*trigger warning: sexual assault and violence*
A memory: I am in a room of my high school with the body of a black boy grinding on top of me. He orgasms as I play dead.
It is nearing the end of the semester–finals week is approaching; the first floor of the bookstore that is used for readings is unusually full because students still need to attend an on-campus reading for class requirements. First up is a friend of mine; she reads a powerful piece commenting on class in our society. When it is my turn, I stand, at the risk of revealing the sweat stains on my seat, and position myself behind the podium. I say a few words; I swear, because my mouth is especially vulgar when I’m nervous; I inhale, then exhale snippets of my life into the mic.
In the moment I am quite shaken–I’m reading on my own sexual trauma and racially based frustrations in front of my peers–many of whom are white, male, and to their fortune, financially able to attend our university; I do not expect the words of my life to resonate with them. When I am done I realize that my story did reach people; it reached at least one young white woman who said that she had unfortunately experienced sexual assault too; and while she could relate to my experience she also acknowledged our experiences are be different because unlike her, my blackness has complicated my experiences with misogyny.
A memory: I am walking through an airport, on my way to board a plane when I spot two young black men around my age. They see the braided extensions in my hair and sneer loud enough for me to know that they hate how “fake” black women are these days.
I walk away from my first ever reading feeling good that my work was well received and that someone in the audience felt they could share something so personal with me. And while I still feel good about this reading that I only just participated in last night, I wonder how my story would have been received by the primary audience that it was intended for: black males.
A memory: I am in a club seeing both brown arms of my friend being tugged in opposite directions by two different brown masculine hands. Her hips are gripped by another set of brown hands from behind. She is almost scared that she will break.
I really can’t say how the average black male would have reacted to my story–a story in which I explain that I have personally been sexually humiliated by black men, have been made secondary under black men, and sexually assaulted by a black man. I am aware that to some, my story may seem like a rant about how I hate black men, or that it is a story to make them look bad, but the simple truth is that it’s not. I love black men. And my love for them is persistent and strong.
A memory of headlines in chronological order: [black] Woman shot and killed after rejecting [black] man’s advances at a bar // [black] Mother of Two Killed by [black] Boyfriend and His [black] Friend Because “She Would Not Submit” // [black] College Student Killed at J’ouvert Festival After Telling [black] Man to Stop Grinding On Her
Strength also has its limits.
Another truth is that I only write about things in my life that I have trouble understanding; my hope is always that some time in front of my keyboard and an empty word document will give me a little more clarity within the confusion, but sometimes I drift away from my work still ungrounded. Now I wander in the unseen rift between black men and women. My recent work is a way of me expressing that I do not understand how some black men believe that it is okay to mistreat black women, and sometimes kill black women, while simultaneously ask for much needed support from them.
Everyday I see black women turn the other cheek: I see us go out of our way to defend black men; I see us everywhere speaking up for them in the face of the insidious racism that persists on our campus. I see us leading protests in my hometown and across the country on the behalf of black men who were murdered carelessly by law enforcement. I see us sacrificing ourselves for the sake of black men even though some of us have run out of energy to fight a long time ago.
A memory: I am in the middle of a street that would normally be crowded with vehicles, but tonight is different because I am angry. I march with many others in a sea of people who scream that black lives matter. White boys from the buildings above us tell us to shut the fuck up and go home. I decide to bear it a little longer.
Black people have always needed each other, especially in times like now–when Trump’s recent election has empowered people who are racist to come out of hiding, when black children are being harassed and assaulted even more in schools, when our homes and vehicles are vandalized with messages meant to terrorize, when black people are experiencing more hate crimes than some of us have had to deal with in our whole lifetimes, we need more unity more than ever. Despite this state of emergency, sexism and misogyny divide us.
After sorting through all of the love and frustration I feel when I think of black men, the one question I have for them is this–will you start to show that you love black women and support us while we are still alive, or will you give us our flowers after it is too late?