By Timothy DuWhite
Rumor has it that you stayed home. You checked into Facebook and wrote a lengthy status instead. You rolled your eyes at every “just voted”-stickered selfie that popped up on your timeline. You had words for everyone who either “#FeltTheBern,” was “ #WithHer,” or wanted to “#MakeAmericaGreatAgain.”
When Trump said “wall”, said “deportation,” said “Islamic terrorists,” said “law and order,” you did not flinch. You already knew about Obama’s drones, his surveillance, his detention centers, his proclivity for police, his silence at the sight of a withering Black body.
When the liberals named you complicit, said that your decision to not vote was a “privilege” that the less fortunate do not have, you did not lose sleep. You know the “less fortunate” well. You’ve been alive twenty-plus years and have yet to see any president do anything for your mother, the woman who still managed to raise you while suffering from a governmentally constructed predisposition to drug-addiction.
You have yet to see any president do anything for your uncle, who no longer knows how to talk to his teenage daughter, having spent ten years in prison for the possession of marijuana.
There is no ballot malleable enough to clean up all of America’s blood, let alone offer your blood some justice. You know this, and these are just some of the reasons you did not vote.
But as you watched your local airport grow congested with protesters after the introduction of President Trump’s travel ban your palms began to sweat. The sight of those protesters’ toil, their anguish, the heat from their screams accenting smoke in the frostbitten air, made a question out of what used to be your certainty.
Then you heard about Trump signing two executive orders that would advance construction on both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline. After that, your best-friend, the actor, told you in hysterics about Trump’s plans to cut the funding to the National Endowment of the Arts. You flip on the T.V. to see that his administration withdrew an appeal that aimed to protect transgender students––and then there was the bomb. A fucking bomb! Apparently the mother of all fucking bombs!
And suddenly, you begin to feel exposed. Suddenly, all your past tweets resemble evidence. Your keyboard weighs heavily on your chest, each character a blood red. And suddenly, you are as terrified as everyone else.
If there is a God, I imagine that they, too, are uncertain. That some days they, too, question their decision to elect man with so much power. And by God perhaps I am just referring to the very real electoral college, and praying for their remorse. Perhaps secretly I want each and every one of them to be haunted by the screams of those Afghanistani people as that bomb turned their Thursday morning into an empty crater.
More to the point, perhaps I want them all to feel regret for their decision to not choose Hilary––and how hypocritical is that? How grossly antithetical to your vision of abolition is it to now wish for the “lesser evil”? What does this newfound guilt now make of your politics? What does this newfound guilt now make of you?
On September 15th, 2016, I sat in the back of a courtroom on Centre street and watched Bayna-Lehkiem El-Amin get sentenced to 9 years in prison. Bayna was charged with assault following an altercation in which he was struck by Jonathan Snipes while eating in a Chelsea-area Dallas BBQ restaurant. The altercation concluded with Bayna throwing a wooden chair at both Snipes and his boyfriend Ethan York-Adams.
Before New York Supreme Court Justice Arlene Goldberg announced her verdict, the entire room was forced to witness Bayna’s court-appointed lawyer fumble through his final remarks for Bayna’s defense. We all, including Bayna’s family, watched as his lawyer casually combed his mind for possible speaking points having not written anything down. He laxly used terms like, “good man,” and “mentor,” and “son,” but when the lawyer concluded his statement, Bayna was still all of those things––as well as convicted.
It was in that moment I had a realization that I wanted to become a lawyer. I knew, having not even gone to school for anything related to law, that I could have formed a far more powerful closing argument. I envisioned an officer leading me from the courtroom doors as I walked to stand beside Bayna. I imagined my hand movements, the nodding of the judge’s head, my reference to the law and what is “legal.”
In that moment, my focus wasn’t to divest from the system, but rather to participate as much as possible to fix it.
But the reality of what America is always remained. Leading up to the day of El-Amin’s verdict, I assisted F2L, a New York City-based group that does support work for queer and trans people of color facing prison time, in formulating a defense on Bayna’s behalf. We talked over the case, researched the prosecutor’s arguments, and found an odious inconsistency.
When referencing her client’s, Jonathan Snipes, admission of being the first to strike Bayna and incite the subsequent brawl, the prosecutor worked diligently to position Snipes as a frail, unassuming man undergoing emotional distress. The story goes that Snipes received word of the failing health of a family member moments before knocking down the drinks on Bayna’s table and over-hearing someone in Bayna’s general direction call him a “faggot.”
The prosecutor argued that Snipes striking Bayna could be understood under the circumstances. She stated, “After receiving heartbreaking news regarding a family member, then to have to hear such a violent word slung at him, Snipes acted purely out of emotion. Though wrong, certainly still understandable.”
The prosecutor than aimed to position Bayna as a hulking brute. She began by citing the fact that Bayna is 6-feet 6-, much larger than her client. She then discussed the extent of Bayna’s retaliation. She noted that the few initial punches by the defendant could be considered self-defense, however, it was the picking up of the chair that made his actions criminal. She stated, “The altercation was already over, they both were separated. But the defendant just couldn’t let it go, he had something to prove. His decision to pick up that chair wasn’t in self-defense but rather fueled by complete emotion.”
On the one hand, the argument of “emotion” was enough to exonerate Snipes of responsibility. On the other hand, “emotion” was just enough to demonize and later sentence Bayna.
My impulse is to call this a double-standard, but I know that it is not. This occurrence is just another example of the utility of anti-Blackness in the court of law––of how anti-Blackness functions to inundate “the system” with a leverage that will always leave it fruitful and operational for those it was built to serve and protect.
We as Black people want so badly the opportunity to scream hypocrisy, and understandably so. We deserve this opportunity. But hypocrisy is saying you love Black people but still bopping along to an Iggy Azalea track. Hypocrisy is saying you love hip-hop music but don’t know the words to Biggie’s “Juicy”.
What the prosecutor enacted in that room cannot be minimized to a word as simplistic as “hypocrisy” if we are to respect the people (in this case, Bayna) who are always made subject to such violence. The prosecutor’s argument is not hypocritical, but rather it is history.
When we discuss the “hypocrisy” of now wishing you went #WithHer, we must understand that this word is yet again rendered inadequate within the context of the history of anti-Blackness. Black people have the intrinsic right to try and find freedom by any means possible. What seems like moments of inconsistency to the world is actually just us scouring for tools in an empty shed.
Throughout the hundreds of years spent formulating this white supremacist colonizing cis-heteropatriarchal nation, anti-Blackness has always operated as the skeleton, as the axis, as the bridge, as the soil, as the hands left dirty while the entire country feasts. A system designed to murder, disenfranchise, and enslave Black people is proven to be fully operational when the only viable candidate in a presidential race is a woman whose policies have murdered, disenfranchised, and enslaved Black people.
Yet, here you are, here we are, here I am, the young radical, the boisterous millennial, feeling scared, feeling unsure––and what an uninspiring place? How are you supposed to chant Assata without the rest of the rally hearing the trepidation in your voice?
The entire country is making you feel as if you should be sorry, and maybe you are. However, this piece is not an apology. This piece is not an admission of guilt. This piece is the acknowledgement that seeing yourself die on Facebook Live, dashboard cam, police cam, surveillance video, over and over and over again is painful. It is feeling as if the bullet, or the knife, or the arm around your neck was never and will never be released from your body.
This piece is an ode to the day you threw your hands up, not in surrender, but rather in refusal. And maybe your hands are still up in the air, and maybe you haven’t quite yet figured out what to do with them, but this is not about you providing us with an alternative solution to a problem you didn’t cause.
This piece is my love letter to you. This piece is me saying I affirm your resilience, and your uncertainty. We are taught that to be radical is to always have a quick rebuttal, and counterpoint. However, how beautiful is it to be unsure? To love your people so much that you would gladly host the possibility of being wrong if it would lead to less of your family dying?
If becoming a lawyer would have meant Bayna would spend less years away from his loved ones, then fuck it, make me a lawyer.
But how does one possibly quantify time stolen by a prison without also being anti-Black? I do not have the answer.
This piece is not about the answer. It is about making a decision to try and carve out a space somewhere outside of all of this. Because outside of all of this is the only safe space for our Black to fully exist unhunted. And maybe you don’t know where to start to find that space. And maybe even the ballot was the only idea you could come up with. That’s fine. I don’t know either, but I love you enough to stand here and struggle with you.
It is said that Harriet Tubman, the most heralded abolitionist of all time, would warn her fellow slaves that if they were to try and turn back after embarking on their journey to freedom she would shoot them as a means to keep the rest safe.
Though I dare not question Harriet’s methods, I do like to believe that she did not shoot automatically. I’d like to believe that she recognized where the fear came from––that she understood the residual uncertainty even after pushing back the weeds and burrowing through the woods. I’d like to believe that, even then, facing the very prominent prospect of death, on occasion she would risk extending her hand away from the shotgun, and towards another hand, if it meant they all could get free. And if that wasn’t enough, it was only then that she’d shoot.
Timothy DuWhite is a black, queer, poz-writer/artist/nigga based out of Brooklyn, NY. A majority of his work circles around the intersections of state & body, state & love, and state & mind. All Timothy desires is a different/newer world for his sha-daughters, and believes the written word is one tool that could be used towards achieving that goal.