It was a beautiful evening in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The late sun beamed golden on the manicured gardens and triple-decker houses that lined the street of the bus stop near my house.
Only 15 minutes earlier, had I published by first real byline with a major news organization on the church massacre of 9 black people in Charleston, South Carolina.
I had cut myself off from the emotion of it all — busy news days are no place for feelings. I had felt waves of deep sadness and tears creeping under my eyelashes all day, as I busied myself compiling facts and assets to write the story for my seemingly removed New England community.
But as I stepped off the bus, and wished the bus driver — who was black — a “blessed day” I suddenly found I had no strength , or reason, to hold in the anguish any longer.
So I stood on the corner and sobbed.
Some white people walked by with a stroller and a dog; I hastily wiped my face and averted my eyes. On this very sad day in black history, I was a black girl, alone, and momentarily devastated. I felt extremely vulnerable.
Our most sacred space, our beloved extended family, had been irreparably violated and there was nothing, it seemed, we could do about it.
This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.
But how can I rejoice on this day when 9 people lay dead, presumably in a morgue somewhere, their lives taken from them for the sole reason of the color of their skin.
A skin, which I share.
I first received news of the Charleston shooting via several news text alerts. I’m a journalist, and as such, receive terrible news all of the time. Little pings of tragedy throughout the course of the day; when I’m home relaxing, while I’m running errands, when I’m out with friends. I have, as a result, a pretty high tolerance for the terribleness of the world. I saw the headline, but it did not register. It was a thousand miles away and the breaking news betrayed nothing of the exceptional heinousness or racial motives of the massacre.
Around 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, I caught up with a childhood friend in California via Google Hangouts. My friend, Dara Wilson, has a full-time job at a big Silicon Valley giant, but her passion is her side job as a producer for the Afro-centric webcast/podcast This Week In Blackness, run by entrepreneurial media proprietor Elon James White. She and I meet digitally on a semi-regular basis — a tradition descended from the effort of making our own cultural commentary show — which later evolved into many hours of engaged mental and emotional support for the various challenges arising out of our engagement with our black womanhood.
The news was just ending its cycle with the scrutiny of one Rachel Dolezal, the woman, who ‘identified as black’ but whose recently unmasked white identity was met with a messy onslaught of frustration from some blacks, and humored curiosity by many whites, and lots of confounded shades of grey in between.
Dara noted, in passing, the news of a church shooting. We paused. Neither of us had the wherewithal to click the link to find out more.
“Can’t deal with this right now,” she sighed. Neither could I. Instead, we contented ourselves with a spirited debate about Dolezal. Our feelings on the matter differed, but we found common ground in the pettiness of it all — especially against the backdrop of a nearly a year of disturbing, traumatic, and often violent stories of lives destroyed by interpersonal and institutional racism.
In this age of hashtag activism, this time when one tragedy begets another, we speculated how this latest shooting would pirate the news cycle — and whether it would be done responsibly.
But in that moment — though separated by an entire country — we could feel each other’s weariness and despair as we searched to find some sort of improbably silver lining.
One of us finally admitted that we were tired. Not from staying up late — but of being black. It’s the sort of thing you can never say in mixed company. Partly because it’s a bit facetious. We love our blackness -- but we struggle to be seen as more of that. And so we were tired. Tired of posting about it, tired of defending it, tired of wading through our complex identities, tired of being responsible for educating everyone around us, tired of casting our emotions in palatable ways for white people. We were tired of unarmed black men dying, tired of mean institutional policies which made it so difficult to thrive. Tired of overcoming. Tired of pretending to be superwomen. Tired of denying ourselves the right to feel deeply — not because we don’t want to but because we physically can’t. We can’t possibly bear the pain of opening our eyes fully anymore. We have run out of ways to express ourselves on this issue. We were out of words, out of patience, and out of safe spaces to protect ourselves.
And as the details of Wednesday night’s massacre emerged, it became apparent that our emotional and mental states were the least of our worries.
Thursday became a day when I realized I live in a country where my life could still be in danger because of my birth race and inherited culture. My membership in a community of people who have staked their identities on thriving in the face of adversity, and reaching deep into the spiritual well so that we can live to see another day, no matter how hard.
But for those 9 people who welcomed a stranger into their midst, who opened themselves up in prayer and fellowship only to be slain because of their blackness…
There was no refuge. No safe space of denial, no way to quell one’s double consciousness. There’s no way to mask the sadness. Ahead: only an uphill battle of healing.
I can only hope on a day such as this, that black people —and dare I say human people — can find solace in the silence of uplifting the fallen.