On The Importance of Black Love During a Time Like This

by Camonghne Felix

We waited twelve hours for the Darren Wilson verdict and it was all I could think of, the entire day stretched out into a thin film of anxiety. I wanted my mother. I wanted a hug. I wanted to not know what was happening. I sat in the same seat for those 12 hours and wrote poems and did homework as the world awaited the statement we knew was coming: Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the murder of Michael Brown.

When the verdict finally came, after hours of marching, I was exhausted. My spirit had been clipped. My hope, compromised. I said to a reporter who asked for my thoughts, “I am so tired. All I feel is fatigue.”

My journey home felt like it took forever, and getting home to my boyfriend (who had worked a gruesome 12 hours and couldn’t make it to the protest) seemed to be of singular priority. The affection was all I could see. I just wanted to touch him, be touched by him, and verify that he was actually there.

When I got home, I could see that the day had done to him what it had done to me. He is a quiet man, who requires more time to process his frustrations than I do. Neither of us could eat, and we were unsure of what to say. One silence led to another, one of our tones took a strange turn, and suddenly we were fighting.

I do not have the most perfect heterosexual relationship in the world, but with our companionship, fights tend to occur few and far-between and manage to be incredibly contained. Why would it happen tonight of all nights, when we so desperately needed to be engulfed in the other, taking advantage of this small gift of safety?

We went outside to smoke a rancid cigarette and could not ignore the obnoxious sound of the helicopters casing the city, closing in on protests that were happening some miles away. I couldn’t help but think of the insidious sound as intentionally threatening, their way of letting us know that they were watching us from all directions.

As my boyfriend and I stood silently beneath a rumbling black sky, the helicopter rattling the door frame behind us, it occurred to me that there is a very specific plan—racism always had one specific plan—and that this new wall between my boyfriend and I was a part of (if not an extension of) that plan. We weren’t angry at each other. We barely get angry at each other on a normal day—as in, a day when the lack of concern for black life isn’t plastered on our television—so this anger we were hosting was bigger than us, and honestly, could only be productive outside of the context of our relationship. We were and are angry at the world we so desperately want to change. Being angry at each other left no room for us to fight for that change together.

Racism has, for hundred of years, been responsible for much of the infighting and abuse that is imposed black community. It is responsible for our absent fathers and our dead brothers, alike. In 2013, The DMV-5 released a report that compares the PTSD that veterans experience upon returning home from war to the PTSD that black people experience due to the material effects of racism. The reality: generations of people practically at war, completely shaken at their core, reproducing generation after generation of trauma. Of course a people born into trauma might have a hard time figuring out how to healthily love each other.

In a time of war and social uprising, sex, romance and affection are important catharses. Our bodies produce Oxytocin whenever you hug or kiss a person. It is a chemical mediator of anxiety and stress. You produce loads of it when you have sex, or give birth, or do anything explicitly intimate. Similarly, the production of pheromones, the hormones that help to establish and strengthen relationships, affects our friendships and our abilities to maintain them. Pheromones can only be exchanged in close proximity—you’ve got to get close and personal for it to do its job.

When my boyfriend and I finally held each other after we came to the epiphany that our intimacy could be healing, I found myself almost in tears because of how good it felt to lay some of the weight down. Things were bad out there, real bad, but on a turbulent night that only seemed to promise more uncertainty, there was nothing we could do but be fully present in here, in the love we have for each other. It restored whatever energy had been stolen from us, whatever hope had been quelled. I felt so much more powerful. I felt so much more prepared. I felt so much more ready to do the work necessary.

If we start to think about affection as a key to the holistic wellness of the black community, the implications could be transformative. We don’t have control over these circumstances that are threatening our lives and threatening to keep us in subjugation, but we might have control over how we allow those circumstances to directly affect our physical well-being, as well as our physical and mental ability to fight back.

This is not specific to heterosexual or even romantic relationships. We need to consider this in all of our relationships with fellow people of color. How do we respond to each other amidst the clear dehumanization thrown in our faces? Are we doing enough hugging? Are we doing enough checking in? Are we paying close enough attention to self-care? In these times of immense tragedy—when our safeties are so blatantly at risk that we’ve no choice but to bleed about it—it’s important that we remember the natural healing properties of human affection and the function of community.

Maybe it’s impossible to get through to the people you most desperately need to reach until you touch them.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Camonghne Felix is an MFA Candidate at Bard College, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and the 2013 recipient of the Cora Craig Award for Young Women. She writes poetry, essays, speeches and other stuff. You can find her work in various publications including Pank Magazine, Specter Magazine, and Bayou Magazine with work forthcoming in Union Station, No Dear, and other places.

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