by Samantha Taylor
I was taking a Black Feminism/Womanism class at Portland State University when I first read about bell hooks’s struggle with suicidal thoughts while she was at Stanford. I thought, “Wait, I’m not the only one? And people actually talk about this!?” At some point, I breathed an audible sigh of relief that my classmates misinterpreted as boredom; yes, they actually thought that a black, queer gurl in a Black Feminism class was bored. How simple people can be sometimes!
What really happened was, in that moment, I felt as though a hand had reached out and plucked me from the crosswalk just in time for multilane traffic to speed by. It felt like, even if just for a second, I wasn’t alone. If this successful black woman scholar can fight it, then maybe I could too?
When I made the decision to go to college, no one explicitly told me that I didn’t belong there. No one directly came out and said, “This place wasn’t built for you, it was built by people that look like you, and getting through might be one of the hardest things you will ever do.” No one told me that I should consider getting a counselor or therapist, that I should make sure I eat regularly and drink less. These are not the messages I get or have gotten.
It wasn’t until I actually got to college that I realized I didn’t want to be in college. Education is supposed to be a form of liberation, freedom. Right now, it just seems to have a stranglehold on my lifeline. The white, neo-liberalism of Portland, Oregon provides an over abundance of hipster racism, of bigoted students and faculty who undermine my multiple identities daily. Learning how to balance this degradation with the opportunity to go to college is complex. Sometimes, all I can do is stay rooted and accountable to myself. Still, I try to model my politics and remember the significance of being in college because so many others are not; I have a seat at the table while someone else can’t even get access to the kitchen. This is a privilege in and of itself, and, even though I will have to work twice as hard to get half as far, I have a responsibility to my community, to the black gurls that came before me, the dark bodies of memory and intergenerational trauma, the women in literal and figurative chains who spent nights dreaming me, us, into the world. Like Assata says, “I come from a long line of woman warriors,” and this is part of my legacy—learning to survive not always for the present, but for those who come next.
However, is this awareness enough to keep me alive?
Every year on my birthday, I thank the Universe for allowing me to live this long, because some us don’t get half the chance. There are times when I’m not sure why I got the chance, or if I even want it. But, where can I turn for stories like mine? Where is the history of our daily survival? When do we, black queer gurls, begin to thrive? In my copy of For Colored Girls, the previous owner underlined on page 3 these words:
this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
And next to it they wrote:
who will tell their stories?
I don’t know who will tell my story, so I write some things down to fill in the gaps for when I’m gone. Right now: I’m out of toilet paper, I have no idea how next month’s rent is getting paid, my internet will be shut off in a couple days, grocery shopping is a joke. That electric bill? Forget about it. But today I’ll put on a cute outfit and maybe some lipstick (all things that were purchased ages ago, when resources were less scarce) because it will help me feel better about myself for a bit. Right now I’m crushed under the weight of keeping myself alive. Sometimes, I can choose the face I want to show the world, but behind it lives a grim truth that no one knows.
I think about it often: suicide, the end; and move through the world feeling like a coward in the shadows. If I was braver, I’d be gone already. Some of my friends, loved ones, associates reading this would have written bullshit eulogies about my angst and generosity. So surprised they would be that I’m gone, that they couldn’t say their good-byes. There is a selfish grieving that creeps into our pores when a loved one unexpectedly dissipates from the physical world. But, here’s the thing: I know that you care, that you got mad love for me, that you’re praying “sweet white jesus, rest her soul.”
You need to know that I don’t care what you have to say while crying over my greying body and limp hair when I’m gone. Say all of those things NOW. Push against the tired old narrative that tells us black gurls don’t deserve more than to be raped and beaten, to wash clothes and floors, to tend to babies.
Keep these details in mind as you learn to love us while we, more importantly, learn to love each other and ourselves. At this point, we cannot afford to lose another one of us to addiction, prison, and race-based violence (or any forms of violence!) from people and institutions that do not intend for us to survive. We cannot continue to rest in the footnotes of the history of a nation built on the backs of women of color and our ancestors. We must refuse to linger on the sidelines as queer myth.
We must continue to discuss yesterday, today, the tomorrow we may not have, or the last time we were together and neither of us spoke to the lack of love in our lives—both for self and others, and sometimes for each other. We need to talk about how we’re not sure what it feels like to be loved in honest, unexpectant, active ways.
The truth is no one loves black gurls enough, so we have to love each other and ourselves MORE to make up for it!
When my spirit eventually floats away with your kind, ocean salted tears and words, I will know that friendship and intimacy was all that you ever wanted for me, from me. But I ask you now: how would loving each other, today, have changed our relationship?
We cannot keep running, refusing to face that which hurts because it is difficult. We cannot NOT love black gurls because it is “too hard.” Not when so many of us are dying, are taking our own lives.
For too long, we, black gurls, have moved though the world with the imposed burden of being unlovable and undesirable. We can no longer afford for this to be our truth. We need for there to be a day when we can say we are hurt and hurting, and healing must begin. Can that day be today?
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