Is It So Hard to Mourn Black Women? And To Praise Them?

This will not be the first time this question is asked. But, it must be asked again, and again, as necessary — which is always.

For some different and some similar reasons to James Baldwin’s, Henry Miller also left America for mostly-good. Of the Americans he left — white, corporate, male, ambitious, good at looking honest on camera — he said this in America: The Airconditioned Nightmare:

Inside every smiling American beats the heart of a killer.

He meant the kind of American who isn’t much bothered by the river of blood that is our history, and our present. The kind that intentionally or blithely lets others suffer and die as along as the broadband stays up, the kind who would rather be “nice people” than good people.

These women are dead:

Take Aiyana Jones, 7, who was killed by a Detroit police officer as she slept on her father’s couch. Or Rekia Boyd, 22, whose life ended in Chicago when she was killed by a police officer. Or Yvette Smith, 48, who was unarmed when she was killed by a police officer in Texas. Or Pearlie Smith, 93, who was fatally shot in her home. Or Tarika Wilson, 26, whose one-year-old son was also injured when she was killed by a Ohio police officer. Or Tyisha Miller, 19, who was killed by a police officer in Los Angeles. Or Kathryn Johnson, 92, who was killed by a police officer in Atlanta. Or Gabriella Nevarez, 22, who was killed by a Sacramento police officer. Or Eleanor Bumpurs, 66, who was killed by a police officer in the Bronx.

(Read Evette Dione’s excellent piece in Bustle. It’s powerful writing.)

Their hands will never be mothered, or mother, or grandmother, or hold the shoulders of their sisters, or brush the lips of their lovers again. We have all been robbed of the chance ever to meet them, befriend them, share a joke during our morning commute or at the cafe or the corner store.

The same state sponsored (no metaphor) violence that took more famous men from us, that thinks for-profit prisons were ever compatible with human rights and community safety took these women from us. In my own comfortable county of Fairfax, Virginia, Natasha McKenna was tazed 4 times, while shackled, and it killed her. I’m sure that her resistance to being removed from her cell angered deputies charged with her care. So? Dealing with people disinclined to cooperate is The Job of Deputies.

Don’t want people mad at you on the daily?
Don’t be a cop.

There are no major protests in Fairfax County. One reason for this is that it’s a big place, and mostly very, very well-off if racially and culturally very, very mixed. But, more and more, people pushed out of DC by gentrification are finding themselves in a kind of diaspora along the bus and metro lines, and what was their community is gone from their lives — which means that our cops, who are used to trying to arrest diplomats for keeping trafficked house servants in their basements — are encountering new stresses on their beats. Still, Natasha McKenna was a woman. And we do not do big protests for dead black women.And by we, I mean all of us.

And by we, I mean America.


McKenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 12 years old, died Feb. 8 after a lieutenant at the Fairfax County, Va., Sheriff’s Department delivered four 50,000-volt shocks with a Taser to restrain her while she was having a psychotic episode in custody on Feb. 3. Why she was there in the first place reveals how ill-equipped law-enforcement officers are to effectively interact with and restrain people who have severe mental illness.

(from “When Will We Demand Justice for Natasha McKenna?” by Kristen West Savali, at, 4 May 2015 — it’s a great report, read it.)

Here’s a thing that all police need to know:
How to deal with people who
are not on their meds.
It’s not hard, and violence is not
on the list of best practices.

I like her face, her smile. I’m convinced I would have enjoyed knowing her, if I had the good luck to do so. Schizophrenia, at 12. All this young woman deserved was our collective love and support. She never, it seems, got it.

Aren’t we all tired of finding that we
miss people that we never met
because they ended at wrong
end of the law’s flailing arm?

Along with the men we are mourning so publically, along with that ideal of America whose never-being we continually mourn, in whose name we block traffic and shout poems and link arms, and sometimes set the world on fire, can we not also so publically mourn black women? Can we not say to our black sisters at least that your deaths matter to us, that we do not want to miss you, and that you are worth fire and rage?

Beyonce-Knowles-Met-Gala-2015No. We probably cannot do that.

And here’s why.

As a culture, even as black and white and feminist sub-cultures, we can’t make up our minds to just Jump For Joy that this kind of smart-talented-brave-strong-beauty exists. If the Met Gala red carpet is for any other purpose, I can’t imagine what it would be.

Beyonce’s public persona is a work of art. Her very body is a deliberate work of art. This dress is a work of such mindblowing art and physical discipline that most of the people freaking out about it could never, not even, imagine or create such a thing.

Read the comments on any article about this fancy dress for a fancy party for rich people, for instance, this one from which I lifted the picture. I even read one on Janet Mock’s Facebook page in which some yahoo claimed that Beyonce herself is the reason men can’t take women seriously — they too sexualites, he wrote. You can’t help Stupid, but Stupid here is making my point. We can’t praise black women, or mourn

You can’t help Stupid, but Stupid here is making my point. We can’t praise black women, or mourn them, because we can’t see them as people. Which, by the way, is entirely our own damn fault. Yes, WE, I say because we are way more interested in getting our judge on for Bey’s dress then in getting our justice on for Natasha.

I’m not even a Beyonce fan. I own not one of her songs, though I like them — just not as much as I like Green Day and Florence and the Machine — but I can say this: She is one of the most perfectly beautiful people ever to grace the surface of the Earth, and Givenchy decided to honor that beauty with a dress the lace of which was died to match her skin tone exactly. No one else can wear this thing. Her diet, her workout, her presence, her dress — all that made a real walking, talking, loving, momming, signing better than you ever work of art for one night (of what my inner socialist is mad was a 1% blowout of insulting proportions.)

I hope she takes That Dress and hangs out in the back yard with her daughter blowing bubbles and says to her, “Yes, baby, you can sit on my lap,” because that is the kind of Whole Woman Beyonce is trying to show us, in ways that will not and should not please everyone, is possible.

Black women. Praise them. Mourn them. Stop pretending they are not people. Right? Got it? Okay then.

What say you, then, Traveller?

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