Mules + machines. This is the historical and present-day subliminal description that scrolls across the subconscious of our society when considering the impetus of Black and Brown women. Envision us, a myriad of Brown faces and Black beings and melanin skin, not smiling or posing but simply occupying the natural expanse required our bodies, our existence. Perhaps even as we consider ourselves, we are wrapped with questions of motion:
What are we doing?
What have we done?
What ought we do?
Perhaps it is difficult to fathom our value notwithstanding our strength, our resilience, our productivity and capacity to endure that which is unbearable.
Weeks ago, when the air was still brisk with the cold winds of winter and most Minnesotans had not yet immerged from their annual hibernation, I took a trip. Nestled away from the coming and going of life, I warmed myself before a fireplace and relished in the quiet of my weekend lodge.
Though my surroundings were serene, I found it difficult to silence the rushing of my thoughts, still trapped in the ongoing cycle of always doing. To remedy this, I sought out a story, a book to lose myself in, like a time-machine made of bound paper that might hold me together too.
As I skimmed the titled spins in the section of African American Literature, newly stocked for Black History Month, I was tempted by Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. But instead, I brought back to my bungalow a book titled “Happily Ever Afters” by Elise Bryant, a young-adult fiction and teen romantic comedy.
Over the course of my weekend retreat, I devoured this book. I delighted in the sweet story of a young Black girl, in awe of the way in which it boldly and simply centered Black womanhood without suffering as the cornerstone. This novel brought me the cerebral reprieve I longed for. And yet, a shadow eclipse my delight.
Guilt rolled in like a threatening cloud. Was my longing to escape, to lose myself in the sweet simplicity of this fictional story, this simple delight, somehow an abandonment of my identity as a Black woman? What had I done to deserve such luxurious delight? Had I earned such precious joy?
In the stillness of my weekend lodge, I had the time to turn over this shame. I uncovered a belief within myself, buried deep within identity, rarely (if ever) spoken allowed – that to be Black is to suffer… To be Black is to suffer??
Am I not Black when I am resting?
Am I not Black when I am laughing?
Am I not Black when I am finding joy in life’s delight?
This shame unearthed in me, an internalized belief brought on by racism, that somehow to seek life outside of a constant struggle is to betray the past and current-day suffering of my people. Perhaps just as toxic as the yoke laid upon our Brown shoulders, is the internalization of such a rhetoric we too often force upon ourselves.
We excuse the evidence of our exhaustion, normalize the sign of our desperate need for reprieve from the psychological abuse of racism in all its form – historical, generation, interpersonal, systemic and environmental. We have clung to terms like micro-aggression, hiding behind the collective perception that small acts of psychological violence are inevitable. Perhaps to withstand this, we tell ourselves that such harm is inconsequential.
I leave no time
have no time
I press on
focus on my production and performance
Like mules and machine…
We are unable to imagine ourselves static,
safe from the suffering of our trauma even for a time.
But do we recognize the cumulative outcome of such violence on our sense of self? How often do we, with a knowledge of the cost of white supremacy, rest radically, dare to seek simple delight, and remind ourselves that Black beauty shines its brightest outside of the context of racism?
Now, I practice reaching boldly for rest. I stop and smell the newly blooming flowers. I take pleasure in my laughter as it bubbles up from my gut, surprising me – that it could somehow exist somewhere deep within even on days of great grief and mourning.
Now, to remind myself when guilt sets in, I recall and imagine a myriad of Brown faces and Black beings who know nothing of our fears and losses, who live on drenched in the warmth of life’s simple delights. And I tell myself:
Brown girl, there is nothing you can do, simply because you breath,
YOU DESERVE DELIGHT.
You deserve to be well + free.
Audio of this essay available at renderfree.com/audio-essay