How am I doing? How are YOU doing? ARE we doing?
Contentious questions for a contentious time.
I am the artsy, pro-aesthetic type of writer. I like to put pictures of cats and food on my Instagram. I like to make bad puns on my Twitter. I like to watch silly comedies on Netflix. I like to explore neighborhood coffee shops, listen to the music Pitchfork tells me to like, read niche non-fiction, start political conversations at bars. I like the way people who love me feel. I like their warmth. I like the way they smell. I like to smell like lavender for them.
I like to laugh. With my full belly. To share giggles with beautiful, kind people, people who have now taken to the streets to be shot at and beaten by police and National Guards-people.
I write this from the living room of my mother’s house in rural Wisconsin, an hour away from a city on fire. The city where police murdered George Floyd on the street. In broad daylight. On video.
There were four officers involved. One crushed the life out of Mr. Floyd for almost nine minutes while the other three watched. And did nothing. As Mr. Floyd and the traumatized onlookers begged for the life of another Black person in America.
I turn off the news only before I sleep. Social media provides me a network of organizers, activists, intellectuals, and reporters ever willing to share their part of this movement with everyone who will listen. I have my personal network of people I love risking their lives, under threat of this police state, of white anarchists, of white supremacists armed with assault rifles roaming the streets at night, oftentimes decked out in full KKK robes.
My loved ones live in a city abandoned by the people who promised to protect it. My loved ones pay the salaries of domestic terrorists who have criminalized their struggles and marginalization.
But my loved ones are resilient. Minneapolis is resilient. Black communities are resilient. Anti-racism is resilient. All throughout the country, I am reading of my loved ones taking back their cities, their neighborhoods, their communities. In Minneapolis, my loved ones have, in what seemed like just a moment, provided shelter, food, protection, medicine, and, ultimately, hope to people standing in opposition to white supremacy with hardly any aid from their local, state, or federal government (they have, hilariously, booed their mayor out the city). And while I do not know how sustainable this will be, it gives me that same hope to imagine the possibilities of a community without violent institutions ruling over them, a community whose needs are supported by the leaders they elect instead of unemployed college students and marginalized-yet-resilient community organizers as they are now.
As writers, I believe we thrive in times of peace. We bring joy, share stories, and create a vivacity that a society informed by oral traditions and myths feeds upon. Oftentimes, we receive very little in return for our work. But that’s not why we do it.
In times of multiple once-in-a-generation crises amalgamating before our eyes, we do not thrive. We suffer. We are empathetic creatures by nature, and we feel the pains of our people. But in these crises, our work remains just as vital. To compare the pen to the sword in a futile endeavor, for all systems of oppression are upheld as much by force as they are by propaganda.
I am thinking about the stories I’ve written. I’m thinking about the stories I’ve read. All writing is necessarily rhetorical, and all stories serve something, either explicitly or by omission.
But this is not enough. These are not new thoughts for me. The world burned in a different way when all we did was think.
As I said, I am an hour and a world away from Minneapolis, having moved out of the city as the pandemic began to take hold. Part of me wishes I was out on the streets alongside my loved ones. If I still lived in the cities, I likely would be.
But my loved ones have told me to stay away. They are well organized without more starving artists crowding their ranks, searching for a beat. They are better organized than entire states and countries. So I watch from afar in constant anxiety, waiting and half-hoping to be called upon.
And I write. As much as possible. I can hardly call myself an expert in anything, but I am studied in politics, in economics, and in the history and historiography of this movement. Many of my friends are only beginning their anti-racist work, and while mine is hardly mature itself, I know that I am ahead of them, that I have something of value to share even while I continue to learn.
The stories we tell now and for duration of this uprising will come to shape the world after it, however successful this revolution may be. I alone am not qualified to represent the narratives of the movement; it would be a terrifying world to live in if that were the case.
But still, this is what I do best. Or at least, it is what I have been called to do by my loved ones. And until the spirit of revolution which now hangs in the air risks drowning in tear gas and bullets, until my loved ones need my physical being, this is how I am. And I am.