How much does ‘black pain’ weigh?
For a couple of years now, I been wondering what a free black person’s life would be like, and I am amazed at how limited my imagination is. What would it be like if my body, my soul, my life was not weighed down by ‘black pain’? Would I be able to just fly away like those famed black Africans who remembered the magic words of their mother tongues, who whispered freedom to life and sprouted the wings they needed to take themselves back home rather than facing an existence of generations who will carry the burden that our history, our existence has become?
White people cannot know the weight of black pain, the way it holds you down. I mean, I love the earth, my center is down towards our mother, but father sun still calls, and I cannot answer because of this load of blackness that I carry, and I cannot breathe. How does one carry the weight of black pain? Every day I feel as I try to rise out of bed. I wake up and I remember, I’m black and wonder, what will that cost me today? White people cannot know.
Four hundred years of not having ownership of my own body, multiplied by the total number of us all. Carry that load, boy. Each and everyday my blackness meets me, and it is quick, you see, it reaches my back before my humanness gets there most days. What must free blackdom feel like? It is silk, softly wrapping itself around my form, kissing each wound made from the burden of the pain I been carrying, healing with its nothingness? I know the weight of the chains we wear each day, binding my soul; whiteness can’t begin to know.
How do we keep moving? How have we been able to raise our children, work for a living, skrimp and save and make it each day under this weight? How can we bear it? And yet we do, because we have no choice, it lays on us like a second skin. Black pain and my soul bleeds.
My students asked me today about Kanye’s statements about his love for Donald Trump and I had to help them make sense of this. Is there anything that could have prepared me for the man who told the world, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” who chooses to continue be a Kardashian, now chose to be Trumps friend? And all I can think of to say is, “white people cannot know the weight of black pain.” How it clings to you everywhere you go. How it never gives you a moments rest, not for one moment. Just when you think you can take off, leave the ground and soar, it’s there holding you down.
I want white people to imagine never having a single minute of freedom in a world that is trying to convince you that you are free, been free for generations. Whiteness owns individualism, keeps it for itself. This is the true face of race-based privilege.
I want black people to imagine being able to be an individual. Imagine being able to just be yourself, not every Jim Crow, every darkie who has ever done anything bad, wrong—real or imagined by whiteness. Black people, imagine not being expected to think just like every other black person alive! Imagine a world where your thoughts can be your own, and you don’t have to represent the black view, and no one will every say to you, “oh, I thought you’d like this because, well, you know, you’re um blac..african um…” ever again. Imagine not being weighed down by the pain of blackness. Black People, imagine being able to not have to worry about being a credit to your race. Not being the usual suspect. Imagine being able to hold a cell phone in your hand that is seen as a cell phone, not a gun. Imagine being able to be seen as the smart kid who is going to go far, without having to an example to all those other kids, to just be you being you. Imagine being able to be silly. Imagine laughing, loud, soft, it doesn’t matter. Imagine singing and dancing to our own music without someone listening and figuring out how to appropriate what we are doing for white profit, while condemning you for practicing your own arts.
On my back I carry the burden of our success. Slowly, step by step each generation we inch closer to freedom, that shimmering, shining promised land, the mirage of freedom that is always yet to be, almost, not now, not ever. And if I put down my share of that pain for even a second to stretch use my muscles in my own name, then all of my brothers and sisters have to take up my load, for someone, we, always has to carry our blackness. What I am trying to do is to learn to separate blackness from the pain. This is what I am not sure is even possible, but it is what I imagine freedom to look like.
Black people, I want you to imagine freedom. What does it look like in everyday life?
I understand this about Kanye. He wants to be free from black pain. He wants to be able to love who he wants, and hold any political view, have enough money, and fame, and whatever it takes to be able to be a free black man, any way he chooses. And I can’t blame him for this. But his ability to put down blackness for a minute, doesn’t dissolve the weight I feel, and I can’t help but resent him for letting me help to shoulder his share.
I want to lose this weight I carry. I want someone to invent a pill to dissolve black pain. I want to wake up in the morning next to Nina Simone and know what it means to be me and to be free. And I want that freedom to be more than sexual, more than monetary, more than physical, more than mental, more than spiritual. I want everything thing that is possible, and I want it painted black.