Conditions of Scarcity in a Time of Blackness
To stare oneself in the face and to stare at this world in its most graveled place, is to acknowledge some kind of truth. The muscling worm and two lovers grazing fingertips have this much in common: life involves making sense of not knowing what comes next. Life involves making sense of where, and what, we’ve been.
From a young age, if people were to be honest, we’d give voice to this truth. Parents would instruct their children to finish their dinner because life is a perpetual state of uncertainty and: your peas are here, now, and therefore eat them. But parents—adults broadly—are not honest. They are magicians and shepherds; those of us that accept all their premises, their gullible sheep. I raise this point because, I imagine now and potentially forever, I live in fear. Every decision to further embark through and into the conditions of the planet Earth involves an acknowledgement of how much this place embraces hating me. How defined the truth of this place involves the blackness being the bleakness of my skin; how every turn feels like a wrong turn. Or at the very least, every turn feels like it is not taking me in the direction that turning the other way would have led. Doubt becomes self-doubt and I am left wondering if I must always choke my convictions in order to survive?
It’s a peculiar condition. Let me explain: I wake up and can barely get out of bed. My feet, cement blocks, my chest heavy as could be, my eyes scanning England’s blue-gray sky. Slowly, I make my way into the day. Then, over the course of the day I hydrate and I eat. More and more green leafy things these days. More sliced fruit in water too. I drink, I consume, I function as basically as I can. I try to use these hours purposefully—writing, reading, building a tower next to Babel, cultivating a garden that reminds one of Eden, designing metaphors that can’t quite reach. I try to point a particular direction: go this way, I beg the world. Change these things. These are particular to my time of blackness—I live in a perpetual state of fear in this institution so clearly not designed for me. My days involve an eternal mindset of resistance, one where I am reminded that I must justify my existence—and the existence of others—not just today but for the rest of my life. I walk, cautiously. There is an unquestioned questioning of my sanity here: by others, but most of all by myself.
A little over two weeks ago, while surprising my brother who was graduating from law school in the United States, I was taken to the hospital. Dehydration, exhaustion, potentially something else. Doctor told me to see a neurologist when I got back to Oxford. Now, back in the metropole one might say, I haven’t been able to find or make the time. Odd.
Not odd. Not odd at all.
It’d be most honest to admit that I am crying again. Writing this, editing this, scrolling through pages and pages of writings that revealed these words—this, this, that, and this. This is also part of these hours—the falling part, the coming down. After trying to save the world or save myself or save my hypothetical sister from dangers—to me—both known and unknown, some part of my body gives and I am drawn home. Home meaning my bedroom and my bed and my head under the covers. Turned out lights. Darkness and blackness meet.
Often, it is the early afternoon at this point. Days of scarcity, let me be clear, involve darkness come 2:30 p.m., 1:00 p.m., or even as early as 11. Today it was 11 a.m. I rose at 7? Or 6:30? Stomped into the world determined to make (something) of myself. To make (something) of the day. And by 11 a.m., I had, in some sense. Made (something) of this day. But I had not. I had not solved a thing, fixed a puzzle, undone the distribution of violence that attempts to consume me. And so I crawled—shuffled my weighted limbs—to the embrace of sullen bed sheets. I feel pathetic. Being this way. Now some days I have the energy to buy myself flowers. Or other days, potentially too often, I have the wherewithal to treat myself to a caramel shortbread. A nice thing to look at, a nice thing to eat. A gentle knock on the door of my senses to make sure they are in. Today they are. Yesterday they aren’t. Often I can’t muster the energy to knock.
Some days, I nap. And my body lets me. Thank you body, I say. Grateful for the moments it lets me rest.
Let me explain: killed are my brown and black trans and queer family; in nightclubs, on streets, in their homes, in the crossfire of war. Delivered death are those who we—day after and day—ignore and neglect. It makes me laugh; the idea that this world is a fair shake.
More trans women of color are statistically being killed than ever before. Yet these are just the killings and the women of which we know. The scarcity of hearts—our will—it kills.
White Americans on average have almost 16x the wealth that black Americans do. 2 million children die every year from preventable diseases—like pneumonia and diarrhea—because they are too poor afford proper care.
A UN Special Rapporteur a few years back told us what we should already knew: groups that are discriminated against, such as Afro-descendants, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, are disproportionately affected by poverty in all regions of the world.
But Brexit is about the economy. Britain has never wanted those disproportionately affected by its rule to come anywhere close to its shores.
Likewise, the apparatus of law enforcement in America has never intended to keep poor people and people of color safe.
Silence still equals death.
The White House, for the first time, supposedly will be announcing just how many people have been killed by the unmanned aircraft we call drones.
The planet’s temperature is going to increase by four degrees in the next 84 years. Goodbye rainforests. Hello methane: take our breath. Take it away.
Some days, I hold my hopelessness like a child holds a toy. Some days, I hold my hopelessness like it is that which kills me. Most days, I hold my hopelessness as my lover. This lover that who both keeps me in and pushes me out of bed.
When I am able, I walk through the world trying to make sense—to touch moving and breathing things. Trees, humans, bumblebees. I try to move slowly and consider all the ways I’ve been enabled to feel—happy, sad, hurt, hurt, hurt. I try to kiss, or functionally kiss, feet and embrace the smallest of joys. I attempt. I attend to myself and attempt.
Most days, I can’t do this. I can’t be honest. Can’t stare anti-blackness—the ideology that renders bodies (those entities that aren’t reproducing the power structures that be) as useless and/or less than—in the face. Instead, I run from place to place. Caffeinate, drink wine, wish there were new and unfamiliar substances which I could smoke, crave that which validates my grief. Hurt with me, I beg. I beg everything to say I’m hurting too.
When I was growing up, I never thought that I would live past the age of 14. Then 18. Then 19, then 20, then October, November, December, then 21, then 22, and now 25. 25 feels more plausible than ever before. I came to experience premature death as an unfortunate but ordained expiration date. Not ascribed to any person, but simply a higher powers way of saying: people just die. The world works this way. I began internalizing a particular type of fear: that there would never be enough time, never be enough to eat, never be a human who could love me amidst this fear and amidst the day (soon coming I’ve always believed) when I too would disappear. I can’t imagine, but in some ways I can and have discussed with loved ones, what it was like to grow up during the era of violence we have come to call the ‘AIDS crisis’ or more accurately the crisis of AIDS. Today, we have the refugee crisis which more honestly our world would call the crisis of refugees—Western worries and concerns in actuality see the refugee as the problem not the nature of violence that made them displaced. I know the story of AIDS in the United States the best, but it is one that plays itself out with different diseases and violent dynamics all over this globe. What must it have been like to attend funeral after funeral, week after week, and have some sense of yourself? Your value and your worth? How do people survive with their death feels imminent; their decimation, functionally a project of the state? How do people come to narrate the arc of the life? What dreams and aspirations is one able to have when they know they’ll be lucky if they make it to 35. Black and brown families in the deprived neighborhoods of America knows this disposition well. How does one find ‘life’ in this state of mind? In these conditions of being?
The essay (as a form) the poem (as a genre) and the writer (as one’s vocation) all rely on particular understandings of language. I, here (and now), struggle with all three. What is my point? I am asking myself this question at this point in this essay; I can see a gate closing as I quickly run out of words. Do I need a point? Have I wasted your time? Have you forgotten defiance is just another word for still heading out to the club and letting forsaken bodies dance? Have I let your child leave cabbage on their dinner plate? Or is my body just shaking? Am I, like I imagine all humans and beings in actuality are, a vessel of hurt. Could the point, if one is needed, simply be: The water and the wind told me I had something to say. Language, in the time of blackness, ought mean: there are words, there are ways of surviving, that are names I give myself and they are names I am just learning to say.
Joshua Aiken is a writer from St. Louis, Missouri, currently based in Oxford, England where he is studying on a Rhodes Scholarship. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in publications such as juked, Assaracus, Nepantla, the Winter Tangerine Review, and Ash. In 2016, He was selected for the Martin Starkie Prize for Best Poem, by judge Jane Yeh, on behalf of the Oxford University Poetry Society. His academic research focuses on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.