Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Heavy Load

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? 
-Langston Hughes

I read A Raisin in the Sun today. I've been wanting to read it for a while, ever since I found out that Lorraine Hansberry, the author, was the first black woman to have a play on Broadway. Raisin made it to Broadway against all odds, though some theorize that it's because white Americans ignored the clear racial aspects of the play and instead chose to connect with the characters because "they were a typical middle class family." Because their problems and issues and feelings clearly were not influenced by their race. 

A few days ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations. I've never given reparations much thought, just assuming that they would never happen because of how much money they would cost, money that we don't have at all.

Today, a video was released of a police officer killing Alton Sterling. He was armed, but in an open carry state. Because, you know, we're American and very into guns. What we don't talk about, but black people clearly know, is that this rule isn't meant for us. When people complain about their guns being taken away, they are white. 

Black people have never been able to have guns. The law says we are allowed to. The people disagree. The people are the government. The government is this country. "We, the people." 

I'm tired of respectability. I don't aim to earn the respect of someone who believes that a black person must have a fully formed debate ready whenever we state that our lives matter. I know that my voice is just one of many, that it might not be heard at all, especially since I'm so upset. That's fine. I'll stand with Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and other teens whose voices will never be heard again. 

There is a fucking problem. It needs to be admitted. 
But that is not the only step. 

It is not simple enough for other people to just say "Black lives matter." For them to be silent on this issue. They don't even need to speak - they need to push for better laws to protect us, to put pressure on police departments. Of course, I write this having already made up my mind. I do not think things will change, not unless the police system is completely stripped down and changed. 

There is a fundamental problem. The issue is that so many institutions were founded with white people in mind, and they were never changed. In the Coates article previously mentioned, he makes several statements that resonated profoundly with me. He says that America has stacked up so many horrors, so many things done to black people, that were never acknowledged. He says it's like someone racking up debt on a credit card, then deciding not to use it, but being confused when the debt does not magically disappear.

The thing is that the debt continues to build. It grows and grows and grows. Black people can see it, but it seems as though no one else can. 

This is a heavy load that black people carry with them every day. Every single day. If you're not thinking about it, you see a cop staring at you and wonder if this could be the day that something happens. You wonder what picture of you they'll use. You'll wonder if you would've ever gotten the chance to make something of yourself.

It goes further than murder, though. Because that's what this is. Our people are slaughtered in the street. It is like Civil War "Reconstruction," like the 50s and the 60s that people think back to when they think about "real" racism toward black people. They think about strange fruit hanging from trees, the Klansmen standing in pictures and demanding that negroes leave. 

There is a petition calling for Jesse Williams to be fired from Grey's Anatomy for making his amazing speech at the BET Awards. I was called a nigger at least three times last week on Twitter for speaking about cultural appropriation. Justin Timberlake spoke down to a black man who told him to apologize for his appropriation and treatment of Janet Jackson. 

He won't acknowledge that he stole. That he stole our cornrows and our clothes and our way of speech. No, it was all his idea. It's cool, because we're "the same on the inside." But let a black person dress that way, wear cornrows, and they're ghetto. They won't get the same jobs. Timberlake can pull down Janet's costume, exposing her, and she'll be the one banned from award shows.

Black people are the ones who lose jobs, who are viewed on the same level as white people with crime records even when holding college degrees. We're the ones who get turned away after internships because of our hair, because of our manner of speech. Then the same white people take these things and deem them "cool", but only for them.

Guns are only for them. Happiness is only for them.

In Raisin, a family wants to move to a predominately white neighborhood. After closing the deal, a white man from this neighborhood offers to buy the house from them, paying even more on top of that sum. He came on behalf of his white neighbors. "You'll be happier in a colored neighborhood," he said. "You can't force people's hearts to change."

I thought about how that's still similar. How the worth of a home can go down after black people move in. How so much of the world is still segregated, specifically the major city I live close to - in Manhattan, black people live on one side of Park Avenue, where houses are falling apart and kids aren't finishing school, and white people live on the other, where there are chauffeurs and chances and hopes and dreams and happiness.

Money buys happiness. It does, really. Tell a black kid living in Flint that money wouldn't buy them happiness. Tell any black kid that, because we tend to be stuck in poverty. In apartments breaking down, like in Raisin, in places without sunshine. Here is where we should be happy. 

In Raisin, no one wants the sister to be a doctor. White people do not want us to move up, to change things. They tell us that we would be better off if we worked harder, but that's not true. We work hard just to stay in the same places. We're stuck. All because of money that was stolen from us years ago, where white people were earning money. White men were earning money they passed through their families, while black people were sharecropping, receiving faulty loans, not being eligible for programs that could've helped us.

White people were given a head start, and we were held back. Somehow, we're measured on the same scale, despite these major differences. 

In Raisin, the main male character speaks of all he wants to do. Of what he wants to give his son. Of having the freedom to pick, to fly, to soar up high. Of being able to move up the ladder, to actually live the dream that America is known for. He wants his hard work to count for something. He does not want to be stuck, nor does he want this for his son. 

I feel the same. I want to be remembered. I want to make art that people love and take in over and over again. Even more, I want security. I want money, no matter how much I'm lectured about it. I want to have enough to ensure a future for my family, for others, for myself. I want to be able to have power. I want to bypass all of the white gatekeepers who have so much power. I want to provide ways for other black people, for us to tell stories. For us to write bestselling books and win Oscars and any other things that we might think to be unbelievable. 

But then I look at the black people being killed in the street. 

I look at how things do not change. I look at how many times this happens. 

I grow tired of saying the same things. I see my brothers and sisters growing tired.

I do not want to be too tired to be rich one day, to have a production company, to make movies and plays and books. I fear that this will happen. I fear that I will die before this happens. I fear that my dreams and my goals will be stolen away from me. I fear that I'll fall into a cycle that my family has, that so many black people have, of being stuck. Of being poor, unable to move.

I'm scared of being slaughtered in the street like an animal. I'm scared of the people who are supposed to protect me. I'm scared of white people.

But even more so, more than being scared, I'm angry. 

White people steal. They steal and steal and steal. They steal our bodies and our hopes and our dreams and our chances. This is murder, it is gaslighting, it is abuse. It is outrageous. It is disgusting. It is despicable. It has to be proven, over and over again. It is ignored, because white people benefit from it. They benefit from us being down, by the system in place and built into, by living in their own worlds. 

You telling me Black Lives Matter is the bare fucking minimum. Don't act like you're doing something for me, when this is known to black people. When we say it all of the time, even when we're ridiculed and killed and torn apart. Even when we walk the streets and protest and bring this to court. Nothing is changing. 

What am I supposed to do about it? 

I suppose that I'll wait for it to explode. When riots happen, black people are called animals. They're just waiting for an excuse to dehumanize us, and they love when we act like normal people and they can use it. If these things happened to white people, there would be riots from everyone. Black people riot because we're in pain. Because we're ignored.

Because, what else are we supposed to do?



  1. You're not only the voice of your generation but you're a strong young woman of colour who I truly believe will change the world one day. I'm so very sorry about the Twitter abuse sweetheart, I'm absolutely disgusted.

    I've just been on Twitter reading responses to the #AltonSterling hashtag. How are these murderers still able to hide behind a badge and be protected by the law. How is this still allowed to happen? I can't even imagine the heartbreak and terror the community is feeling right now.

    I'm Australian and white, and I'm absolutely livid at the fucked up white, backwater culture that allows these fuckers to decide who's life is worth living.

  2. You have an amazing voice. Your words ring with truth. The argument you make here highlights why it makes no sense to compare the fortunes of black people with those of immigrant groups. We were never immigrants. The comparison of black progress to other immigrant groups is little more than another tool used by the white privileged establishment to create wedges between people of color and to camouflage their atrocities, past and the present, toward black people.

  3. As a black women living in Canada, white is matter where black people live...We can never change the system, until we can create the system! I was so moved, Im crying...this speaks for all.

  4. You are a powerful, gifted writer. Keep writing, keep speaking your truth.

  5. Everything that you've said resonates. But when will it all explode? When will everything get too much - when will it end?

    It's hard living in a world with dreams and hopes ready to pursue and being shut in and imprisoned and inhibited by everything.

    This is ridiculous. You're right, it's absolutely disgusting and it doesn't make sense - why doesn't the entire world scream?!