How to Survive This: Black Rage in Racist America

Jamila Reddy Dec 4, 2014

This moment is not the first, nor will it be the last. Just thinking these words feels like danger, because you have felt the fire, because you have heard the shots, because you have seen the blood, and know: all of it came, first, from thinking.

We know this moment—cannot shake the feeling that we’re living in a dream from which we cannot wake up. This emotional cocktail of grief, rage, confusion, and fear is déjà vu for too many people who occupy bodies that look like mine. This moment of déjà vu is what author Toni Morrison calls re-memory: the experience of remembering something we forgot we knew.

In the moments before it was announced that a St. Louis County grand jury had brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, my body said: we’ve been here before.

It knows the routine: my breath held, my heart pounding through my chest, every fiber in my muscles crossed for justice.  Upon hearing the grand jury’s decision, my phone flooded with messages from friends and loved ones—every sentence one I had read before:

My heart just hurts.

I’m in shambles. And I want to go away.

I’m hurt and I’m just…scared.

Scared for Zion, Tyjahe, Zache, Brian, and Kristian. How can I protect my students? These babies? These brown men?

And then, one that shook me silent: How do we protect them without asking them to live small, half-lives?

My heart ached that familiar, ancient ache. I put my phone down and went outside to meditate.

I called on my ancestors and prayed for guidance, clarity, and strength. I thought, "I don't know how to survive this.” A voice spoke to me and answered, "yes, you do."

How to survive this is blood memory. Survival is not something we have to figure out. It is in our bodies already, passed down from our ancestors, encoded in our DNA.  I come from a long line of people who have experienced unspeakable trauma and have persevered. I trust that I'm walking the path they walked. 

The answer to my friend’s question is: We don’t.  We can’t.

We cannot control what the world does to us. What we can control is how we respond to it.

The mirrored deaths of Black men at the hands of police officers and the recurring failure of our justice system is psychological warfare—a systemic attempt to crush our hope, to extinguish our spirit’s fire.

What we can do now is to mentally arm ourselves against the psychological warfare being waged against Black people in America. What we can do is create space around our hearts; put a barrier between our spirits and all this trauma.

We respond to death by living. Self-love is my call to action. Self-preservation—by any means necessary—is my civic duty. It is our responsibility, now, to live big, full lives. It is my responsibility, now, to myself—and only to myself—to survive. To breathe deeply. To allow peace to take up all the space in my heart.

James Baldwin explains, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

We are here because of the strength of our ancestors hope, because they did not let their rage destroy them. If we allow terror to take over our bodies, we light the match to our own church, we wrap our arms around our own necks, we pull the trigger. We pull the trigger. We pull the trigger.

I have shaken with rage and choked on grief for the loss of Black lives more times than I can count. But this time: my body remembered, and asked me to spare it.  Rage in your body will kill you, too, if you let it. All that anger is a sickness. They can kill the body, but they cannot destroy the soul without permission. This time, I refuse to give them permission. I encourage you to do the same.

Jamila Reddy is a writer, director, and facilitator of dreams based currently in Brooklyn (but always in pursuit of magic wherever it may be). She spends her days exploring, reflecting, and trying to get free.  As a queer/Black/Southern woman, Jamila is thankful for language and the light it shines on the dark corners of transformation. She received BAs in Sociology and Dramatic Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She recently completed and self-published her collection of poems, the consequence of silence.

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