Sacred Black Space
(Micah is a TMI Project workshop leader at the helm of Black Stories Matter along with Dara Lurie.)
TMI Project’s Black Stories Matter program is a sacred space. Sacred is the only word that comes close to describing how it feels to me. This is in part due to it being a space for people to be vulnerable, to share their truths and their stories. But, more than that, it is Sacred Black Space, of which there are too few.
Our nation is filled with so many defacto white spaces there is no need to call them white spaces. We get the point without calling them that. There are some which are blatant white spaces and it’s clear we are not welcome. There are some spaces that are, “Welcoming to All,” and while that’s nice in intention, it falls short in reality.
The spaces in which we as Black people can say, “This space is intended for me,” are hard to find outside of the Black church or Black business, and there are not too many of the latter.
There are very few spaces in this world where we get to be vulnerable. We have been trained to work three times as hard for much less and do so without ever letting them see us suffer. We have been trained to soak it up, keep it in, bury it deep, and to pull ourselves up. Get over and get by, by any means necessary, just to survive — not thrive — sometimes simply to make it home alive. That’s trauma. But, we can’t see a therapist. We have to be strong, and hell, we can’t find a black therapist anyway. We have generational PTSD, but not the time or resources to deal with or admit it.
So, where do we go to share amongst ourselves the stories of our struggles and triumphs, with people that listen and deeply get it? Get what it means to be Black — the beautiful struggle. This is what happens in the Sacred Black Space of a Black Stories Matter workshop.
Here, we begin to see each other. We let our guard down, soften, breathe, and give and receive what we can for each other. We approach our whole selves. In this space intended for us, there is no pretending, no code-switching. We hold space that allows us to release, in a world that tells us not to, because we’re told in so many ways that our lives don’t matter.
On June 17th, 2020, I took part in the second Wednesday Walk 4 Black Lives in Kingston, NY, where I live. After hearing the organizers and inspiring speakers, we walked the route together in community and turned onto my block. As we were chanting “Black Lives Matter,” a white man, one of my neighbors, stood on his porch chanting in response, “Blue Lives Matter, Green Lives Matter, All Lives Matter.”
There is a multitude of reasons why someone may feel the need to do this. The most obvious is racism. But, I am going to assume the primary reason is ignorance, insecurity, white fragility and perhaps being caught up in the media swirl that often misrepresents Black Lives Matter.
However, I want him and those like him to know the following: of course all lives matter, but I need you to know that the message I have received repeatedly from this country is that mine does not. It has been made clear my whole life.
When we were hauled as cargo on ships like cattle and discarded overboard when sick and dying, they said, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
When we were sold as property, chained, tortured, raped, and forced to work, they said, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
When the emancipation proclamation was signed but they didn’t tell us, they said, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
When they still denied our basic rights and assassinated those who fought for them, they said, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
“Your life doesn’t matter.”
I assume you know this history too –that you have picked some of it up. But, perhaps because your skin is a different color you think differently. Perhaps you think we are past that. We are not.
When you deny us access to wealth and property by creating laws to do so, you are saying, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
When you unjustly imprison us, suspend us, and expel us, you are saying, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
When in every TV show and movie my people die first, you are saying, “Your life doesn’t matter.”
And every time you kill us, especially by the people who supposedly have sworn to protect us, you are saying, “YOUR LIFE DOESN’T MATTER.”
You say, “Blue lives matter”? Whoever told them that their lives didn’t matter? What oppression have they faced? How many centuries of hearing this message have they endured? None.
I want my neighbor and those like him to know, your fragility in the moment of our pain, and our strength is simply not important. Work on it. Stop trying to make it important with your, “All lives matter” talk. It is unbecoming.
I have pondered how I will respond to my neighbor. I want to engage. In my heart, that is what I feel called to do. That’s just me. But, I don’t want to engage as a Black man talking to a white man who felt the need to yell from his porch, “Blue Lives Matter, Green Lives Matter, All Lives Matter.” I think instead I’ll leave him this piece of writing as a letter along with a Black Lives Matter poster for him to put on his lawn as a sign that he understands.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ll keep holding Sacred Black Space that allows us to simply be who we are and share our stories. We will share our stories for ourselves and our own healing, but if you, my neighbor, or anybody else choose to quiet down and listen with an open heart, you’ll know our stories matter, as do our lives.
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