Week 14, or A Little Quiet

I’ve been a little…quiet.

For those who know me (well, let’s say, have been around me), the silence can be misconstrued. Contrary to popular belief, I can shut up, I can sit down, and I can dial my energy down to ‘dim.’

Usually if I’m quiet, it probably means either 1. I don’t care/just existing, 2. I’m mad, or 3. I’m thinking and absorbing…and observing.

I’d say a good 70% of the time, it’s that third type of quiet and that’s where I’ve been existing the last few days.

You see, I’ve gotten curious to know what I can discover if I just…hush. Like, when I went to UVA this past weekend and I sat at a table next to these two boys discussing Trump Victorious. I pretended not to hear, and they only held their voices down for a moment, before they realized I wasn’t going to intervene, then they got louder.

I’ve been a little…quiet. And a little less present. And I’m just taking note of who has remarked on my absence and why…particularly, why. There’s good intentions, and then there’s good intentions that quickly veer into ‘let’s make her into our representative Black voice.’

I belong to no one but myself and God; so instead, I’ve just existed…quietly, and observed.

I’ve been present and yet invisible, with less commentary than usual, but with more vigilance at the same time.

So I’ve just been soaking in the stances, observing how the fear of uncertainty manifests itself. How quickly it turns to a dismissal of white people all together. I understand the position, but I’m not willing to let righteous anger drive me to say things I may not mean. Or let it drive me to say things I do.

I’ve just been a little…quiet. Haven’t even leaned on my usual support system. The unfortunate truth of the matter is, I’m learning, at the most inconvenient time, who I can rely on.

So I’ve been quiet and reconsidering.

I’m not willing to sound afraid, or anxious, or angry, so instead my body absorbs those feelings. I haven’t slept or eaten well in a while. My shoulders ache, my head throbs. While my mouth is shut, my body is screaming.

My nervous energy always turns itself into productivity. Pages write themselves. Pages are read. It’s almost like I had nothing to do with it at all.

Finding sanctuary among the people who speak my language, who turn rage into art and that ache in your chest into words, and the family who has always loved me calms my body. But even with them, I’m quiet. I’m thinking. I’m processing.

I’m listening.

I’ve found myself listening to the pulse of a country screaming because the wrong person has touched the right, raw, unhealed wound.

So, I’ve just been a little quiet.

And if you’ve heard America recently, you would be, too.

Week 13.5, or Soldiers Forged In Fire

The white cloaked figures stood a half dozen deep in front of the red brick church I was attempting to enter. One stepped forward and grabbed my wrist with a pinkish pale hand sprinkled with prickly blond hair. The hand jerked my arm and I gasped in shock and panic, but before I could blink, I was in front of Trump Tower. Screens surrounded me on the sides and tops of sky scrapers, and I watched with disbelief as the bodies of Black men hung by ropes, rotating ever so slightly, bodies alight with the flash of phone cameras as white Trump supporters celebrated the President Elect with human sacrifice. Just as someone approached the bodies with a Bic lighter pulled from a pocket filled with unmarked ballots, I decided to look down and noticed on my wrist a smudge of black that was not my skin. Seven numbers followed by the letter B were stamped across my wrist, the wrist I had once considered marking myself with the words of Audre Lorde, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”

I jerked awake and realized that I had dreamt this on the night before the election, the night before Decision 2016.

I was jumpy and nervous all day. I was registered to vote in my hometown, which despite the inconvenience of having to drive an hour to perform my civic duty, reassured me. My father, a big man who stood 6’3 and drove a Range Rover, would accompany me to the polls in the afternoon.

My entire family went together to the polls, which for us was housed in a Baptist Church which stood at the corner of one of the entrances to our neighborhood. It was manned by severe, but kind, old ladies who had likely spent their youth in churches just like that one fighting so that I might pass easily through, cast my vote, and leave unharmed.

In spite of that, I still shook as I waited to hand the pollster my identification, afraid that some unknown thing would swoop down and bar me from my right.

Pennsylvania began to turn red and my mind began to go blank.

I only spoke to one friend as the results began to come in. I sat in my parents’ living room with the news muted, my computer screen split as I typed out the beginnings of an essay– the other half displaying the election results which were refreshed every thirty seconds. Every now and then, I would pick up my phone, give my friend an update. She wouldn’t watch. She couldn’t watch. I couldn’t stop. She believed that denial would stop her chest from caving in; I believed that the truth would douse the pain in mine.

When Pennsylvania began to turn red, I shut down my laptop, put away my phone and went to bed.

At six AM, my father’s alarm went off. I was already awake, staring at my ceiling. I slid out of the bed and crept into my parents’ room, like I used as a child when I had been awoken by a bad dream. My father woke so quickly at the sound of my unusually small, broken voice, that I knew he had not been asleep.

“Daddy. Trump won.”

“I know.”


We talked all morning. My eyes were raw, my faith shaken, my humanity invalidated.

Yet,  at quarter to 8 found me in my car, dressed, my books packed, and my obliviously happy dog riding shot gun into the sunrise. Despite my initial decision to “Call in Black,” I found my spine to be made of steel, and my head unbowed. I would go and learn today, because my ancestors did not fight for me to hide.

I managed to uncover a truth in the restless hours since I dreamt of an America I didn’t know, since I have lived in an America I haven’t yet truly met. Like a person, you may live in a country and never truly know its heart, its inner most thoughts, and fears. You may walk its streets every day and turn your head at the atrocities. You may never truly know what a country is capable of.

But more importantly, I discovered something about me. Ever since I discovered Angela Davis as an 8 year old, I had always wondered what I would be capable of in the face of adversity, but those questions were hypothetical. This morning, I had to ask myself the same question I had often asked myself in the moments before sleep, “Who am I going to be?”

My parents instilled in me a belief that God would not hand me anything I could not handle. God would not create a circumstance that we could not overcome. Though I may not have asked to be a soldier, though I may not have wanted to be a soldier, God chose me. God chose us. God chose this generation. He chose those who walk this Earth today. He believes that this collection of people will find a way to come together and overcome. They will be soldiers of good will, courage and hope.

These circumstances will make Martins, Malcolms, Stokelys, Angelas, and Johns out of my generation.

We will be soldiers forged in fire.

I will be a soldier forged in fire.

Legally Black: On Law School and How it Feels to Be a Problem

Note from the editor: This post is the first in a series featuring the experiences of black girls doing grad school across various disciplines. 

“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, how does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town…or, do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

 

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,–peculiar even for one who has never been anything else….”

–W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

 

How does it feel to be a problem? I started law school on August 24, 2016 and in each of the 63 days since then, I have been confronted with this question in one form or another. It’s in the way that I am simultaneously the most visible and invisible I’ve ever been. It’s in the way a white man turns to me to ask me to clarify something the professor said and then in the middle of my explanation, finding it inadequate, he turns instead to two other white men to get the answer because there’s no way I could know. It’s in the way that when discussing the readings or the lecture in a group, I am almost certainly interrupted each time I open my mouth. It’s in the way that someone makes a joke about “house slaves” while we’re talking about a school-wide auction. It’s in the way that everyone shifts uncomfortably in their seats when the 13th amendment comes up. Or the way that your professor casually throws out the term “Nigerian scammers” to illustrate a point about contract law. It’s in the way that when you read the cases, you, and people who look like you, are either absent or construed as deviant misfits, incapable of following the law and unworthy of its protection. How does it feel to be a problem?

It’s in the way that a professor completely avoids talking about an affirmative action case although we’ve talked at length about all of the other cases and instead, to demonstrate the concept, he shares an anecdote from his time at a firm. It’s in the way that after a discussion on Stand Your Ground Laws, someone thinks it appropriate to ask the question “But what if statistics were to show that Black people really do commit more crimes and are more dangerous, then fear of them would be founded right? (Read: Black people are decidedly more dangerous and criminal than others and therefore them dying at the hands of vigilante justice or state sanctioned violence is justified). It’s in the way that in an environment that prides itself on collegiality, I’m afraid to say “Hey! My colleagues are hurting me and I really don’t think they’re trying to be my colleagues at all and some of them kind of suck as people.”

How does it feel to be a problem? As I wrestle with this question, I wrestle with myself. I wrestle often and in silence. I shrink. I hide myself. I have moments where I feel less than (I get over those quickly though; Mom and Dad didn’t raise no fool). I find myself trying to be “less.” Less vocal. Less woman.  Less hurt. Less loud. Less real. Less Black. Less…me.  And that, my friends, is a mistake of monumental proportions. Because the world, and certainly the legal profession, needs less people who struggle to see the humanity in Black life and more people like me. I thought by exercising silence in the face of not-so-micro-aggressions, I was practicing, preparing myself for what life as a Black woman in the legal profession would be. I was content to “get used to it.” I was content to let myself be turned into a white man. So often as people of color, we believe the only way to get where we’re going is to appeal to white sensibilities. We call this “playing the game.” But sometimes I think that we’ve forgotten it’s a game. Sometimes I think it stops being a game and becomes the accepted way of life. We begin to believe that there is no power, no success, and no value in being just who we are. And that’s scary. Because by believing and continuing to act as though the only power worth having is without, we render ourselves impotent, forfeiting the power within. I’m gonna get  a little gospel here for a second but when God has prepared a seat at the table for you…He didn’t prepare that seat for who you try to be or who other people want or expect you to be. He’s called you to that place and that time to be just who you are and just who He made you to be.

With this in mind, I turn my thoughts toward a new inquiry: How does it feel to be a solution? I ask this recognizing that I am both problem and solution, existing all in one. See…Harriet Tubman was a problem. Ida B. Wells was a problem. Fannie Lou Hamer? Problem. Ella Baker? Problem. Marcus, Martin, Malcolm? Problem, problem, problem. Each of them and certainly the names of the many, many, many other Black people who refused to “get used to things,” were seen as problems by a society who desperately wanted them to be complacent and accept the status quo. Instead each of these individuals and the many faceless people behind racial progress in this nation, insisted on being a “problem.” Despite all that it cost them, they understood that the cost of complacency was far greater.

Because of them, I can. We can. When Martin had a dream, he didn’t have it for himself, he had it for his children and their children and their children. Now, I’m certainly no Martin (my policy on nonviolence: he who throwest the hands may also catcheth the hands…God is still working on me though), but I do have to hold on the hope that my dream and my presence in a space that was never intended for me, will make it easier for my children and their children and their children. Make no mistake, we are in perilous times in this country. We are living in a time when people are desperately trying to cling on to the “great American past” (Read: the time before Black people and women were recognized as full human beings…although sometimes its questionable if we even think that now but…I digress). This desperation has expressed itself in dangerous and frightening ways. There are days when I feel utterly hopeless about the state of race relations in this country (a lot of days in fact). But we cannot afford to be hopeless. We cannot afford to be silent.

We cannot afford to be complacent.


About the author:

Kelsey. First year law student at the University of Virginia. Lover of all things pink. Always in an empire state of mind (even though I’m in my fifth year of living below the Mason Dixon). Whitley and Dwayne are my fave. My parents are pretty cool, too. Dwell in possibility.

 

My attempt at joining the Academy