Eleanor Saitta, Black Lives Matter Protests, NYC; December 13, 2014. [IMAGE: a photograph of a young Black boy with a beanie is sitting on a middle-aged Black man’s shoulders in a crowd of what appears to be protestors. The boy is holding up his arms in the “hands-up, don’t shoot” gesture.]
Do you see, none of us were ever meant to survive? That is why
everything is exploding as it is now. It does not matter if I love you.
Wear your armor brazenly. It will give you a running start.
— Linda Chavers, “To Black Girls Everywhere”
For many of us at The Offing, #BlackLivesMatter isn’t just a matter of principle. It is a matter of life and death for us as well as so many in our chosen and childhood families. Non-Black editors collaborated with Black members of the editorial staff to select works from our archives in which we found solace, love, and power. We introduce these works with a poem composed this week by Associate Poetry Editor and Shade Journal Editor in Chief, Luther Hughes.
[IMAGE: text of a poem “ode to negrophobia.” For an audio recording of the poem, please contact [email protected]]
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Discovery of Nat Turner. [IMAGE: An historical-looking art print showing a Black man, Nat Turner, in a forest wearing tattered clothes and taking out a long knife from his side. Across from him is a white man in a hat and a polished outfit pointing a rifle at Nat Turner’s face.]
I don’t know how many mothers walked from the mouth of that summer childless but I could see the old Pizza Hut burning from my window & I could see a cop being dragged into the bushes by the stickup kids & isn’t it funny how art most imitates life when a black body is being drained of it?
— Hanif Willis-Abdurraqi, “I Don’t Remember The Whole Summer When ‘Do The Right Thing’ Dropped”
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Silent Protest parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City, July 28, 1917, in response to the East St. Louis race riot. In front row are James Weldon Johnson (far right), W. E. B. DuBois (2nd from right), Rev. Hutchens Chew Bishop, rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (Harlem) and realtor John E. Nail. [IMAGE: An old black and white photo showing rows of Black men lining up in the streets of New York, holding banners, as passers-by are looking on.]
His southern town was gun-split, swollen shut
with slow-tongued mobs whose throats retched
red with epithets, skin bound by tradition.
— zakia henderson-brown, “Bloodline”
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Mixed race group of children carrying sign: “No Child is Free Until ALL are Free.” [IMAGE: A black and white photo showing several young Black and white children protesting together on the street. A Black boy and a white girl hold up a sign that says “No Child Is Free Until ALL Are Free.”]
the dead boy is poured back into his body
i try to leave home but the ocean bares its teeth
& where i’m from is where i’m from & not
where i was put it’s morning & my grandmother
pins hot colors to the clothesline i’m still on a date
& the words say something to me in arabic
fall backwards down his throat
— Safia Elhillo, “alternate ending”
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. CORE demonstrators being arrested outside segregated movie theater showing “Goliath and the Dragon,” at unidentified location, ca. 1960. [IMAGE: A black and white photo of a police truck in front of a movie theater. The back of the police truck holds several Black men, with white police officers patting down more protestors right outside the truck.]
position is a performance of exponential
dignity. An act of stripping what life worn
fabrics perforate the borders between lyric
and magic. I want to step out of my language
and light up, but the body is a container
the body is a mold, I fit snug; I can barely
breathe in here.
— Camonghne Felix, “On Entropy”
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Pro-African nationalists and anti-United Nations demonstrators gathered outside the Hotel Theresa during Cuban President Fidel Castro’s stay there, in Harlem, September 24th, 1960. [IMAGE: A black and white photo of Black men protesting in the street, holding up signs that say, “UN — STOP FAKING!” “JOMO KENYATTA KENYA,” “CONGO FOR THE CONGOLESE,” and “WHERE WAS DR. BUNCHE & HIS BUNCH WHEN THEY PULLED THAT STUNT IN SOUTH AFRICA?”]
Strange, what little history
The body can preserve
— Julian Randall, “What The Body Remembers”
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. Daisy Bates takes a walk – Activist Daisy Bates picketing with placard: “Jailing our youth will not solve the problem in Little Rock. We are only asking for full citizenship rights.” [IMAGE: A black and white photo of a Black woman holding a sign in a busy street saying, “JAILING OUR YOUTH WILL NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM IN LITTLE ROCK. WE ARE ONLY ASKING FOR FULL CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS.” A few feet left of her, a white boy is glancing at the sign and behind her, a white man leers.]
— Khadijah Queen, “Theory: Evidence of uncertain shifts”
[IMAGE: text of a poem “Theory: Evidence of uncertain shifts.” For an audio recording of the poem, please contact [email protected]]
Sterilization Protest circa 1971. [IMAGE: A black and white photo of a protest. The photo’s central focus is on the right, where a Black woman is holding up a sign that says, “STERILIZATION OF MOTHERS VIOLATES U.N. CHARTER ART. 25, SEC. I & II VOTE NO HOUSE BILL 20.”]
From “Feeling Colored”: You want to talk about race? Fine. Let’s talk about race. But these conversations often happen in academic, intellectual, and — in those ways — private spheres, where race becomes an idea completely disconnected from itself in action. And what is the point of that? You’re going to talk to me about the issue of race in America as an “issue” of “race” in “America.” I do not need to be turned into an idea to understand who I am.
— Diane Exavier, From The Racial Imaginary
Jamelle Bouie, Black and white photo of a memorial placed during protests; August 20, 2014.
[IMAGE: Black and white photo of black sign with white lettering saying “HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT AUG 9. 2014 R.I.P. MICHAEL BROWN.” Several paper hands of various shades are glued right of the message, in the fashion of the “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture. Below the sign are dozens of flowers and other memorializing objects.]
bred of slaughter
born to bleed
corporeal blunder wrought of
nothing non- no body
not nègre noir.
baptized in an abattoir
your father — an apparition
your mother — an appendage
filius nullius child of no one
your birthright is
— Tyrone Palmer, “Filius Nullius”
The All-Nite Images, Black Lives Matter Black Friday: NYC action in solidarity with Ferguson. Mo, encouraging a boycott of Black Friday Consumerism; November 28, 2014.
[IMAGE: Coor photo of a protest in NYC near a Macy’s. Front and center is a Black woman in a purple scarf, holding a black sign with white lettering saying “WE WILL NOT BE SILENT.”]
v. the war with the aggressor calling time brutality, it betrays itself.
When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community..
— Marwa Helal, “pentalogue for Bmore”
Joe Brusky, #SayHerName at Skyline Music Series; January 1, 2014. [IMAGE: Several white-passing people are holding up signs on a lawn, each sign with a letter or a figure. Together, they spell out #SayHerName. Above them are the four translucent images of Black women hovering in the air: Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Alesia Thomas, and Shantel Davis.]
you are going to kill
a person, you must first
^[black/brown]* learn our names,
look us in the eyes & say them aloud.
our names after
— Tariq Luth, “New Rule”
[IMAGE: A color photo of a silhouette of man in a baseball cap. Behind him in the foreground on the left is a tree. On the side, there is a flash of light that makes his features hard to discern. He is holding a microphone up to his mouth and is speaking.]
We do this for Marissa. We do this for Tanesha. We do this for Mike Brown. We do this for Rekia.
[IMAGE: A color photo of a couple of protesters holding signs in front of a white van. One sign says “BLACK POWER IS BLACK LOVE.”
For it is certain something is happening. And though no one can say for sure what that something is, it is not consent. It is not is silence. We are sick of silence, how it descends on us like a blanket of bad air. Silence tinged the color of a lie about a government acting in the best interests of its citizens.
[IMAGE: A color photo of a small Black girl in a pink scarf and leopard-print winter coat is looking off into the distance as she is being held by a Black man in a maroon beanie with his face turned away from a camera. Around her are several Black people, all with their faces turned from the camera.]
None of us knows what lies beyond this moment. We must move anyhow. For it is through movement alone that we make ourselves real.
[IMAGE: Color photo of several protesters, many light-skinned and white-presenting, are walking down a street. Most are wearing dark-colored winter jackets and coats. One of them is holding an American flag upside down.]
And we know everyone is watching to see what will come of this spectacle of youth. We know that so many have named it mere anger, when in fact it is the resuscitation of hope.
— RJ Eldridge, “On Rising”
Scottlum, Eric Garner and Michael Brown Ferguson protests in Seattle on 12/6/14. [IMAGE: Color photo of protesters on the street holding up a red sign with white spray-painted letters that say “STOP FUCKING KILLING US!!!!” Three of the four protesters holding up the sign are Black.]
From “Who’s Watching Anymore, Anyway?”: This context has little if anything to do with race. Except. Except I am a black American woman traveling on a bus — clearly the least attractive and comfortable means of travel that one might choose — and on this transport mechanism, one cannot easily set one’s self apart. My fellow travelers are from a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds — most unidentifiable to me — though, mostly people of color. But here we are the same, or similar. The bus driver is mean to all of us without cause as if to say, You’re all in this shitbox together. And we are.
—Dawn Lundy Martin, From The Racial Imaginary