“Always Female, Always Black, Ever Dangerous”
Crystal Williams—Trajectory of Heartbreak: A Contemplation on Racial Terror
Preface: My understanding that my life isn’t perceived to be as important as white people’s lives is a late development. This late-blooming is the result of where I grew up & the fact of my parents, my Black father & white mother, who loved me, as all children should be adored, beyond measure. It is the result of my experience that a white woman did, could, & ever would love me. I inferred what is possible, an ideal for family, a beloved community, grabbed it & held on, tightly & for as long as possible.
The power of love is that it casts shadows on fear—makes it small & feeble.
Love is not insurmountable.
Here is the trajectory of heartbreak: At 1 year old, I knew love. At 10 years old, love & small cautions, the beginnings of otherness: small slights—white hands in my hair at camp, a Saks saleswoman’s accusatory eyes, nasty words—just perceptible enough for me to grab & pack away in a little bag; not sure what I was toting, but knowing it was something to heed. By 15, love & cautions & inaudible questions; an exchange for a bigger bag. At 20, love, caution, questions, & a burgeoning, vague sense that I lived in two bodies/two realities—one treasured & one nameless & imprinted with others’ hopeless imaginings—but always female, always Black, ever dangerous. At 30, vagueness crystalized, although it had not yet calcified. By then, I had language for it & words like racism & justice wet my mouth, balled my fist. At 40, calcification. Too many slights & flashes of disrespect & dishonor. Listen, I wanted to scream, I am not stealing in your store. I am not going to hit you because we disagree. I am only Black, not felonious. I am Black, and yes, do belong in this room/this meeting/this building/this place. I am Black, and I am smart, and I am educated and lucky, and that is why I have what I have. Daily? Yes. From others? Yes. From you? Yes. Yes. By then, the bag was heavy as a moon, an anvil, an anchor. Now, just days away from 50, I understand & see. These daily accumulations don’t cost my life as they have my brethren, I am not foolish enough to claim that. But they have cost a kind of life. & a kind of love. & a kind of joy. I am ever thankful, hourly, for my parents. If not that love, then at 50, I can’t tell you what I would be other than a bearer of a bag full of bones.
When another of my family is shot in the back or choked or gunned down in prayer, I avert my eyes. I cannot watch the carnage, the disgrace—not if I want to stay upright. So, although I am areligious, I pray, turn my gaze to the sea, if near it. So many of my ancestors’ bones are there. If I am land-bound, I pray to the other ancestors who toiled on this land; who made freedom quilts on this land; who embedded escape routes in songs & reached for freedom on this land; who fought for citizenship; who organized & marched; who stood in the breach against water guns, dogs, vitriol & fire & gunfire. I pray to my ancestors who, despite this, made music, made love, learned, forgot, forgave, stood, & raised our family. I pray to them to hold our beloved safe now & to balm Breonna’s wounds with salve. I ask them to help me hold our beloveds in my heart for my remaining days. That, too, is what I am carrying. In this way, I am a war & at war, two sides fighting—fury & pain/love & hope. I will be 50 in another moon. 50, & lugging a bag not of my making. In it are echoes, love songs that sound like Amadou, Arthur, Charleena, Cassandra, Breonna, Deborah, Eula, Eric, Philando, India, Samuel, Freddie, Mya, Janisha, Natasha, Dante, Danette, Michael, Yvette, Jordan, George, Kyam, Kayla. Rekia, Kiwane, Wendell, Kenneth, Mary, Malcolm, Mary, Ousmane, Sean, Shem, Tarika, Tyisha, Tamir, Trayvon, LaTanya.
I want to put the bag down.
I want you to carry the bag now. If it is of your making, your violences, you should carry it. No?
Sometimes, when another of my family, our family is murdered, I also pray to my mother. I say: Momma, please can you go see about them? Because she was good like that. Because she loved like that.
Do you love like that? What do you carry? To whom or what do you pray? And whose name do you call? Whose songs do you sing?