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The Slave Harriet Would’ve Shot: On Killing the Abolition Mammy

They will make you an abolition mammy for the sake of everyone else’s freedom and extract your sacrifices from your flesh to build the world after this one. After the abolition mammy is sacrificed, what is left of the world? 

By Hunter Shackelford

I am the slave Harriet would’ve shot. I am the slave who knows freedom is possible, who has tasted it and given my flesh for it, who has lost limbs to give helping hands to niggas, who has created new worlds to run to. I am the slave who ran and realized running kept me a slave. I suffered for being too fat, too nigger, too queer, too trans, too allegiant to Black people, too militant, too free before I even knew what freedom was. I was out of breath before we ran. Now I’m running and it doesn’t feel any better than the plantation. 

Fred Hampton chanted to his communities: “I’m going to die for the people because I’m going to live for the people. I’m going to live for the people because I love the people.” Hampton embodied the courage and commitment so many of us perform. We want to be revolutionary in our life, and we want to be revolutionary in our death. Fred Hampton knew that no form of momentary indulgence would ever intervene or supersede the allegiance to freedom, to the people. Dying for the people is and always will be the price of liberation. But the danger is when dying becomes your identity or presumed of your body, and those who cling to life will find their sustainability in your dying for the collective. Niggas will make you an abolition mammy for the sake of everyone else’s freedom and extract your sacrifices from your flesh to build the world after this one. 

The abolition mammy is a fat-bodied freedom fighter who has named themselves to be committed to dismantling white supremacist patriarchy and is confined to their communities’ expectations of allegiance that sacrifices their individual freedom for the collective. Their body is seen as flesh and labor for revolution, and those who are the darkest, disabled, queer, and gender divergent will be expected to perform this role. The abolition mammy is expected to not only abolish a world with cages but to embody the politics of affirmation, safety, and liberation amidst anti-Black violence committed against them and their communities. They are positioned as the prototypical politic that holds the wholeness and nuances of all Black people while no one else is expected to. 

When violence happens against the abolition mammy, the requirement to embody the politics of non-carceral transformation and redemption is only expected by the mammy themself, not the perpetrators nor the community. Those within their communities who extensively create violence, perpetuate violence, and uphold cultures of violence with or without intention are able to be free in their harm because there is no presupposition of care demanded of them if they have never named themselves to be abolitionists or care-driven. The abolition mammy becomes the moral compass for the community, but the moral failure in their own survival; they’re the breath of the community politic, and the corpse that keeps the soil nourished; they’re the architects of the world without cages, but must die in order for that world to exist.

I won’t die, though. 

I was the nigga who would die. I was the one who would shoot back, and shoot first. The person who knew the stakes are always high when freedom is the ultimatum. The planner and visionary of state disruption, the instigator, and the flame thrower. The nigga reading, listening, deepening, and steadfast in accountability to embody a politic that shapeshifts to hold all affirmations of niggas in their queerness, their phenotype, their gender expansiveness, their bodily glories. And even when I was righteous, committed, intentional, and radical as fuck, there weren’t enough people to hold the same principles as me to build this new world.

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Niggas changed; which means anti-Blackness mutated. Somehow policy became a love language, and protests became performance. Grants became easier than fires, and task-forces became simpler than autonomous communities. Voting worked more than suppression, and representation worked more than praxis. Demands became lullabies to rock our oppressors to sleep, and abolition became a consensual request of the state.

How can a radical nigga stay radical when everything revolutionary turns 501(c)(3)? How can a nigga who wants to die for the revolution stay in that commitment if people won’t die with or for you? What’s the point of revolutionary suicide if they won’t make your death significant to progress for liberation? You can’t be revolutionary in death if the niggas who are left alive aren’t revolutionary too. You can’t get closer to freedom if niggas only let your death end in eulogy without momentum. 

Niggas also tried to kill me; which means anti-Blackness is working. Somehow community was only real when we loved, fucked, chanted, laughed, won. Care only became important when it was siphoned, never given, never sustained. Identity politics only mattered if it meant we could politic our way out of naming abuse and abusers. Radical politics only mattered when people could co-opt language and theory to conceal neoliberalism and nonviolence. 

We live in a world that demands other niggas to eat your flesh, consume your labor, drain you of care work, sacrifice your safety for theirs, mannequin your radical politic, perform the fight for freedom, and then let you die to uphold liberalism because it’s easier than watching everything burn. It’s easier than accountability. It’s easier than violence against the state. It’s easier than intervening within intracommunity harm. It’s easier than being honest about the fact that most of us aren’t ready to be free by any means necessary. It’s easier than freedom because freedom demands immediate and nonnegotiable death. And niggas want to live, even if they have to kill freedom and other niggas; even if it means they’re already dead. 

But what makes me different than niggas who eat off my flesh? What separates me from who eats off the most giving, the most sacrificing, the most impacted, the most radical, the ones who jump first, the political prisoners, the revolutionary suicides? How can we hold the tension that some of us have and will continue to die for the liberation of Black people, while some of us never will? There are anti-Black desires and capitalistic dreams that many of us actively divest from, that we actively do not pursue against our violent cravings, while others will chase it without hesitation. What makes revolutionaries special in a world where every nigga is a star? 

There’s no right way to be dead in a world that renders us socially dead. There’s no right way to give your flesh in return for more suffering. There is no right way to be born into violence, become that violence, create intimacy with violence, and spend your life ripping violence from your flesh. There is no right way to exist under the illogics of anti-Blackness. And still, there are ways we can find a political compass within our commitment to disrupting anti-Blackness through our interventions of the state and affirming the wholeness and protection of Black people. What makes us different is how many niggas we killed. What makes us different is how many niggas we’re avenging and saving. What makes us different is why we killed. The differential lies within the contention of who maximizes Black death and who works to minimize the ways we kill other niggas just by existing; the difference is in who fights to retribute the deaths we could never stop, and who breathes life into as many niggas to counteract anti-Black suffering. 

Did you become the president of an imperialist empire and drone strike thousands of Black people globally? Have you infiltrated political movements and set niggas up to die?  Did you terrorize your personal and community relationships with sexual violence and misogynoir? Have you scammed vulnerable Black people so that you could thrive? Have you learned your politics from the bloodshed of those who were more oppressed? Are you working for the state and using policy as a means to diminish mutual aid efforts? Are you a part of the military? Are you a cop? Did you use religion as a means to subjugate queer and trans people? Have you upheld the violence of desirability to deny resources, care, love, and life to dark skin folks, fat folks, disabled folks, queer folks, trans folks, poor folks, etc.? Did respectability politics lead you to kill the value and wholeness of Black folks who are too loud, too ghetto, too nigger? Did you punish your children for existing and give ultimatums for care? Are you invested in gender violence as a love language? Have you sacrificed niggas to affirm non-Black people? Have you given life to oppressors while denying breath to your people? 

Why did you kill your people? Was it because you have an insatiable bloodlust for Black flesh? Was it because power over others is what makes you feel whole? Was it because you had no other choice? Was it because you hadn’t learned how to care for the abundance of nigganess, and therefore yourself? Was it because the war became you or them—and you were forced into an impossible decision? Did anti-Blackness create a contradiction so devastating and so illegible that you had to become a killer in order to even live in this world? 

We might all answer the ‘why’ the same, though. We might believe that there was never a chance for us to be life-givers, care-workers, abundance-affirmers, or freedom fighters. We might really internalize that our learning and our journey were different, more intentional than impactful. We might lie to ourselves and others around us because the blood on our hands cannot be washed off, but we cannot survive without pretending our hands are clean. We didn’t mean to kill anyone, we didn’t know words were violence. We didn’t mean to kill other niggas, we just had to. We didn’t mean to kill niggas different from us, we just didn’t know. We didn’t mean to kill niggas, it was a recreation of my trauma. We didn’t know we were killing, because there are no morals here. We didn’t mean to become executioners of Black people and ourselves, it was just the climate. Even when niggas are committed to killing other niggas and thrive off Black flesh, most of them will answer the ‘why’ the same as us.

But in our dying, all of us don’t fight for freedom. All of us do not become imprisoned for our commitment and solidarity to Black liberation. All of us do not work to decolonize our minds, our hearts, our praxis, and our relationships to create the world after this one. All of us do not sacrifice temporary comforts, anti-Black desires, and neoliberal dreams for collective freedom. But in the end, we all still die. Where does that leave those of us who tried to save Black people? Where does that leave the political prisoners? Where does that leave the revolutionary suicides? Where does that leave the abolition mammy? Dead.

After the abolition mammy is sacrificed, what is left of the world? After we feed everyone, do we get a plate? Did we get free? Did our deaths mean something? Do we get to celebrate what we died for? Is collective freedom guaranteed to those who died to obtain it? 

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I am the slave Harriet would’ve shot. I am begrudging and full of rage. I cannot offer anything to anyone, anymore. I will dispossess myself of caring for anyone who needs my politic, my flesh, my principality for freedom. I won’t transform anyone if it requires my blood sacrifice. I am not leaving my footsteps in the mud so someone else can follow them. I am not carrying anyone on my back. I will not breastfeed a nigga who offers me nothingness as sustenance. And if you starve without me, good. Because you don’t deserve to get free off my flesh. 

I am the slave Harriet would’ve shot. I am divested from labor as survival. I am not sprinting to the lighthouse. I am not playing hide and go seek with these crackas. I am not sharing my rations with a nigga I don’t know from a bail of cotton. I am not holding my breath so they don’t hear us. I am not running any fucking more. Shoot me. Because I know I’m a slave on the run and I know I’m a slave wherever we arrive. Shoot me. Because I’m a liability. I know too much and I can’t keep you safe. Shoot me. 

If freedom is my responsibility, I don’t want it. I will lose it, on purpose. I will rip it from my flesh, violently. I will not be a mammy for abolition if it means I die first, or at all. I will not jump from the ship if we all don’t jump together. I will not shoot the first shot if other niggas ain’t shooting too. I have always been the first, also been the only, and it leaves me more dead than free every time. 

This world doesn’t deserve me. And I will not do anything to affirm it or dismantle it. Abolition is not my responsibility, and it never was. I cannot give birth to a world beyond this one when my legs are shackled. I cannot breastfeed life into the niggas around me if I am not being nourished. I am hungry, starved for care, ravenous for indolence. I will not free niggas who cage me or need my flesh. Liberation shouldn’t require my sacrifice or my death. I will not disrupt liberatory efforts, let the world burn. But I will forever save myself if the cost for collective freedom is my flesh.

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