Yesterday evening, I drove around downtown Durham, North Carolina, looking for the place where the statue had been taken down. Thanks to a friend of a friend, I realized I’d driven right by it, unbeknownst to me, and was as unmoved by the recollection of it as I was when I just happened by the building. As I was putting two and two together, I stared out of the hotel room window, watching black and brown bodies build a high-rise something. A video of Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, was on my computer screen, speaking at her daughter’s public memorial service. She had something to say. Heyer, a young white woman, who showed up at the racists’ riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a casualty of white supremacy’s defense of itself.
By the time Bro had finished speaking, I was still staring at the strong black and brown bodies creating something new from rubble and heard the words of people online rolling around in my head, bumping up against my list of things to do, a line from a Bankroll Fresh song that’d been there since Monday or so and the thoughts about Roxane Gay’s “Hunger” I’ve been holding for a couple days: “If you’re not saying something in these times, you’re part of the problem.” The chorus has gone on since last weekend, when things went wild in Charlottesville. I haven’t said much, but it’s not because I’m part of the problem. It’s just that there’s really not much for me to say.
Heather Heyer’s murder is sad, and it was miraculous to glance over to my computer screen and see her mom so solidly standing there, speaking clearly, as if her child had not just been mowed down by a Dodge Challenger, driven by a bigoted misanthrope. I wondered how she could do that and the family of James Craig Anderson couldn’t. Bro ended her nearly seven-minute remarks with “I’d rather have my child, but, by golly, if I’ve got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”
Her voice never cracked and I don’t recall her ever wiping a tear or sounding angry. It was a marvel then a mystery to me. People grieve all kinds of ways, in their time, at their pace, and I’m sure she will. But there’s a difference between Susan Bro and Annzora Anderson (James Craig Anderson), Susan Bro and Stella Byrd (James Byrd Jr.). I’m not thinking of the most ostensible differences either. And there’s a difference between Susan Bro and Elizabeth Jenkins (Carol Jenkins), Monica McBride (Renisha McBride) and Michelle Fuget (Monique Clark).
The marrow of Bro’s bones isn’t diluted with oppression. The flesh cloaking those bones aren’t weighted with the fat of history, muscles with the knowing of centuries. Bro’s breath — deep, dragging inhales and unfettered, full exhales — comes a little easier, I imagine. Her shoulders haven’t been yoked, balancing hope and despair at the same time. There are differences between Bro and the mothers of others who’ve been slain.
We know because we’ve seen it before. Sacrificial white death means more, even to some black folks. Seeing and hearing Heyer’s death lamented but the extrajudicial killing being black or brown body as par for the course is a reminder. What we get, if we have enough people in our lives who are social media savvy, is a hashtag. But overall, many of us are desensitized to black death.
Demanding voice and words from people who are hurting, tired, learning to care for themselves, are trying to figure out how to navigate their politics and reality simultaneously is insensitive, at best and abusive, at worst.
I can’t today and might not be able to tomorrow. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t want to say anything. I’m not at a point in my life to because just beneath my diplomacy, measured and thoughtful words are a toxic mix of depression, anxiety and rage. I have chosen not to live numb, not to avoid or ignore what is happening in this country and beyond or the feelings associated with it. Apart from the occasional reality show escapes and my dates with “Being Mary Jane” and James St. Patrick on “Power,” I see what’s happening and don’t want to say anything, until I want to. I can’t take it in, if I’m speaking. I do hope, however, in others’ rush to say something, they’re not neglecting to feel, to mourn. Deeply mourn. I’m not just talking about Heather Heyer’s murder either.
There are plenty songs to hear, poems and prose to read, and projects of all kinds to experience. They have all the words and sounds, and I’ll just consume those for now. Because, yeah, I really don’t have anything to say.