Grandma Tilson, I’m afraid of hell.
Ain’t nothing to fear, there’s hell on earth.
I mean the real her where you can go when you die.
You ain’t gotta die to go to the real hell.
Uh uh, you just gotta sell that silver mirror God
propped up in your soul.
Sell it to who—the devil?
Now, just to the highest bidder, child. The
Epitaph from Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills (1985)
I write to touch the untouchable spaces within myself. To make sense of the nonsensical rhetoric that decorates black reality. To sew together the holes of disappointment as I watch my people actualize the anticipated and engendered reaction by our adversaries.
As the world watched the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking trial of Derek Chauvin, Daunte Wright took his final breaths, and shortly after the Chauvin verdict, a teenaged girl, Ma’khia Bryant, was shot to death in Ohio. These murders illuminate the cyclical disenfranchisement that continues that befall us as a people. Wright and Bryant delineate a meta-narrative that the current administration desperately tries to present as a universal evil.
Daunte Wright, a twenty-year-old young man, murdered in the same city where Floyd met a similar fate, and where Derek Chauvin was on trial for the last month, was a young father murdered at a traffic stop. The soldiers of white supremacy consider Wright’s murder an “accident,” stating that the white female officer on duty meant to reach for her taser and “accidentally” shot Wright.
Claims of accidents echo in the charges brought against Chauvin– charges that underscore the “unintentionality” of his actions. The police as an institution maintain the intentionality of black death as the ultimate symbol of white terror. Furthermore, how can one be held accountable where the same charges to which they were found guilty do not even cover the totality of the inflicted error? Thus, the inferno that encases Daunte’s memory is a mythos of accountability in the “accident” aligned with this murder.
This accident, of course, has nothing to do with acts inflicted to cause Wright’s death. Instead, the word choice elucidates black murder by domestic terrorists as legally impossible. Thus, Daunte’s inferno illustrates the American legal system as creating hell on earth for the African-descended. A hell with flames so intense that just when the world tells us that we’ve forged a new path forward, we realize that we remain in the same place systemically.
So to extract, and slightly deviate, from Naylor’s epitaph, the “silver mirror” in one instance constitutes what anti-black adversaries sell the black world in the farce of justice. In this particular instance, we are to see ourselves reflected in Floyd. But you can’t see Floyd without seeing Daunte Wright, or Ma’khia Bryant, young people who died before they even got a chance to live. There is no justice when black death cannot amount to anything more than an accident.
We sell that silver mirror by giving in to the racist pressure to be grateful. Grateful for the verdict, grateful to be alive, grateful to be in America. Like Phyllis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “Twas mercy that brought me from my pagan land.” Twas’ colonialism that brought us to a space in which we continue to be colonized by nuanced means of abjection.
It is hell on earth to be continually subjected to the death of your people, to have to witness the continual assassination of Africans in America correspond to the same language as a child who wets the bed or a used to describe a fender bender on an ordinary street.
It is hell on earth to watch the younger generation be obliterated into the air that one cannot even breathe without consequence.
Anti-black assassination is NEVER an accident; it is intentional. Thus, there is no accountability without acknowledging this fact. Justice for the African in America will never be found in the law any more than success can be found in money or any western accolade. Anti-black adversaries continue to sell us a dream, to put us to sleep, to lull us into a stupor. If we say anything in contrast to the larger narrative, we are angry. We are bitter and regarded as having a chip on our shoulders and not their knees on our neck. We remain reprimanded for not showing gratitude for the gasps of air taken in a four-hundred-year chokehold.
The heat of this inferno only fractionally encapsulates the rage, the simmer that rises to a boil, the flames that burn within, not alongside, the various colors of nation.
Furthermore, when I touch untouchable with my pen, the charred parts of a communal soul seared from hell on earth become pieces of a puzzle that, once assembled, reveals a portrait that I cannot see otherwise. Only then can I see past the flames, past the indelible ways it’s marked us as a collective, and see what we should and could be. What we should and could be is not “grateful” for the assassination on our collective character by the word “accident.” It isn’t dead and celebrated or a national symbol of pseudo sacrifice.
It’s alive and purposeful, and in acknowledgment that we aren’t of the fire, we’re the flame…