What Country, Friends, Is This?

When is a comfortable space with like-minded people suddenly considered a useless “echo chamber”? I’m beginning to think, when you’re Black, it’s wherever you have the audacity to find a moment of peace.

*

This stage of pandemic illness appears to be grief. My first stage was pandemic distraction: a noticeable but not debilitating interruption to my mental process, or ability to stay focused. It was understandable that I wasn’t more impacted at first. Very little of my day-to-day changed. I work from home, and because nothing about my work or finances is traditional, even if I didn’t know what was coming, I had no reason to worry for the foreseeable future. It was still strange, of course, but so strange that it wasn’t possible to really process the extent right away. After all, I’ve been an expat for years, and even in crossing the border back to the US, I’m on the opposite side of the continent to my extended family. I had no expectation of seeing family, aside from my son and his father, and we were all going to be sheltering together. Something was different, but it was calmly so.

Pandemic fatigue, my second stage, changed my daily life. Immediately upon waking up, I started to feel tired. After a short while, I began describing my brain like a computer, as there was now a background program constantly running whose entire purpose was to remind me of the new reality we’re all living. It had to make sure I didn’t forget, because inside my home was very different to what I was seeing on my timeline (Twitter being the starting point of all my news intake), and instead of one, big jarring re-realization every day, it apparently was better to just have a constant state of dysphoria. Just a quiet, creeping remembering. An always unfinished reconciliation between how I thought I was doing and how the world was clearly doing, and then a sharp disconnect followed by a million subsequent attempts to reconnect, with varying success. Attempts to keep them separate were unsuccessful, and attempts to blend them were worse, and just resulted in exhaustion.

I was actually okay, but the world was not okay, so I was not okay. 

This stage lasted from roughly April through August. If you’re wondering: yes. I did debut my YA novel in that time. Yes, I did roughly a thousand events and interviews and podcasts and lives and meetings. Yep. Did I enjoy it? Yes! Did I hate it? Yes. Can those two things be simultaneously true? Apparently! Life is not a pie, with feelings and the like taking up a certain percentage to make up a whole. It’s an overhead projector on which many transparencies can be stacked, all contributing to a whole. I’m not unhappy just because I’m sad, if you follow. 

Which brings us to pandemic grief. It isn’t the beginning of grieving. This summer was a marathon of that, as even a pandemic was not enough to stop the ongoing campaign of violent anti-Blackness. It’s just that now my daily life and state of being are characterized by it, by grieving. 

I don’t know when I will feel at home in my native country again, if ever.

I don’t know if I will ever feel physically comfortable among white strangers again. 

I don’t know how to explain why it’s not okay to face anger for feeling the way it is most logical for a Black American to feel, in light of: the public executions; the public defense of systemic abuse and tyranny; the immediacy of criticism leveled at our resistance to terrorization, even from people supposedly sensitive to our oppression. 

I don’t know how to make you care that white supremacy is abiblical. That I shouldn’t have to hear my oppressors defended in my place of worship. That a defense of Rome is not an apolitical stance. I don’t know how to tell Bible-believing Christians that they shouldn’t be comfortable with my execution. That their desire for quiet comforts has more to do with white privilege and exactly the ways the western church has adopted a separate and contradictory doctrine than it has to do with them wanting to fulfill 1 Timothy 2:2. 

I don’t know how to get through to someone who despises the 1619 Project not because it’s ahistorical, but because curating the national memory and imagination is more important than telling the truth–regardless whose terrorization must be erased and ignored. 

I don’t know how to explain why I shouldn’t have to worry about getting through to that person in the first place. Why I should be safe regardless who disagrees with me. 

There is too much observably true for me to have to give a history lesson that would be ignored anyway because it’s not the history we’ve decided to keep. If you already know about COINTELPRO, and it’s readily researchable, why would I have to remind you that the idea of my liberation has been directly correlated with anarchy, violence, and the fall of the nation? Why would I have to stop you spouting obvious lies or passive skepticism about Black Lives Matter when you already know you’ve been intentionally socialized to assume any group trying to reverse Black dehumanization–literally calling for an end to murder and inequality–is the enemy? Why wouldn’t you do the follow up work of deprogramming yourself? And if you haven’t, why would I think you ever will?

So grief. Because the intentional evil done by my government can be revealed and it changes nothing. The impact remains. COINTELPRO still bears fruit; we are discredited in the American imagination as soon as we are Black and demand to be free. All of which matters because the result is death. Slowly, through “preexisting conditions”, which is a funny way of saying, the long-term, epigenetic effects of prolonged and persistent oppression and terrorization. It’s visible in the human body; racism kills. Quickly, through state violence and “vigilante” heathenry. But is it genuine vigilantism when you’re all but deputized? When your violence is incited and invited? Grief, too, because my country slanders me to the rest of the world, so that even leaving again doesn’t promise relief. 

Grief, because it’s all related. The white-washing of history that leaves white people delusionally certain that this country is in fact theirs, that their entitlement to it is logical. The electoral college, a gift to slave holders to ensure they always had an advantage, regardless how outnumbered. The rotten core of every system, and the way it impacts Black Americans, who are now dying, incarcerated, homeless, so many things, and disproportionate to their national percentage. And grief because anyone could overlook it all. The international hatred for a small diaspora who refuses to give up their birthrite, who refuses to stop demanding their due. 

Grief, because I am acknowledging that communities I’ve been part of for ten years are toxic to me now, after all the work, and love, and dedication. It’s like another divorce. A host of beauty and blessing inextricable from an ugliness that cannot be overlooked. Grief, too, because I wonder how in the world I could replace these loves in the world as it stands? Where would I find them now, and how many traumas would I have to stomach in searching?

I think I’ve exhausted this vein, and I’m happy to end it here, however incomplete.

Someone will ask why I didn’t pitch this somewhere else to be published, to be compensated for the emotional labor of writing it all down, but something stage two taught me: there are certain things I cannot submit for editorial notes and suggestions, that I cannot make into an assignment or I’ll never get it out. If you’ve read this, received anything of use to you, and feel so inclined, you can always tip me here, or by clicking the green “Buy Me A Coffee” button, but be warned…I don’t actually drink coffee.