[Bella’s intro: Keturah Kendrick is the author of a book I love, No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone. It is an inspired and unapologetic take on single life and much more, and I’ve discussed what I appreciate about it here, here, and here. Typically, I invite guest bloggers to write about single life, but because of this historic moment, I welcomed Kendrick to write about anything that moved her. I am grateful to her for this powerful essay.]
If Only #ListenToBlackWomen Were More Than a Hashtag…
By Keturah Kendrick
Two black men were found hanging from trees this week.
A 19-year-old Black woman who was a vocal Black Lives Matter activist disappeared for eight days before her body was found along with another Black woman’s. Elsewhere in the United States, two Black transwomen were murdered, one having her body dismembered before it was discarded.
I wonder where we, as a nation, would be right now had we listened to Octavia Butler back in the 1990s. She told us this would be us. She didn’t mince words when she said it, either. In Parable of the Sower, she showed us a 21st century America that had reinstituted slavery, only this time making it more multi-cultural. She painted a brutal (and turns out, accurate) picture of law enforcement only existing to uphold white supremacy, which had been kept securely in place by the United States government and the 2% of white Americans who reaped its full benefits. In Parable of the Talents, Butler told us there’d be a white supremacist running for president with the promise to “Make America Great Again” amidst a country that had watched most of its citizens turn homeless. That presidential candidate would win the election. His solution to a majority of Americans sleeping outside in burnt, abandoned houses and foraging for food wherever they found it was to capture as many of them as possible and put them into work camps that were advertised as “gated communities where you will be safe.”
I’ve watched the news as I’ve reread both novels which are set on the West Coast in this decade. I’ve found myself vacilitating between inexplicable depths of sadness and coherent moments of clarity. Of course, this is where we are. How could we not be?
The media has taken to dragging out Angela Davis. Again.
She’s been asked about the prison industrial complex and why its abolition and the defunding of police departments would be a step in the right direction. She’s reminded forgetful America that communities of color have always found ways to maintain order in the absence of armed officers of the law who don’t care to differentiate between a Black person who’s a violent threat and a Black person who’s just a pesky nuisance. Once again, Davis has articulated why democratic presidential candidates won’t save us. Why “reforming” a system that is doing the job it was designed to do will be unsuccessful in going beyond temporarily pausing the destruction of Black bodies. Again and again, she has restated what she said in Freedom is a Constant Struggle. She has reminded America that the paltry trinkets of “chokehold bans” and “a few fired cops” should not be praised as victory. They are nothing more than consolation prizes in a violent, murderous system that can’t function without the brutalized bodies of George Floyd and Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and _____. One of the liberal sites that showed up on my Facebook timeline asked Davis about capitalism and how its viciousness fueled the recklessness in police departments around the country. Again, she said what she said in Women, Race, and Class and Abolition Democracy.
Audre Lorde said it.
bell hooks been saying it.
I’ve gone back to their words these last few weeks. Rereading texts I’ve bought and given away and lost and borrowed and bought again over the years. I’ve sat with the words of the women we only listen to when we’ve run out of rationales. When we’ve become overwhelmed by the truth of who we are. When we realize that maybe what we thought we heard them say could be useful, perhaps, as we wrap our minds around the uncomfortable truth that we hushed the first time they said it and then told them they were crazy the second and third times.
There’s been so much talk since George Floyd called out for his dead mama.
So little outrage since we’ve taken up the American tradition of hanging Black bodies from trees.
Billie Holiday once sang about that, too. Shame we didn’t listen then, either.
Keturah Kendrick is the author of No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone and the host of Unchained. Unbothered. Her work centers the voice of Black women who are committed to their freedom at all costs.