Fully Recognizing What is Here

The truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living, we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us. Our deaths inside a system of racism existed before we were born. The legacy of black bodies as property and subsequently three-fifths human continues to pollute the white imagination. To inhabit our citizenry fully, we have to not only understand this, but also grasp it. In the words of the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, “The problem is we have to find some way with these dialogues to show and to encourage the white liberal to stop being a liberal and become an American radical.” And, as my friend the critic and poet Fred Moten has written: “I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world and I want to be in that.” This other world, that world, would presumably be one where black living matters. But we can’t get there without fully recognizing what is here.

From Claudia Rankine’s “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” in The Fire This Time

When Making Claims

I’ve been aware of something over the last year or so and particularly sensitive as the sitting president has amped up his psychologically curious rhetoric in relation to North Korea. It’s around truth and lies. Somewhere along the way I became sensitive to truth. There is a part of me that is an investigator. I’m nosey. I’m curious. I’m interested. I’m also discerning.

The math adds up to me, often, knowing when people are telling truth and knowing when they aren’t. This isn’t a sense I get as much as a knowing that I’m cultivating. I don’t actively nourish it but I don’t avoid being as open to truth as possible. I’ve been especially aware of this over the last couple years, naming it as a part of myself, embracing it as one of those qualities that are mine.

One of the noticings I’ve had is about exaggeration. I see it on a small line or small path toward lying. At times, I’m pretty fun with this noticing. I don’t take myself as seriously as I used to. Because I’m a jokester with friends and because I can be essentially sarcastic (Pray for me about that), I’m can use exaggeration! Still, I do have a thing about truth, so I’m suspicious when a person can’t simply state a truth. Why equivocate? Why hedge? Why stretch? And I don’t intend these questions when we’re talking about jokes.

The way I see it, exaggerating is a precursor to lying. So is the regular withholding of truth. In other words, there are two times when you are well on the path is becoming a liar. First, you stretch beyond what is real. Second, you keep to yourself what is real rather than share it. I’m open to being wrong about this basic path.

Of course, there is an alternate path that we walk. Truth is the destination. Reality is the neighborhood. Knowledge of self in relation to others is the result. That path is about being truthful (being a person who says and does true things) and not being a liar (being a person who exaggerates…deceives…lies).

When making claims about the world, it’s easier to spot a lie. In yourself, in someone else. What’s hard and what requires maturing discipline is the grace-filled ability to withhold calling someone a name. “You’re a liar” is very different from “You told me the opposite of what was happening.” One is a characterization and is judgmental. The other is an observation that implies a kind of interest.

I don’t think all judgment is bad and that is another post. But I think observations carry much more room for two parties listening to each other.


I was traveling when I heard of Erica Garner’s death. I wasn’t home and her death reminded me of how hard it is to find a home in our country. It’s hard to find a home in the world when a freedom fighter leaves after birthing a child and raising two that she, now, can’t care for up close. It’s difficult to see glimpses of joy in the midst of such homegoings.

It’s hard to face the truth of who I am in the world when a young Erica Garner dies of heart trouble or cardiac arrest or any of the related and potential exact causes of her death. When I read the news of her death, all I could think of in the moment was about the power of pain, the ripping potency of anguish. Brokenness carries weight.

I have thought of her children and her family. I have thought of people who I don’t know, whose names and faces I wouldn’t recognize. And yet there is something I do recognize, something I can’t fully make out in words or deliver to another person.

Ms. Garner’s death means much and it’s impossible for me to distance her death from her father’s death. They were two different people and if I can find one common line between them, it is, for me, that neither of them should have died when they died. Her death, like her father’s to some extent, is another reminder of what it means to embody and to carry in the body the full experience of being Black in the United States.

There is immense pleasure in being Black and there is a corresponding shadow side that is inexplicable despite the best linguistic tools. Death comes for everyone, and it seems that death comes so soon for those whose skin is along that gorgeous spectrum from cream to vanilla bean. The hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect or the low-lying pervasive threats of asthma and “high blood and sugar” as they were known in my childhood–the line of angels of death is long.

Ms. Garner’s end makes me remember how hard it is to be Black and makes me imagine how hard it is to be a Black woman and how inestimably difficult it must be to be a Black woman whose father is dead and how unutterably painful it must be to be a Black woman whose father is dead because his voice wasn’t heard and how unbearable the weight must be to be a Black woman whose father is dead because his own voice was unheard by the law enforcement officers who killed him.

It feels right to consider the meaning of a sister’s death. And not only Ms. Garner’s. Indeed, the consideration of a person’s death means that life will keep a certain melancholia. Of course, that melancholic feeling borders the derivative feelings which come when we consider death, feelings of life, of interest, of resilience, of purpose. Can we ever really live well and joyfully and not consider the alternative to life? Is it possible to appreciate the images of justice-coming-close and not pause to bow the heart to a justice-seeker’s early demise?

I am not as sad as the people who cherish Ms. Garner. I’m clear about that. I know that she has a tribe of loved ones and significant others who speak her name with complete tenderness. I am not a part of that loving circle. I’m a distant member of the broader tribe. I have prayed for her, thought of her, and grieved with her from my perch as she’s gotten through hours and days and weeks without a father.

I’ll turn my prayers to Ms. Garner’s children. I’ll still think of the ones who have gone on, who have left this misshaped world. I’ll think of Erica Garner, and I’ll try to be a good spiritual caregiver. Like her, I’ll work for the generations to come. And I’ll pray and work, from all my edges, for as much good and grace and love as possible. May we see what Ms. Garner must have seen glimpses of in her depths: a completing picture of justice and love on display.