Not completely away, if I’m honest.
But far enough that, if I look with my spiritual eye — the one that can hardly see with because of older age and a bunch of other things — I can take that breath that lets me decide to look away.
I’ve spent too much time looking too deeply into what being American actually means. And it broke a bunch of things in me. Some expectations gentled during President Obama’s time in office. Although even those softer Obama-era hopes were bound about with nascent fear that America, being America, wouldn’t let him and his lovely family survive the experience. Do I have the Secret Service to thank? I would guess so.
Anyway, being a Black American woman can be such a boon, such a gift to my life on this earth. I mean, our legacy is unmistakable, epic, formidable.
But our present also reflects our past in sometimes being horrific, epically unfair, filled with aggression at every scale, and all just for being ourselves. No excuse for this treatment matters. Those who try to excuse it are just making it worse. I suspect they know that and revel in it.
At some point, I had to step back. Not away from being a Black American woman, because why would I refuse such a hard-won gift? But away from the waterfall of bullshit that surrounds being my natural self.
I was scrolling through my news aggregator, and found this 2013 article about baby boomer suicides. Sad stories. Then this sentence leaped out:
African Americans and Hispanics tend to have lower rates of suicide than whites, possibly because of stronger community connections, or because of different expectations.
Mercy mercy me.
Now, I bet there’s truth to that. Community connections can take on a variety of forms. Anybody who grew up in the segregated version of the American church knows that, for the most part, Black folks worship in a very different way. We bonded together because White society offered no other choice and backed up that lack of choice with every pattern of violence. And that church habit continues because I guess lots of folks feel that being religious is a good thing (it’s not for me, but I think I understand the impulse).
Then there’s the gigantic idea of expectation. Groups of Americans who’ve been badly treated for centuries have realistic expectations of the treatment America is prepared to provide. Never mind the treatment America will own up to.
My prescription, in these internet days, includes actual prescriptions, coffee, music to listen to and music to make, re-reading the classics: Samuel Delaney’s ’Tales of Neveryon’, Ursula LeGuin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, Octavia Butler’s ‘Wild Seed’, Toni Morrison’s ‘The Song of Solomon’ and so many others.
Binging and re-binging Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Good Omens’ series is part of my modern self-care. When Eve and Adam take their place as a dark-skinned couple navigating the first journey, I smile every time. I enjoy the mature, subtle delight the outwardly male angels take in each other.
Last but never least: it is my great good fortune that my loved and liked ones are a diverse lot. My family and my family of choice bring me so much joy and support, in part because they are so diverse they complement each other like a sublime tapestry filed with all the colors.
I guess I’m supposed to have some advice here. But first, let us note, for the record, why Ms. Morrison laughs:
One day, when she was about 2, her parents fell behind with the $4-a-month rent, so the landlord set fire to the house. While they were in it.
“It was this hysterical, out-of-the-ordinary, bizarre form of evil,” she says. “If you internalized it you’d be truly and thoroughly depressed because that’s how much your life meant. For $4 a month somebody would just burn you to a crisp.
“So what you did instead was laugh at him, at the absurdity, at the monumental crudeness of it. That way you gave back yourself to yourself. You know what I mean? You distanced yourself from the implications of the act.
“That’s what laughter does. You take it back. You take your life back. You take your integrity back.”
If you have loved ones, love them and let them know that, if they let you. Whether you have loved ones or not, find folks in need, and help them where you can (please be respectful! sometimes help from afar is a better choice).
If you have been consuming lots of things most of your life, see if balancing that with making things takes your spirit into a place of delight and healing. That’s what I’m doing.
I have no idea how America is going to emerge from this period of White society learning about consequences. It would be great to see more deep listening and acknowledgment. It would be great to see more acting on what you hear from the rest of us, and evaluating it based on empathy and common sense, not the banality of ‘well, actually’ or that marker of historical ignorance, ‘well my life isn’t great either’, or that admission of ignorance of the science of trauma, ‘well you didn’t suffer from that, and I didn’t do it’.
It would be satisfying and surprising to see America take this slow-rolling conservative train wreck, which you’ve been ignoring warnings about from the start, to wrench it from the brink and turn our deeply dopey country into something truly great.