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Today’s post is by Piper Kendrix Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of African American Studies and English, The College of New Jersey. Dr. Piper Kendrix Williams is the co-author of The Toni Morrison Book Club. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020. She also co-edited Representing Segregation: Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow. SUNY Press, 2010. She is the Chair of and associate professor in the Department of African American Studies and jointly-appointed in the Department of English at The College of New Jersey.
She is currently working on Black Roots, Black Voices and Emancipatory Practices in African American Literature and Culture, a book-length study, which explores the through-line that connects slavery to mass incarceration, and the attending forms of segregation and police violence. This project posits that in the African American literary tradition Black writers imagine the future, alternative times, and different realities to proclaim their freedom and autonomy in a country that has failed to do so for over 400 years
From the quotidian (of or occurring every day) and mundane:
This morning I woke up, and knowing I had already scheduled, with my Dean, a visit to campus today, I checked her email about such visits for instructions. “Use your ID, swipe into the building. If you have any trouble, contact campus police.”
“Contact campus police…” hmmm – right away I had unease and questions about this. Literal questions: I was facetiming with my mom and said “Do you think I should contact campus police and let them know that I, a Black woman, will be accessing my building, you know just in case…” This is how the terror and stress of being Black can happen: in the quotidian and mundane. And trust me, as I got closer and closer to campus my anxiety increased, my heart felt tight and was beating rapidly. Is this irrational? Of course maybe not: is it irrational to give my teenage son “the talk” about interacting with police: no, that’s mandatory. My point is just having to think about this can make you feel irrational and is taxing over a lifetime of having to think about this…
This is where terror resides: in the unknown. Because before things become tragic they are quotidian and mundane.
Tamir Rice’s mother cooking dinner – quotidian and mundane
Wearing a hoodie with Skittles and iced tea in your pocket – quotidian and mundane
Breaking small laws – I speed – quotidian and mundane
Bird watching – quotidian and mundane and actually quite peaceful and meditative even.
Asleep in your house – quotidian and mundane
Buying pop (soda) in Money, Mississippi in 1955
I could, of course, go on and on and on and on and on…
What was my fear today: that I would be a Black person out of place or a Black person who surprises an unreasonable and/or irrational white person, maybe with a gun, a badge and cell phone? (Amy Cooper weaponized her phone like an expert, playing the part that has been scripted for her for hundreds of years: the fragile, tearful white woman in distress, deploying a deadly formula: “African American man,” repeat four times + “threatening,” repeat over and over.)
I don’t know what it does to my health, exactly, to have these stressful situations about what I can’t know- because George Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Rashard Brooks did not know, did not know this was the day, this was the time, that their fears of white supremacist racial violence would become actualized. I do know being Black is stressful and can cause a myriad of mental and medical problems and death, even if we don’t get killed by a white supremacist person, just the disease of white supremacy.
White friends of mine, former white students of mine, sometimes white colleagues of mine have been asking a range of questions lately: nicely, if naively, asking how I am; asking what can they do; “woke” enough to know they should not ask me to solve this problem, but ask anyway. I have even created a standard response of “I’m ok” and here are some resources to read, watch, listen.
Do you really want to know how sad, mad, stressed I am? How angry I am… about the violent racists, and the racists systems, and the low key, unconsciously biased racists – the ones who ask me about the “riot” and “looters” and I’ve calmly responded to this by 1) quoting Dr. King “The riot is the language of the unheard.’ 2) Most of the people out there are protesting peacefully and 3) Can we talk about the murder of unarmed black people first and how I feel about the seemingly unending loop of Black death on videos.
White people who care about a just society for all have to proclaim “Black Lives Matters;” have to work hard to dismantle white supremacy; have to find out what being anti-racist is and how they can work at being this. This is your work.
If you woke up this morning not having to worry or only worrying about quotidian and mundane, like how will my kids get their work done, how can I, when will I be able to socialize, should I wear a mask (yes!) but not also whether or not it will turn tragic – that’s your privilege, your white privilege.
Well, that’s my rant and it has cost me: I have felt angry the whole time I’ve been writing.