Exhibit A, Blending: Salvaged from the corpse of its own mother, a tiger cub will suckle alongside piglets. Mother is a white-lashed, soft sow until the cub sheds its milk teeth and discovers for what it was gifted claws and teeth. When you believe you are the same until you are shown otherwise, that is blending.
When I was very small, I spent my summers feral in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with my grandmother. She lived in a shack in the woods. She had a cat and a wood stove. She had blue eyes and schizophrenic tendencies and a brown granddaughter, and she loved me and taught me to write my name in the sand by a lake.
One summer, the county sheriff came to her home and offered his services and the services of the town to relieve her of the “coon baby” who spent summers with her. He hung around. He brought his gun. He repeated his offer. She was happy with her small shelter and her small, sheltered life, and she left it behind and never went back, not for the cat, not for her walking stick, not for my finger paintings. She fled the state.
Exhibit B, Trauma: Scholars write about Trojan soldiers who died, years after their city collapsed into ashes, with their eyes fixed on Troy, still blazing in their minds. For the survivors, Troy is always burning. Even now, centuries past antiquity, in modernity, in my bedroom, at night, when my partner flinches in his sleep and dreams of war, men are drowning, and Astyanax is being thrown from a tower. When the worst imaginable thing the human body and mind can endure latches to your soul, that is trauma.
I have been called an animal. I have been asked to leave people’s homes, to leave people’s towns, to be less Black, to be more patient. This week, there are fewer people in my life than there were before the public executions in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights because my grief is ugly and every graphic video is a link in a chain, and that chain has never loosened from the throats of Black Americans. I will not apologize for having claws and teeth, and my grief is ugly and I don’t care if you are afraid of it.
You are asking us not to be afraid so that you don’t have to look at our trauma and our Blackness, but our fear for our lives matters more than your feelings. Our fear is born into this world with us. We wear it under our clothes and it leaks out when we are shot in the back, in the chest. It stains floors when we die on the streets and in the backs of cop cars. It leaks into the air and there are ghosts built from grief and fear and they are everywhere.
Is that what you’re afraid of?
Give your fear a name. Call it “all lives matter,” call it “discrimination,” call it “violence begets violence,” call it your opinion. Do you know that your fear has my face? Do you know that your fear has a broad nose? Do you know that your fear has a slick, smooth surface and when you show me your fear, when you say “all lives matter,” when you say “violence begets violence,” you are showing me my Blackness?
Exhibit 1C, Routine: Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Phillip White, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, Trayvon Martin, Tanisha Anderson, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Natasha McKenna, Alva Brazie. This is routine.
Exhibit 2C, Routine: What comes first: family photos or criminal records? Who does the second amendment protect? What is racial profiling? Whose names are released first? Who goes on paid leave? Why do body cameras malfunction? What do white judges do to Black first-time offenders? In what context do we use the word “ghetto”? This is routine.
I will not be culled by fear. I know myself. I know my ugly grief. I know that culling means to reduce a population by selective slaughter and culling is the process of segregating organisms from a group according to a set of desired or undesired characteristics. America is being culled, and the sheriff called me a coon baby, and Philando Castile had a broad nose, and culling means to send an inferior animal to slaughter. There is blood on the sidewalk and there is blood on the internet and there are videos of people being culled because they are Black, and your fear pales in comparison to the trauma of seeing my Blackness bleed out on a sidewalk.
Your fear is small compared to the fear of knowing that it does not matter what I do with the life that I have or how good or how careful I am or how clearly and calmly I say I am reaching into my pocket for identification. I was born into a world with a body that cannot keep me safe. I was born into a world where I am less.
It doesn’t matter how good or how careful you are with your fear. If you are afraid of my Blackness and my ugly grief, if you believe that your fear is an opinion, then that opinion is the equivalent of telling me to make my grief smaller, and you are asking Black Americans to die quietly. Softly.