Don’t let your pain define you/Belonging to nowhere
Heard this quote on a morning talk show a few days back and have been thinking about it now a week later: Don’t let your pain define you. The loss of my mother has compounded the pain I’ve been experiencing since I’ve taken on n00se. The arc of being with her at the moment she suffered her stroke, through her rehabilitation that would only take her so far and then, being with her when the EMT’s were trying to stabilize her pulse in order to transport her to emergency, finally, closing her eyes in the ER has increased my dis ease. My mother’s fragility and eventual leaving has intensified the onset of rheumatoid arthritis of which I was diagnosed just about two years ago. I realized that n00se has made me aware of the constant pain I’m in but more devastatingly, is leaching to the surface, painful memories I’ve buried deep, deep down.
I think I’m angry. I mean, I had hoped this performance would alleviate the horror I perceive around me as well as the trauma so many of us experience on the day to day, hope that it would aspire to find words, images to put to this pain. So far, I don’t know what n00se is. Moreover, I’ve noticed that when I am asked to explain n00se I’ve become so outraged that I become tongue-tied—I say things that have very little to do with what I’m performing. I try to imagine my response to seeing someone wearing a noose and I wouldn’t have to ask; I’d know immediately what it’s all about. Is wearing a noose wearing my pain? Maybe. Surely. But there are times when I’m not aware of it at all, which may not be a good thing, but the only remedy my body concocts so that I can get up in the morning. I feel so vulnerable by this action that the words to describe it are beyond reach so far.
Observing my body more now than ever, when I’m out and about, I am now conscious of how I comport myself when engaging white folk so as not to appear aggressive or stupid or any of the other narratives attached to my body. It sounds ridiculous, I should be just who I am but, still, I feel this shift in a certain way that makes me ill. That’s the definition of dis/ease: Racism is a disease that makes me ill. Rather than have some rehearsed response to people’s inquiry—which I’ve yet to do—I’d rather be a silent spectacle. The perfect response I’ve received so far was from a worker in IKEA who walked behind me without stopping to engage but needed to express her reaction just the same and said, “It’s giving me chills.”
Belonging to nowhere is an apt description of an event that happened some years ago. If only it were a distant memory but I see it and experience situations like it repeatedly. On an impromptu beach trip to Wilmington, NC, while sitting on the beach a young white man planted his beach chair right on the edge of the surf a few yards away. As the surf rushed in, then, out, engulfing his feet in the process, he look out over the water and declared, “ I could sit here for the rest of my life, all I need is a beer and a good shit.” I was contemplating that blend of beer drinking and defecation when I saw on the boardwalk a young black family, husband, wife and two children. What made me notice them was that they were dressed up as if they just come from church. But I knew what it was all about. They dressed up on this particularly hot and sunny day, when everybody else hardly wore anything at all, to experience a public beach and not be harassed. I shook my head in some smug and condescending way, thinking how sad it was they couldn’t just enjoy being at the beach like the shit-beer guy or even myself for that matter. They were doing everything right. They looked middle class, educated, presumably faithful. The males, father and son, their hair was recently barbered, and the mother’s and daughter’s, coiffed and gleaming. Me, I was sitting on the beach with my then girlfriend who is white, the total opposite of that family, we were probably a spectacle ourselves, brazenly sitting on that beach in broad daylight. I also thought at the time that the energy we exuded gave us some cache; I was proven wrong. Later when we went to a restaurant just off the beach our 10 minute wait for a table became 20 minutes, then, 30 minutes as I observed other people, couples, families come in after us and immediately get seated. Of course, they were white people. I knew right then that it wasn’t that I was the only black person in the restaurant, but that I represented that American gothic love/hate paradigm: a Black man with a White woman. I had to ask for the manager, who, in turn, seated us right away with an apology for taking so long. But there was no reprimand for the hostess, no acknowledgement of the discrimination; I’m sure in the manager’s view, she wanted to get us served and gotten the hell out of there as quickly as possible. The neat and pressed family also just wanted to get through their day and, as a result, hopefully be invisible enough to do so, because, being visible is dangerous. Danger can break on them, on me, at anytime, anywhere, even in the most comforting of environments. All it takes is one angry person in combination with a complicit and confused public. It doesn’t matter whether I perform n00se or not, but, especially when I’m performing it: n00se is intolerable permanence.