In Memory of Ms Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks
I’m so sad to be doing this again. Again, and again. I know that death happens, but in a country that is always trying to separate us from our humanity, Black death always feels personal. This is probably because we resist by surviving. We resist by loving unabashedly, laughing at death, dancing when we’re supposed to be crying, crying when we’re supposed to be dancing, mourning loudly over beats, grieving while turnt up, metabolizing every horrifying thing that has happened to us into a storytime that has everybody rolling, in tears, on the floor, falling out, I’m ded. We do not take horror as only horror, we also take it as life, we flip from pain to love to death to laughter to sex to song to the ancestors to time travel to bloodshed to poetry to a plate of food and the flawless application of edge gel within a blink of the universe’s eye, within a blink of our own. This is life. This is survival. This is why it feels personal when we die here. Because for a moment it feels like — though this is not what it is but still it’s what it feels like — “damn they been tryna get her up outta here this whole time, and they finally did it.”
I have spent so much time thinking about our deaths here in this country. Once an editor asked me to write about a reflection about a Black man who had been killed, unarmed, and as always for no real reason, though the killers tried to make up some post facto defense about “robbers in the neighborhood.” I had to turn down the job, I had to skip the paycheck. I had to tell her that I was tired of writing about Black death. My whole career exists because of Black death. It’s why anyone ever started listening to me in the first place. The cycle is so predictable and sickening. Some innocent person is murdered in public and everyone competes to say or tweet or post the most profound thing about it. So once in 2014, I was declared a winner of the “who can post the most profound thing about Black death,” competition and my prize was to be offered paid writing gigs. It is here that I remember the old-folks phrase “can’t win for losin’ ” which I never understood but which always made me laugh. Now of course I realize that to be a Black writer in America means it sometimes feels that you can only win for losing. What I mean is: it feels like you can only win if you write about losing.