Much thought has been placed onto the black bodies that populate death row, who proceed each day knowing when they will die. These so called criminals are thought to bear the ultimate punishment for grisly crimes, despite being the victims of the greatest crime to affect civilization–racism.
I have thought extensively about what to say to someone in death row, but also about what to say to those on an informal death row. Those beaten down by life so severely they find it easier to stay down. Those haunted by poor choices that were not really choices but chosen for the oppressed by the oppressor. Those whom a bad day turned into a bad month, which turned into a bad year, which translated into a life troubled by means determined far before their birth.
Oppression is like a cancer. Early diagnosis increases the opportunity of recovery, whereas a late diagnosis often leaves one with only weeks to live. Those not diagnosed at all will experience a death that seems quick to the external gaze, but is long and torturous to the internal sufferer.
What do you say to this dying man or woman?
What words can you find that aren’t a selfish plea for life to appease your conscious and the sentiments you’ve been nurtured to perceive as human? What can you say to lift a bird who does not want to fly?
How can we extinguish an external force that breeds an internal problem? How do you try to get someone to smile on the outside when the blood running through their veins is iced over with heartache? How do you save someone from a blaze they started with the sticks of their own oppression?
How can you love he or she who can’t love life, or love you, because they don’t want to live? How can you convince a body limp with defeat to float when they refuse to swim?
In times of despair, we have laid on death’s doorsteps. We all have not knocked on it’s door.
I’ve shopped, watched prime time television, read, fell in love, complained, cried, and even gotten degrees while others have pounded on death’s door pleading for entry–waiting and waiting to no avail. Until they do, and we’re all sorry and bruised and yet ignorantly dissonant to how our own behavior was the background to a collective tragedy conveniently forgotten in moments of personal bliss.
But how can we extinguish an external epidemic that causes black bodies to bleed internally? How do you hold a mirror to a black face and try to get its heart, withered by an oppressive ideology, to love what it sees? How do you try to get someone to smile on the outside when the blood running through their veins is iced over with heartache? How do you save someone from a blaze they started with the sticks handed to them in a dire state of disenfranchisement? How do you wish for life on the same stars others wish for death?
How can you convince a body limp with defeat to float since they refuse to swim?
What do we say to our dying brethren?
Most do not say anything at all. Instead most issue him or her the same silence that the world showed them. Except our collective dismissal is typically not in cruelty but of cruelty. We not know what to say so we say nothing, just as so many don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.
In hindsight, it becomes obvious that to do or say nothing is the worst thing to possibly do, yet we continue to do it in the same rhythm as those on death row proceed to the death chamber as if passing through a revolving door.
In mulling over the desolate dark body, I see the abducted black bodies that hopped off slave ships and swam to what many attribute to their deaths—but I suppose they saw it as swimming to life—away from the living death that lie ahead.
To strive for death is to strive for predictability, to exhibit control over a life seized by mental and physical colonialism.
Some will say that we are all dying, walking, some faster than others, to our plot in the ground. While this perspective is understandable, I see things a little differently.
Death is a construct implemented to make sense of something that does not make sense until an individual’s moment of transition. Collectively, we are on a journey to life. Life is never ending and death is a bridge that carries the soul from one experience to another.
n considering the broken spirit that often encompasses the black body, it seems the best thing we can do is live. To not forget their names when things have turned around for us. To remember their smiles and struggles should you graduate from overt racism but become encompassed with a more covert wrath. To feel the coldness of their despair in the heat of your life.
To the black man or woman on an informal or formal death row—know your spirit is un-killable. For, what is truly living can never die, and as a collective we are alive.
We should have done better. We should have called more, loved more, and listened more. It seems there are always those in need of more care, more love, and more time but we are seduced into thinking we have the shortest stick of all.
We will all fight the urge to be sad when we hear the news, not because we couldn’t or didn’t see it coming but because we are trained to cry over a dead body, not consider its journey. But sadness is selfish, and life is non-stop.
If we cry, let it be because the death of our own kinfolk, touched us far more than their lives did. If we cry, let it be because our brethren in their transitioned state, resonate more deeply than when they sat beside us on the train or at a family reunion.
May their memory be catalogued in our minds, and welcomed in our dreams.
So what do I say to a dying man or woman?
I say, I see you in the sun and feel you in the breeze, and I promise to smile when I see your silhouette among the stars.
Black Power ❤
Author’s Note: I know this piece may seem vague to some. This vagueness is intentional to encompass a collective emotion. I am hopeful that this piece speaks to someone. ❤