On Thursday I was sitting at my desk listening to NPR when they announced Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation. I felt my eyes filling with tears and immediately thought of W.E.B. DuBois’ decision to surrender his U.S. passport and move to Ghana after a lifetime of fighting for social justice. Holder insists he hasn’t been pushed out by Republicans who have been calling for his resignation for years; it seems his wife was worried about his health and God knows his body must be weary from fighting the good fight for 6 years in D.C. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time inside my head and when I return to the real world I see or hear an echo—a ghost. Holder conjures DuBois, Viola Davis fights back when the NY Times calls her ugly and I think about Audre Lorde’s important reminder: “For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson––that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings.” Yesterday I met a friend and her mother to tour the beautiful new center at Weeksville. The corner lot that was once a stretch of grass has been completely transformed and yet I remembered my former self standing outside the old chain link fence, gazing at the Hunterfly Road houses and dreaming up A Wish After Midnight back in 2001. I remembered taking the very first printed copy of the novel to the women who worked there and never getting a response; sending more copies in the years that followed and still nothing. Yesterday we took a tour and our graduate student guide was so warm and enthusiastic, engaged in her own study of textiles from the 19th century. Then we went over to the new building and the new executive director came up to us and asked, “Are you all teachers?” She gave us educational material, offered us some cookies, and seemed genuinely excited when I offered to send her a copy of Wish. In November I’ll be on an Afrofuturism panel, which has me thinking about the blues motif of “repetition with variation.” We do seem to be trapped in a cycle…another Black teenager was shot dead by cops in Louisiana. The cops who shot a Black man holding a toy gun in Walmart won’t face charges. Two young Black women were killed in Florida—left bound and naked on the side of the road—and no one’s rallying or rioting. But these ghosts and echoes aren’t only proof of repetition (the more things change…). They’re opportunities for variation, for creating a different outcome or a different response to a recurring event. If you face rejection over and over again, you can choose/try not to internalize the implied message of worthlessness. As Viola Davis explains,
I’ve heard that statement [less classically beautiful] my entire life. Being a dark-skinned black woman, you heard it from the womb. And “classically not beautiful” is a fancy term for saying ugly. And denouncing you. And erasing you. Now … it worked when I was younger. It no longer works for me now. It’s about teaching a culture how to treat you. Because at the end of the day, you define you.