust in the greatness of America. I was taught to believe I lived in a democracy, that the option to vote granted me access to a democratic society. For years, I questioned the legitimacy of this widely accepted fallacy. I never heard a president espouse viewpoints that, at the very least, offered long-term solutions to reconcile the vast needs of America’s most vulnerable citizenry (here citizenry refers to any and everyone that lives in the U.S.). I never saw a president that looked like me. I was led to believe my apprehensions were naïve, a consequence of my youthfulness. I would come to learn that this was a common excuse offered by adults unwilling to explore historical realities.

But I was still hopeful. And in 2008, I took my hope to the voting booth.

The first time I voted, I was filled with inherited pride. Finally, I had the opportunity to contribute to the political landscape in the nation of my birth, and I was thrilled. I was in my senior year of college and was engaging in discussions daily that challenged me to decode and deconstruct messages in televised news, newspapers, radio, and classrooms. As I prepared to cast my first vote ever in the 2008 presidential election, I felt the faint footsteps of my ancestors beating within me. This was an obligation, I thought. My ancestors have stained the streets, trees, and fields with the blood of their bodies for my right to vote. So I must cast it intentionally. I must not let their collective struggle be in vain.

At the same time, through my coursework, I was beginning to learn about the striking similarities between both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and what I learned was alarming. Both parties have been responsible for: restricting educational funding; defunding welfare initiatives; pushing standardized assessments; high rates of deportation; mass incarceration of Black and Brown peoples; supporting zero tolerance policies that disproportionately suspend and expel youth of color; aggressively increasing defense spending; remaining in a perpetual state of war and unrest; backing the militarization of law enforcement agencies; overlooking the importance of free universal healthcare; monitoring Americans’ private lives; and refusing to redress historical and ongoing injustices systems of oppression have imposed on Black people and other people of color in the United States. When examining our so-called democratic, two-party system from this lens the parties don’t seem so distinct.

Unable to stomach the political implications of abstaining, I continued to associate the voting process with ancestral responsibility. Images of slavery, auction blocks, beatings, lynchings, uprisings, Jim Crow, marches, burning buildings, arrests, water hoses, and sit-ins swarmed my mind. Voting had been impressed upon my consciousness as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society. And I shared this sentiment with any friend that voiced their reluctance to continue participating in electoral politics.

In 2016 an inner shift occurred.

This year, I did not go to the poll booth, and I didn’t fill in my absentee ballot. I exercised my right not to vote. I wrestled with my decision for months following Bernie Sanders’ failed democratic nomination. To choose not to vote felt like historical dismissal. I wanted to support a presidential candidate that had a history of prioritizing progressive social justice initiatives and inspired me to vote with a clear conscience. I discovered Dr. Jill Stein. I introduced her name to friends who were oblivious of her political platform and resisted reductive reasoning that declared a vote in her support as a vote for the Republican Party.

If we truly live in a democratic society, how could that be? How could voting for someone you believe best represents the issues that impact your day-to-day life, and the lives of millions more, be the equivalent of a wasted vote? It seems obvious that the likelihood of electing a presidential candidate outside of our current two-party system would significantly increase if more people would abandon two-party politics that more closely resembles a single-party agenda. With deficit-based thinking—the nation’s prevailing ideological framework—shaping the bulk of our public imagination, I wondered how a Stein administration would convince a largely homogenous Congress to grapple with police brutality, anti-Black racism and other forms of structural oppression, economic disparities, environmental degradation, restorative justice, education as the practice of freedom, etc. Ultimately, I was dissuaded by historical evidence.

Voting has not shielded us from death. It has not protected us from political loopholes that attempt to stomp the life out of us long before we die physically. Even with anti-discrimination laws in place, we haven’t been able to sidestep disparate treatment. We’ve placed too much weight in the vote. We’ve accepted that voting is the primary means to amplify our voices, to stimulate change. But what exactly are we voting for? Both the Democratic and Republican Parties offer limited, if any, solutions to the type of challenges that impact my everyday life, and the everyday lives of many people of color from working class and lower income households. And as Tricia Rose correctly observes in Longing to Tell, “The kinds of [narratives] that have worked to marginalize, pathologize, and condense the lives of [B]lack women, [and Black people as a whole] cannot simply be legislated out of circulation.” Often, the only suggested recourse presented to Black folks is the ballot.

But is the ballot enough? What can we be doing on the periphery of election years? What can we do in our respective workplaces and industries on a regular basis to disrupt systems of domination? What can we do to address the particular needs of our communities? What can we be doing to interrupt dominator discourse in our homes, in our relationships, in every facet of our lives? What can we do across socioeconomic backgrounds to lift each other up and lean on one another throughout the year? What else can we be doing to think more imaginatively? These are the questions we have to contend with as we commit ourselves to grassroots activism.

And to some extent, I understand the emphasis on electoral politics and legislation. If elected officials are going through such lengths to institutionalize voter suppression laws, there must be some power in our vote. This observation cannot be understated. My choice not to vote does not justify external efforts to strip me, and historically disenfranchised people, of that right. As a sexually fluid Black woman, I also have the right to marry, but ultimately I decide whether marriage is the right path for me. It isn’t. Until there is more promise in electoral politics shifting the United States’ foundational practices of domination, exploitation, and profit-generation, I will disengage from this charade and redirect my energies elsewhere.

While the implications of voting are far-reaching, we can’t expect the same system that was erected to negate and exclude us to turn on itself and topple. We have to think differently. We have to organize differently. We have to open ourselves up to new forms of resistance.

We need to change shit substantially before we continue to stress voting as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society, especially when that so-called free society in which we live is entrenched in imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Who Am I?

Usually, when I consider my response to this question, I tend to think about it from a very individualistic point of view. I think of colorful adjectives, nouns, and verbs that best represent the core of who I am, what I desire most in the world, what excites me, and how I go about achieving goals that are important to me. After all, ‘Who am I?’ seems like a deeply personal question that can only involve an independent understanding of myself, right? Perhaps. But even as an individual, I exist within a world of systems, structures, and historical realities that have worked together to shape who I am today and who I wish to become tomorrow. In the summer of 2012, I explored this question from this very lens, pondering who I am from a socially contextualized standpoint. I often return to this reflection as a stirring reminder of who I am, what I represent, why my voice matters, and why I make the choices I make:

“I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement as a result of immoral procedures and practices that have disproportionately impacted people of color in the United States. The challenge of being a black woman in America transcends physical markers of racial categorization. It is an ongoing battle to deconstruct, critically challenge, and publicly combat socialized norms that place black womanhood at the base of a vertical hierarchy. What does it mean to be an African American woman? Better yet, what does it mean to be historically delimited, demarcated, despised, and repudiated by the decided majority? It means constantly seeking alternative avenues to acquire knowledge, to be mindful of where and how you receive acceptance and affirmation, to resist fervently oppressive structures, and to have an unshakable commitment to humanity that is informed by an ongoing struggle to attain equality for all. This is but a snapshot of what being an African American woman symbolizes to me.”

While this excerpt does not capture the full essence of who I am, my unique combination of qualities, my lived experiences, and my inner desires, it absolutely captures those aspects of me that often take center stage even as they remain unspoken cues, signaling to the dominant culture that my mere presence warrants suspicion, tension, or angst. I cannot count the number of times my presence has been dismissed, ignored, or reduced to someone else’s one-dimensional interpretation of me before I ever had the chance to open my mouth. To be the lone African American, the designated ‘spokesperson,’ the dissident voice, or the radical visionary is to continually enter spaces where my uniqueness, my humanness is overshadowed by the hegemonic gaze.

I am a growing list of paradoxical truths where my past, present, and visions of a brighter future converge to create a relentless, resilient, community-oriented, open, caring, critically conscious, loving, passionate, authentic, vulnerable, exacting, playful, energetic, spiritual, analytical, freedom-seeking, creative, sensitive, hopeful, compassionate, honest, writer, poet, dreamer, conversationalist who is undeniably brown, undeniably woman, and unapologetically me.

I am trudging paved paths of my predecessors’ past, taking each step with a purpose that is greater than my individual achievement. I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement. We are still fighting for our rights…we are still fighting for equity.