Just Don't Forget That Black Pain Isn't All We Have

Illustration for article titled Just Don't Forget That Black Pain Isn't All We Have
Photo: KEREM YUCEL (AFP via Getty Images)

I don’t know exactly when I decided to stop writing about whiteness and focus purely on blackness. What I do know is that for the past few years I specifically made a decision to write about the celebration of blackness and black culture and whatever comes with it. No more writing about black trauma and pain, the white gaze or white supremacy. At some point, I just...couldn’t do it. I want to say it was an intentional decision but that’s probably not true. I think that over time, my heart and mind couldn’t take it anymore. Obviously whiteness is all around—a perpetual winter that we all wade through hoping for spring. But I found myself to be significantly happier when I celebrated black culture—when I celebrated us.


This wasn’t always the case, obviously. I distinctly remember actually waiting (it sounds insane to say this) to get the news that Troy Davis had been executed in Georgia in 2011 because I knew that we at VSB would have to write something about it. I watched the news and Twitter and sometime after 11 p.m. on September 21, 2011, we got the news that he’d been executed by the state. At midnight, September 22, 2011, I hit publish on a piece about the lack of justice in the case because we needed a place to talk about it and cry on our keyboards and spill our emotions. I’d never do that now. I can’t. Rereading that piece took me back to the emotions I experienced then and I remember how sad I was. Black death is painful. It hurts. Sitting with—and in it—is hard and then writing about it to ensure that the history is recorded, while necessary, is an additional level of pain. I did the same thing with Sandra Bland and was so infuriated that I remember being mad the rest of the day.

Black pain as a business model is unsustainable for my soul.

I watched the video of the police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes. I didn’t want to but I was compelled to do so. I watched what I felt was a countdown on his life in video form. He didn’t know, the child filming it didn’t know, and the indifferent police officers didn’t know, but they were all a part of the winding down of his life. But by the time I saw the video, that’s how I viewed it. I wanted to scream at the police officer to get off of him. And not just for his life, but for every black person alive who will go through another round of having to remove people in their lives who find new ways to blame a dead man or woman for their own murder. It’s frustrating. The same goes for Ahmaud Arbery. And Breonna Taylor. And countless others. Coupled with the video of Amy Cooper threatening Christian Cooper with the color of his skin—clearly knowing full well that he could end up being George Floyd— and somehow wanting the world to feel some level of empathy for her after the fact made me want to fight the air. I hate her. I hate the police officers involved in the killing of Floyd. A black man can’t do something as innocuous as watch birds without going through mental machinations. On the checklist I run through every day of all the ways I might die once I leave the house, I can honestly say, watching birds would never have made the list. Now I’ll never forget to remember that.

I’m tired. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. That’s such an old black saying but it might be the aptest expression blackness has ever proffered. James Baldwin’s infamous quote always resurfaces around this time too: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I hate how true that statement is.

Somewhere riding through all of this exhaustion, I look for the things that bring me some level of peace and joy because I can’t share my pain the same way anymore. My job is to write and express and opine and black pain is just not something I can do over and over. It comes with a trade-off, though, as it turns out, people generally want to read more about black pain than they want to celebrate black culture. This is a fact. And that goes for black and white people. Understandably, when something happens, we seek out as much information as possible, somewhat masochistically, hoping to read the one thing that provides hope for the change Sam Cooke sang about. We never find it. In my personal life, as a black man, a husband to a black woman and as a parent to black children who will grow up to be black adults, inshallah, when my kids go back and read what their father wrote about, I want them to see the happiness and celebration of who they are and what the world has gained from our existence. It is substantial and it is heroic.

But the reality is, even if I don’t write about it, the exhaustion never goes away. The frustration never goes away. The anger never goes away. Even the celebration of blackness feels hollow at times, almost forced. Every time something happens that reinforces white supremacy, I dig deep into my bag and think about what I would want to write and all I can ever come up with is, “I hate it here,” with here being the metaphorical America that condones and encourages oppression.

Meanwhile, my black is beautiful. Your black is beautiful. We need to fight the good fight and keep on keepin’ on until we see the changes we need in this country. Don’t forget that blackness isn’t a pathology, and just because they don’t see that fact doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Don’t forget to breathe.


Our black pain isn’t all we have, just don’t forget that.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



Singing my life with your words, thank you!

Just got in from doing something altruistic then treating myself to a late lunch in Ann Arbor. Going to eat, I notice two cop cars on each side of a major street right at the freeway exit. They literally have me turn around. Hmm, I figure some politician’s motorcade coming thru this very liberal enclave. I U-turn, go pickup my food and eat in my car with the sun shining through the open sunroof in an almost empty parking lot. Not super hot or humid, it was a nice little outing that really lifted my spirits!

I find myself almost two hours later, back on that same road, so I can enjoy the scenic route home. Get near the same spot as before but there are more cop cars diverting traffic on this busy main thoroughfare! Still on my high, I don’t even mind turning around in a parking lot until I see... There’s a protest march! Don’t know who organized it but Black Lives Matter had a sign up front and the front man was waving drivers away from the approaching crowd. My heart sank as I remembered the morning broadcast of the Minneapolis protests overnight. But in the next instant, I threw the Black Power Fist thru the sunroof and resolved that I wasn’t gonna let the darkness envelope me! (Then I wished I’m packed my summer cooler with water so I could have given them some cuz it was warm outside!)

As I got on the freeway, I could see rush hour traffic on the other side was at a complete standstill. And my joy came roaring back in full force because...whether some people relish our pain or others just try to remain oblivious, they cannot! Whether they know his name or any of the names, we are all connected and you will not be untouched!