Tonight, I Can Write the Saddest Lines (after Neruda)

IMG_2163I’m thousands of miles away from home but, in certain moments, the distance feels like nothing at all. For the third time in less than a month, I’ve woken up away from home to the news of violence against my communities. Black. Queer. Killed for being us. Over and over again. The endless news of the seemingly endless horrors slashing through the Black and LQBTQIA communities freezes my blood, freezes my thoughts, freezes me. The day after the Alton Sterling killing, hours after the Philando Castile execution, I couldn’t do anything but stare into space, my thoughts spinning in useless, mournful circles while my head throbbed with pain. After watching news stories and reading the articles with accompanying comments, I had to finally leave all forms of media alone. It’s horrific that these terrors happen day after day after day. And when I read how people justify and explain away these cops’ actions and tell the many ways why these police and these systems are not to blame for telling us we cannot play, love, or breathe, I tremble at the very long road ahead.

My travel partner and I talked last night while watching the setting sun spread its brilliant cloak over a small inlet in Croatia. The approaching night was already beautiful. We’d just shared a good meal and were full of warm cherry brandy, our limbs pleasantly exhausted from swimming most of the afternoon and lazing on the sun deck of the small boat that had been taking us on a leisurely tour of the Dalmatian islands. But this distance is nothing.

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All day, thoughts of the Orlando massacre and police killings and the general inhumanity of humanity had been simmering inside me. My head pulsed with sadness. The conversation between my friend and I wandered from theories of why these things happen to what societal underpinnings and beliefs need to be dismantled to stop these hate and fear crimes from being issues to deal with in the year 2116 or 2216. We asked each other, “What can we do now?”

During the course of the conversation, my friend mentioned that these types of injustices can and have happened to any ethnic/religious minority in the United States. She gave the example of the Japanese being rounded up in internment camps after Pearl Harbor. I disagreed. Just like when 911 happened, the anger of many in the nation turned to Muslims; this anger killed people and destroyed the property of years’ long neighbors and members of the community. And I told my friend that the anger was directed at people who had, in the mind of certain Americans, dared to attack America. These acts of violence were in imagined retribution. Payment for a crime. Attacks in a war.

An African country has never attacked America. Factions within the Black American community have never risen up and struck out at the country. We were brought here under slavery and have never been perceived to attack the United States. So, no. Not every ethnicity is treated or has the capacity to be treated the way Black Americans are in the United States.

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But maybe I was wrong. Maybe daring to survive the atrocities perpetuated against our languages, cultures, and our lives, daring to demand freedom, equal rights, the right to simply live were our attacks against what it means to be American (make America great again?). Maybe there has been a war all along and I have been too blind/naïve/sheltered to realize it.

I’m sitting with these thoughts still. Turning over in my head the events of the past few days, weeks, months, years, decades. But I’m beginning to melt from my deep freeze. Yes, there is still the question, “What can we do now?” But the answer is and should always be, “Something.”

**Links to do something:

26 Ways to be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets – https://issuu.com/nlc.sf.2014/docs/beyondthestreets_final/1

Waking up White: A Resource for White Folks – http://bit.ly/29SMVXw

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2 thoughts on “Tonight, I Can Write the Saddest Lines (after Neruda)

  1. I hear what you’re saying and very much appreciate what you wrote. But I’m wondering whether it matters whether the intent is imagined retribution or just pure hate/fear/etc. Either way, we know that Black Americans live in a society that is dangerous to them. Imagined retribution or the idea that attackers are somehow fighting an imaginary war, seems to imply there is a reason for their violence, however warped. When in fact we know that the hatred and violence perpetrated towards the “other” is unacceptable no matter what.

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