A meditation on that space I need for my rage, or, an independence manifesto

The space I need for my rage was taken from me long ago. I have spent the better part of my adult life recognizing both its social and personal absence with fierce determination to carve it out as I attempt to re-learn my entitlement to it and experiment with ways to express and relish in it especially on the stage.

Years of talk therapy have taught me the extent to which my conditioning influenced how I behave and negotiate this world in which I live. In this white world, as a black (Haitian) woman, I have had to negotiate my blackness within African-American communities where my additional otherness is invisible. We do not always see each other or align collectively around shared struggles. I am past the age and or the phase where this tore me up as a young immigrant in this country. I made peace with the reality that in the expanded scope of racial hierarchies, my race/color precedes my national identity. I became a U.S citizen a decade ago. I am simply black in the face of the white power that I sometimes dread for the ways that it categorizes and seeks to destroy blackness as some misappropriate it as CG writes, while others keep that blackness in an unhealthy state of awareness that denies us a social luxury of being, precisely because, as June Jordan puts it, “I am the wrong skin.”

The first thing I did the morning after the massacre in Charleston — I went for a run. An observer, from not so far away in CT, these times have been trying. I watched events surrounding the capture of Dylann Roof developing in the news while upholding an all too predictable narrative and quickly became conscious that my heart was beating too fast, faster than usual. The urge to run while standing still is a feeling I have come to associate with another anxiety that I have had in those moments when fear is setting in and there is no place to run for cover. I had an appointment but simply did not want to go outside. (Indeed, it dawned on me that I first fully absorbed this feeling in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.) I did not want to leave the comfort of my home space and risk an encounter with anyone in denial about the targeting of black bodies and the state of racism in this hemisphere, and in the world.

As the families of the AME9 victims forgave the killer of their loved ones, I retreated in a combination of awe, respect and self-protection. I had neither the religious conviction nor faith to take this high road anymore than I could so clearly express its opposition as Roxanne Gay so poignantly did. I was preoccupied with the fact that this was taking an all to familiar physical and emotional toll, which has become conversation on my FB and Twitter feeds of late. Advice and notes about ways to be vigilant about self-care in these times. Ways to circumnavigate the psychic violence from a terror so close and so random that it will re-trigger and re-traumatize us as we live, knowing as Hari Ziyad asserted: blackness cannot be saved. But we can try to take care of ourselves to assure its collective survival. Anti-blackness knows no geographical boundaries. For Harriet wrote “If #BlackLivesMatter, we need to talk about the Dominican Republic” as she urged us to “Breathe. Heal. Organize. Because Ferguson is New York, is Baltimore, is Santo Domingo, is Port-au-Prince.” Stateless citizens are self-deporting. Living in limbo. The current situation in the DR is a time bomb that’s getting ready to blow as Jonathan Katz recently wrote in the NYT. And churches are being burned again and again keeping all of us on alert.  There is a target on our back. Thisismyback.org (please don’t shoot) calls on us to: “make some noise around a situation that has gone from unacceptable to unbearable. More overwhelmed every day by the unrelenting and unapologetic brutality against people of color, we have had enough.”

If there is one thing that I have learned from my years of therapy, healing is a process that takes its time. It cannot be rushed and it certainly cannot begin when wounds are still open. Still bleeding. Indeed, unprocessed trauma will become archived in bodies unless it is recognized, faced, confronted and worked through. Not everyone has the luxury of time and resources to commit to our certain types of self-care and protection, which is paramount to weather living with this ongoing terror. Audre Lorde said it best “caring for myself is not self- indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” 

Full expression of our humanity, rage included, remains a site (too often) of (deadly) contention. We should be held not responsible for the social limits and ideologies that undergird legal structures, which reduce us to mere caricatures and stereotypes. It took me a long time to learn that I have as much a right to individuation as anyone. For me to live, the space I need for my rage has become non-negotiable. I no longer have any desire whatsoever to debate anyone about it. My aliveness and spirit depend on it so I can keep trying to do to this life thing, despite the fuckery, with some meaning, and a lil swag, albeit on my terms.

“Permanent readiness for the marvelous”

                                                   –Suzanne Césaire

Gina Athena Ulysse

Gina Athena Ulysse is the author of 'Why Haiti Needs New Narratives' (2015) and a professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University.

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