Our current systems are unjust, cruel, and harmful. As individuals, we can support our friends in crisis. But there are so many other factors that must be part of the conversation. TW: suicide, mental illness, police interaction, threat of sexual violence By
TW: This essay discusses suicide I had just finished my first and most brutal semester at Morehouse College days before. I went over to my brothers’ house to stay there before heading back home to North Carolina. Sitting in the back
If you think someone is in trouble, you should reach out to them. Not the other way around.[TW: this essay contains descriptions of suicidal ideation, attempted death by suicide, abuse, trauma, and depression.] In 2002 I moved from California to Switzerland, back in with my family, after attempting suicide. It was actually my second attempt, but I never told anybody about the first time I tried in 1996 when still in high school. After the second attempt followed by being involuntarily committed, I thought it best to keep my history with the act private. And I certainly didn’t tell any of the doctors entrusted with my release papers that suicidal ideation was almost as old a friend to me as reading. The first time I recall thinking about killing myself I was around seven or eight years old—growing up in a violent household will have that effect on a person—and I’ve mitigated the urge in different ways ever since. In Dexter Morgan’s words: My dark passenger. Those early days of recovery in 2002 were a new kind of nightmare, made worse by the fact that my father found my traumatized presence at home a nuisance and my youngest sister outright told me I should throw myself in front of one of the trains that passed regularly in front of their house. My sister stood by her words so strong she even said them with my visiting best friend standing right next to me. My friend, who had come to offer the kind of support I’d never get from my family, left with her own secondary traumas of the experience. She’d never seen or heard a family member be as openly cruel as mine were to me, and it shook her core. The worst part about my sister’s flippant push toward my suicide was that nobody knew how I would sometimes sit at the train stop watching the train go by, mustering up the courage to fling myself off the edge. I would ride the train from the quaint Swiss village my family called home into Geneva, making note of the accessible areas where the train didn’t slow down so I could make sure I got the job good and done. When my therapist would ask me if I was still thinking about suicide I would lie to him. The only reason I survived that time at all was because at least I had my familiar, my half wolf, half German Shepard Cubby, who offered some of the only comfort that actually helped me heal.
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The Harts were hideous monstrosities of unbounded proportions.
[Content Warning: child abuse, anti-Blackness, state violence, murder of Black children, suicide.]
Years of reported child abuse claims, including physical harm and starvation, recently culminated in the death of an entire family. Sarah and Jennifer Hart drove their SUV off a California roadside cliff with their adopted children inside. Three of the children were found among the car wreckage along with the two women — Markis (19), Abigail (14), and Jeremiah (14). The other three remain unfound and are presumed dead, possibly washed out to sea. They are Hannah (16), Sierra (12), and Devonte (15).
Investigators now believe that the crash was intentional, citing the fact that the speed was set at 90 mph and the lack of skid marks, but Black people knew it in our spirit all along. From the moment the story broke, we fucking knew it. We sat and watched as others speculated about it, giving these two abusive, murderous white women the benefit of the doubt after they had driven their adopted Black children off a 100-foot cliff.
We knew it in 2014 when Devonte Hart, with tears welling up in his eyes, was photographed in a tentative embrace with a white cop at a Black Lives Matter rally and the image instantly went viral. Other photos from that day show that Devonte was already in tears even before he was approached by the cop. In Sgt. Bret Barnum’s own account of the event, he states that the boy was “hesitant” to speak to him, but he persisted with the conversation and ultimately asked for the hug.
Devonte’s body language in the photos spoke volumes to us. It felt like coercion. It felt like a 12 year-old Black boy, who was at a rally to protest the Grand Jury's failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, was afraid to speak to a white police officer, but was pressured into doing so anyway as others surrounded him and took the opportunity to snap the perfect “feel good” photo. And we were not at all surprised when Sgt. Barnum was later caught up in a controversy for publicly showing his support of Darren Wilson on Facebook.
We know what it looks like when Black people are being used as a tool of performative allyship and white liberalism. Devonte was made a spectacle and used as propaganda, by his guardian who accompanied him and by every person who shared the image of his obvious pain with musings about how racial togetherness and free hugs would magically solve all of the world's issues and end racialized state violence.
One of his guardians seized the opportunity to write about the viral photo on Facebook, saying that they attended the rally in hopes of “spreading love and kindness, and to remind (ALL) people that they matter in this world.” The Harts failed Devonte and his siblings in more ways than one.
This is why performative white allyship is so dangerous, and not just for the Black and non-Black kids who get adopted by them. It is insidious, to say the least, when “good white folks” impersonate someone who truly cares about anti-racism work, even as they continue to uphold white supremacy in their words and actions, and continually harm people of color.
We witness this ally theater daily, both in our communities and on the larger world's stage. We see the way that people like the Hart couple insulate themselves with people of color as tokens and trophies to provide themselves an alibi for their racism.
We see the way they fetishize Martin Luther King, Jr. and a non-violent stance, whitewashing and re-writing his legacy to present an ahistorical vision of the civil rights leader who ultimately saw the validity of violence as a form of resistance, because they plugged their ears after “I have a dream.”
Their white saviorism complex is painfully obvious, a perpetuation of the colonialist and imperialist self-aggrandizing belief that people of color always need white people to save us, even from the white supremacy that they actively participate in and continually benefit from.
And how dare we not bestow accolades upon them for “liberating” us? We, deadpan as they explode into tears and go on social media rants when people of color don't fall to our knees and thank them profusely for being gracious enough to do work on our behalf. We hear them scream, “I've always been good to you negroes” before exiting stage left in a huff.
We side-eye the ones who are so glaringly only “progressive and forward-thinking” because they see it as a trend, like their avocado toast and the aesthetics that they appropriated from hood Black girls. They list social justice work that they never actually did on their resume and OkCupid profiles for social capital, and pats on the back, and so they can more easily fuck the people color that they fetishize.
The “I’m not like other white people” declarations don't fool us. These special snowflakes take up so much fucking space as they fall over themselves trying to obscure their own privilege and disassociate themselves from the white supremacist violences of the past, present, and future.
We roll our eyes at the white allies who demand our intellectual and emotional labor and scream “It's your job to educate me!” only to take our words back to their white ally spaces to accept all of the credit, then block us on Facebook when we call them out for their intellectual thievery.