By Kejhonti Neloms
Flint’s water is just as poisonous to those black children living in that black community as it was 2 years ago when Barack Obama filtered the brown liquid on live television. Your ancestors deaths are just as unavenged today as they were yesterday. Yet we are supposed to hope and hope and hope…
Where does hope go after it has exhausted itself? What remains after hope? Is hope a light that can blow itself out? And then what happens to the bulb? Someone has to throw the bulb away at some point after the light inside of it has died.
When that White Heather lost her life at the anti-confederacy protest a couple of months ago, I was accused of being insensitive. I was accused of being insensitive when that Asian cop got killed in New York three years prior. I was accused of being insensitive when Emanuel shot up that Tennessee church. And I am accused of being insensitive today in the wake of that White domestic terrorist in Las Vegas, just like I was accused of being insensitive when Harambe was killed.
I have been asked by living monsters where my heart is, and I don’t know. But I want to use this space to see if I can find it, and maybe find yours, too.
I work as a bartender in my best friend’s family’s Mexican restaurant. The restaurant is downtown across from the convention center, so there’s always white people from out of town, on business, eager to sip margaritas and tip 10% on their corporate cards.
While at work, I observed a white couple watching the big screen behind me as news of the Las Vegas shooting streamed in. The housewife was a typical blonde of 40 or something. I know she is a housewife because she told me. Her hair is pulled back into a stuck up white woman bun reminiscent of that white girl Queen Latifah put onto a coat hanger in Bringing Down The House.
Because her forehead is forever taken off guard, she looks very surprised all of the time, even when she’s serious.
The man, on the other hand, is very stern looking. He also looks racist, even on top of the racism of just being a white man. He is wearing an all-white sweater that says Napa Valley on the breast. He inquired about an extremely rare bourbon called Kentucky Owl. He wanted to find it so that he could buy a bottle for his friend, whom he feels indebted to for allowing him and his wife to stay in his condo for free. He’s in town because he is a real estate developer and contractor (read: neo-colonialist).
These two white people, born and bred in a world where nothing like what happened in Vegas should/would/could ever not stay in Black communities, sat transfixed as they watched people who look like them suffer. I think that this must be the first time they have ever really witnessed senseless violence like this.
But for whom is this violence senseless? Because some old white man shooting up a bunch of people randomly makes perfect sense to niggas. It’s what white men do. It’s how they are.
Looking into the couple’s faces, I know that I do not feel the same way about the Vegas incident as they do. More importantly, I don’t think that I can feel the same way about this tragedy as they do. For them, this is the worst shooting to ever happen on American soil, but for us this is not true. For them, this is a shocking event, for us this is par the course. For them, this is the single biggest tragedy that they have ever experienced, for us this is the United States of America. For us these are the roosting chickens that Malcolm X warned them about, but they never took heed.
I have seen my grandmother cry over Amber Alerts for white girls and I remember when I was 7 or 8 she told me a story of how a white police officer who probably was the father of an Amber threw her through a storefront window when she was about 17 while she was marching with hope and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Louisville, Kentucky.
I am sorry, but I have run out of tears for white death.
What is the cost of grieving for someone who does not give a fuck about you? Who will never give a fuck about your black life? Who will never give a fuck about your black death? I feel like I’m being stockholmed. I feel like we’re being stockholmed, and there’s this certain expectation that I’m supposed to feel bad for my captor’s situation and perform these fake feelings for an audience at all times.
I want to find the space where I can mourn the deaths of my oppressors without feeling like I am forfeiting portions of my soul. I want to find a space where I can say that all deaths matter because all black lives matter. But I know I am not there yet, and I wonder if I ever will be.
My heart goes out to the black and brown people who were affected by the Las Vegas terrorist’s actions. My heart goes out to the black first responders. My heart goes out to the couple of Darius Ruckers who were probably in attendance. My heart goes out to the black and brown staff who were required to work a country concert when they probably didn’t want to. My heart goes out to the black people traumatized by having to watch those jarring videos all up and down my newsfeed. My heart goes out to my niggas.
My heart goes and goes, but there is only so many places it can. My heart will not go out to the revisionist racist nation state that is calling this the worst shooting on American Soil. My heart does not go out to white people under any circumstances. My heart does not go out to most people who listen to country music. I know that is petty. My heart does not go out to that couple sitting at my bar. My heart will not go out to their hearts. My heart will not be coerced into feeling empathy for racists.
My heart is under no obligation, and despite them calling me insensitive, it is only because I am so sensitive that I am guarding it tooth and nail.
Earlier in this article, I wanted to find the space where I could grieve for my oppressors. I even apologized for running out of tears for white deaths. I wrote the sentences naturally and they are left unedited. I keep asking myself, though, “To whom are you apologizing, Kejhonti, and for what? Do you really want to find that space?” I keep coming up empty-handed. Maybe I am apologizing because I feel that I have committed some grave social err. Maybe I am apologizing to my grandmother, who could still cry over white deaths even after suffering at the hands of white racists. Maybe I’m apologizing to the racist colonized morals that compel me to place white life/death at the top of some hierarchy.
Maybe I’m apologizing because society says that I should feel devastated about the terrorist attack, but instead I don’t feel anything except burdened.
Maybe I’m apologizing because I know that my ancestors deaths are still unavenged, but this incident will have direct and material consequences on my life, effective immediately. Maybe I’m apologizing to the old me, the me who didn’t know all white people are fundamentally anti-black. The me who would have absorbed and internalized this trauma like sensitive care-free black children are encouraged to do. The me who believed that all lives matter, even when only some lives get taken regularly. Maybe I didn’t even mean to apologize. I’ll say it again how I am feeling it today:
I have run out of tears for white deaths.
We should take a look at who gets grieved and for what. We should take a look at why Heather Heyer was so quickly martyrized as the face of anti-racist struggle when so many Black women have given their entire lives for the liberation of all black people—without any recognition or acknowledgement. We should talk about how not all church shootings matter. We should talk about how you responded to the Las Vegas shooting.
We should talk about whether you felt obligated to hold space for the white deceased with your white coworkers, and how that made you feel, when you know they were silent about _______ (any black person killed by the state). We should talk about these things, together, for us.
Remember, always, “You do not have to de-center yourself and your people. No matter what anyone tells you. No matter what anyone tells you.”
I have run out of hope, and I do not know where to go, but I am certainly not lost. Honestly, I feel found. What’s left after hope? I still do not have the answer, but I do know that the question has forced me to look inward.
I have run out of hope in this white world, but I am filled with hope for my black people. I have run out of hope in this anti-black world, but I am filled with hope for me. I have run out of hope in this anti-black world, but I am filled with hope for our black children. I am filled with hope for you.
Kejhonti Neloms is a queer student/teacher. He has dreams of starting a community center for black queer kids.