The first time I felt seen was in the pages of books. The space that words held for me was astounding. The way my spirit floated through paragraphs like a motif of God’s design, I felt free. I felt named. It may sound absurd, but the lack of imagery and rarity of color-specific writing allowed for anything and everything to be true. Sure I know now that Giovanni’s Room is not my reflection, but when I first came out it was my only companion. The lust, the confusion, the adventure... my emotions had no color. The complicated narratives of Hemingway and Faulkner, the dry-wit of Oscar Wilde, the sheer capacity of Zora Neale Hurston rocked me like a baby. The musicality of Langston Hughes kept me in tune. I felt seen.
History books and documentaries about my body and my place on the domination matrix, do not understand me. They document me like patient zero in their experiment of acceptance. I feel invaded, examined, probed, and fragile. I'm not strong enough to look in the mirror to see the bruises the world has left. I find comfort in polaroids taken aerially. Experiencing my existence anthropologically. It feels better that way. Words describing coffee-colored skin, almond eyes, and an ox-like stature, make me feel endless. For the first time in my life, I too was an infinite wallflower. Even my bruises seem romantic when they’ve been detailed with care.
The imprint of my abuser surrounds my violet flesh, marking me as claimed. No one has ever claimed me before. No one ever loved me. I guess this is what it means.
Art is necessary. It validates. It heals. In times of crisis, the world turns to artists, and in times of pain, so do I. And so should you. When you are explaining to non-black people your humanity, and when you are asking the world to see you as you are, do not send them a list of documentaries and historical reenactments to watch on Netflix. Send them art that confirms your pain, amplifies your beauty, and presents your humanity irrefutably. Force them to consume the ornately ordinary characters of August Wilson. Hold their eyes open as they memorize every shade of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls. Whisper Nikki Giovanni in their ear until they are begging to love you as much as she does. Watch Insecure and scream how bright and funny and complicated and trash-ass black people can be. Just like everyone else.
It is my personal belief that the world is not burning because people are ignorant. It’s burning because people don’t know who we are. 75% of Americans do not have close ties with anyone outside of their own race. Never forget that Republicans didn’t start accepting homosexuality (barely) until it started showing up in their own homes. The reason well-meaning whites continue to fumble the ball of their advocacy is that they are treating our people as a cause. They are studying stats and swallowing ugly-truths. They've become so guilty that they stutter over their "hello" and apologize every time they have to sneeze. Black people don’t need your sympathy. We’re looking for agency. Autonomy is a powerful thing in a world of limited power. Connection is the only currency in times of division.
Half of the implicit biases that traumatize black people come from a lack of vision, not from the presence of hate. The world fails to see us and fails to connect with us in a meaningful way so it does not hold us with care. When you hear about a young white girl who was pulled over for drunk driving and the officer gives her a pass and escorts her home - it’s because she reminds him of his daughter. The frat boy that he slaps on the wrist after he rapes his girlfriend, reminds him of himself. George Floyd would be alive today if the officers who saw him would have held space for him to be innocent. Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery would be alive if people would have put themselves in their shoes.
We need empathy and It won’t come from facts. It will come from feeling. Emotions invoked by art that sit in your stomach like a weight. How can you kill your brother, your son, yourself? You wouldn’t do it. So how can you kill me? You couldn’t do it.
So when people ask you what they can do, tell them to see you. Tell them to hear you. Tell them to read more Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.