body

Jim Young/Reuters
Jim Young/Reuters

I was reading Ta-Nehisi’s essay on Bill Cosby a few days ago and noticed he made a claim not once, but twice: “Rape constitutes the loss of your body, which is all you are, to someone else” and “(t)he worst part for me was not the experience, but the humiliation of being unable to protect my body, which is all I am, from predators.”

Yes. My body, which is all I am. I like that.

This is probably going to be a messy read: I write, but I’m not a writer; I think, but I’m no philosopher; I’m not even sure these days if I’m an artist or if I will ever be the teacher I was two years ago. But there is something I do well, and that is take care of my myself, my Black female body. It’s an act of vanity, it’s a political act of defiance, it’s an act of love.

Because in a world where bodies mean as much – often to our peril – as mine and those of my male relatives and friends do, I don’t take ‘body’ lightly.

I once taught a boy who I think of every time Trayvon Martin’s face is flashed in the media. There were band boys at Deerfield who are DEAD-RINGERS for Michael Brown. When I first met Jason back in DC in the late 90s, we talked about his life growing up in LA, and, inevitably, our conversation turned to Ennis Cosby’s murder. The parallels – in appearance, in background, in habit – were too close for my comfort; I felt like Jason’s hometown had it out for him. Now, it is spectacularly clear to me that his homeland, this culture, has it out for us.

Stephon and Jason, I prize them as friends for their kindness, their wit, their bravery, their loyalty, and their unstoppable beauty. And when they are away from me, I worry about their safety because there is no ‘right’ place for them to be, maybe a basketball court or a football field or a rap video. In any case, when lethal force comes for a Black man, he is always in the ‘wrong’ place at the wrong time doing something wrong (bachelor parties are out and so is riding the metro).

Two Black friends of mine had baby boys this year. And luckily for the babies, at least for now, they’re light enough in color to pass for white. That’s sick to say, but I don’t want my friends’ sons shot in a stairwell or on a playground. Of course, proximity to whiteness is no promise of protection. On the other hand, I harbor hopes of passing my own favorite physical features – my strong legs, my mass of hair, my skin that warms to a deep brown in the sun – to my children (perhaps to their peril…)

The shooter ALWAYS has a reason/excuse; the victim is always dead.

It’s really black and white, isn’t it?
There is no security of body for Black people in this culture. Period. Point blank.

(And accountability for killing a Black man? Eh.)

Every morsel of food I eat, every mile I run, every video and photograph I make of myself is me reveling in, loving my body that this culture loves to hate. In loving my body thus, I’ve learned to think… feel, and see… additional ways of being. Every Black child I smile at and nurture and mentor is one more Black child who has one more person who cares for them unconditionally when everything – absolutely, unequivocally everything – in this culture is out to annihilate Blackness. And, in caring for our children thus, I’ve learned…

Love isn’t enough.

Now, I’m no looter, but I’m no turn-the-other-cheek Christian. Yet, I’m not an atheist, either;
Black oppression exists beyond the grace of god. And for that… Only time will tell.