The (Un)Bearable Blackness of Being

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”  -The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Hello beautiful people,

I’ve missed you! There is so much that I have wanted to say. I don’t know about you, but when I get overwhelmed (in this case with words that I want to write), sometimes I find it easier to not write at all. This is just one of many attempts to process some of what I have been seeing and feeling lately.

Recently, I went to go watch a student of mine march with her band on a steamy Saturday afternoon. It was muggy–the kind of “a 30 second monsoon is imminent” kind of disgustingly muggy that makes one feel as though they are swimming through pea soup. Everyone was assembled in what basically amounts to a parking lot in front of an old vocational skills center. There was no shade and no seats in sight. And it was LIT.

Let me recap if you missed it. Humid day, hanging out in an empty lot waiting for festivities to begin, and it was SO much fun! Watching people prepare for their band’s turn to go on, talk and laugh, sprinkle water on faces or on washcloths draped on heads to keep cool…listening to the DJ at the far end of the parking lot encouraging people to invite others because “we need to support our kids when they are doing the right thing!” it occurred to me randomly, as it often does nowadays:

MAN….I really love my people! I mean, we can make a celebration out of anything–growing up, I can’t tell you how many times a simple summer Sunday dinner of grilled food ended up being a cookout–Mom and Auntie would invite a few people, I would invite the bestie and a few others, someone would throw 92Q (if I had my way) or 95.9 (if I didn’t) on the radio and stretch the cord to sit in the doorway, Scrabble/cards/dominoes/Jenga would come out, and there you have it…insta-party.

I flash back to when my great-grandmother passed during my junior year of high school. Sad occasion, yes. But one of the first things that I remember my mother or grandmother saying was that the family was all wearing winter white. Why? Because this wasn’t a funeral, dark and depressing complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth. This was a celebration of a 91 (i believe) year long life that had been VERY well lived. My great-grandmother deferred college for herself for years and made sure that every last one of her siblings would have a chance to go. She loved her man with everything in her and together they loved on their daughter, grandchildren, and in my great-grandmother’s case, my cousin and I. I have fond memories of her making me big ol’ country breakfasts when I stayed at her house and saving my behind when I did something worth getting in trouble for.

When I was little, I used to hear the pastor say “hallelujah, anyhow”. Things may go completely awry, but if you can find just a small glimmer of hope, just a slight reason to have joy, you can make it. This is a post celebrating what I feel like we do best as a people–we rise above the nonsense, refuse to let said nonsense define us, and do what we can to find a “hallelujah anyhow”. These are signs of  our resilience.

Every May, you see the prom parade commence. When I left for my senior prom back in (gasp!!) 2005, my mom probably laid out a few snacks, everybody took pictures of my date and I in front of the hot pink azalea bush in my front yard, and that was that. My aunt-by-marriage’s mother (to this day, I am not sure how she ended up seeing me off) stuck a 20 down my dress “for emergencies” (yes, she stuck it there herself), my grandfather probably mildly threatened the life of my date, we hopped in my uncle’s Escalade and rolled out. Nowadays like clockwork, you hear stories of parents shipping in three tons of sand, several luxury cars and a CAMEL for an epic Dubai themed prom sendoff.

Also, like clockwork, you hear the naysayers (actual comments below):

“Why do those people put so much emphasis on appearances?”
“I wonder if she even has a job–wasn’t she sick?” How’d she afford it?”
“I bet she hasn’t invested that much in his college education!!”

(Just so we are aware, Johnny Eden, Jr. had a 3.8 GPA, his mom wanted to honor his excellence, and she WAS incredibly sick but promised herself that if she lived she’d celebrate her son. I don’t know if she has saved for his college education, but that’s not really my business.)

There was an article posted by The Washington Post about Baltimore ( and presumably other low-income, high-violence cities) and it talked about how these cities tend to go all out for high school graduations and proms because there is a high probability that they won’t have a significant amount of happy events to celebrate in the future. People are being killed. They are dying from high rates of preventable and non-preventable diseases. Drugs are running rampant. Nihilism is at an all time high in these high trauma neighborhoods…people report feeling trapped in the cycle. The talented, the bright, the motivated are encouraged to take hold of every opportunity that they can and LEAVE.

A few days after the humid parking lot marching band extravaganza, the news hit that the officer who murdered Philando Castile would not be charged in his murder. A wave of anger followed closely…theoretically, wasn’t Castile doing all of the things that we are told that we must do in order to spare our lives when speaking to police. Remain calm? Did that. Keep hands where they can be seen? Check. Generally be an upstanding member of society? Yes. Respond to officer demands? Yup. And still, another death certificate was being crafted.

In the book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” Kundera weighs Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return (that with an infinite amount of time and a finite number of events, events will repeat themselves) with Parmenides’s understanding of life as lightness. It seems to be that the lives of Black people in this country are filled with the eternal return of situations that shouldn’t bear repeating.

Every time another acquittal scrolls across the screen.

Each time a star football player who is a standout in the league gets blackballed for silently protesting injustice.

Every time a #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag needs to be added to because we feel invisible in the workplace.

Every time a person paints themselves in Blackface and doesn’t understand (or care about) the implications.

Every time a movie is cast and people don’t understand why _______________ is Black now.

For every microaggression, every ill-timed joke, every comment, we feel that unbearable Blackness of being…

And yet.

blackjoy

We inevitably choose lightness. We choose to BLAST Frankie Beverly and Maze and two step with a drink in hand. We choose to scream and yell and go absolutely nuts when our collective babies graduate and beat the odds. We choose to have debutante balls, crab feasts, bull roasts, step shows, fetes, prom sendoffs, marching band exhibitions, praise parties and hilarious gender reveals. There was an article on the HuffPost that said “Black Joy is Black Resistance”. I agree. We choose that lightness of being.

And I am so glad that we do.