I used to wonder about the line between bearing witness and hypervigilance, but in June I don’t care anymore. The trauma is ours to address. We watch the video. We can’t stop watching the news. The fight response kicks in.
After eleven weeks of isolation, I reenter the public sphere with a REPARATIONS NOW sign and handouts of words by Black poets, because a lot of this has been said before.
I try to write a poem about the pandemic and the protests with the word breathtaking as refrain, but I’m looking too hard for patterns. The pattern is Black death.
I try to figure out what violence is, and how far nonviolence can go. I wonder if looting is a form of reparations. I think money, land, and free therapy should be included at the very least. Also safety and dignity. I try to touch the contours of the collective care we’ve been derided for even imagining.
I’m trying to speak as a citizen. What did I think I was doing before? I keep the book nearby, think about Rankine’s friend’s idea of the historical self. Whoever I am, I am of them—the fifty-two percent, the Karens, the Amys. For the first three months of my life, a blonde Becky. At thirteen, the cop called me little bitch as he shone his flashlight on me in the corporate forest. I stayed alive easily.
It’s not about me. It’s on me. How am I? I’m trying to turn myself into a mirror, to reflect without absorbing. I don’t post the black square, but I don’t post anything personal or promotional, either. I make an exception for Hug Your Cat Day.
There are police on social media, too. Maybe I’m one of them. A friend asks people to think before using the word peaceful to describe protests—respectability politics shaming. The police are in us. The dismantling is out there and in here. We’re working a fractal magic: as above, so below.
So I don’t burn out, I buy charcoal and a citronella candle. I buy basting brushes. I learn to make barbecue sauce. A sort of grounding ritual, but my mind stays elsewhere. Ketchup, apple cider vinegar, honey, garlic, brown sugar, lemon, salt, pepper. Knees, fires, necks, tear gas, broken glass, rubber bullets, SUVs, bridges, freeways.
What you resist persists. What you repress rears up. America attempts to integrate its shadow. Hey, it’s a free country.
The sun goes down on another weekend of protests, and this time peaceful means the police stayed back. I text my organizer friend to ask if anyone’s working on a Black New Deal.
Where did you ring in the new year, when you didn’t believe any of this could happen. More brutal and hopeful than you’d let yourself imagine.