My greatest fear is dying by the hands of white supremacists and just becoming a hashtag that eventually loses steam. But, I frequently do want to die.
TW: This essay discusses suicidality, mentions of Black death, inpatient stays, madness, abuse, police encounter, hopelessness, and depression.
By Lennox Orion
It is 2012, I am 15-years-old and Trayvon Martin has just been murdered. This is the conversation on everyone’s lips at my all-Black high school. I am 15, learning about the disposable nature of Black life. And, for the first time, I am angry about something larger than myself, but also something deeply personal. And at night, dark thoughts flood my head. I am still living with my abusive mom and I am sad—gut-wrenching, incoherent tears kind of sad. And I want to die.
It is 2015, I am a senior in high school and the world has since forgotten about Arizona tea and Skittles. There are new tragedies to grieve, new names to add to the ever-growing list of names we are encouraged to say. The death of Freddie Gray rocks the city next to me, Baltimore. I am still living with my mother, still deeply and tragically sad, and still I want to die.
One night in 2015, my mother and I are screaming at each other and she calls the cops. She tells them I want to die. She isn’t wrong, but she is wielding this against me So, I am taken away. This is my first time in an inpatient unit, the only Black person there. It’s my 18th birthday and the world is mourning another life taken by the police state—and I want to die.
In the summer, Sandra Bland is murdered and they call it a suicide. Everyone around me roars. Her picture is plastered across my Facebook timeline with outrage, with the conviction that she didn’t kill herself. The world is screaming about suicide and the unlikelihood of it all, and I still want to die. And I want to say something. This is the summer before college and I am convinced my thoughts of wanting to die will stay at home, they will not follow me, and I am equally worried that they will. I imagine myself, Sandra Bland. Knowing that I wouldn’t survive being kept in a cell, and I wonder each night to myself if I died, I mean if I killed myself, would people still march for me?
Throughout my five years of college, a Black person was killed by the state each year. At my small private college in the heart of Boston, I feel strangely lucky to be alive and aware of the fragility of my life. Aware of being suicidal in a place where Black life and the preservation of it has never been anyone’s concern.
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I am guilty. Each night I have to fight and claw to see the sunrise. I am guilty of wanting to die. I feel like a hypocrite, screaming “Black lives Matter!” at my classmates who try to argue that police are justified in killing Black folks, and then going back to my dorm and crying myself to sleep. The cognitive dissonance of constantly wanting to die and wanting Black people to be able to live. To live, without being a target, a warning, a legacy of death. To live without the fear that whiteness can take our lives and tarnish our memories, at will.
A cop and EMTs take me from my home again. This inpatient stay is around my birthday as well, and again around the state-sanctioned death of another Black person. I remember the feeling of a cop standing in my bedroom yelling at me, and me yelling back—I don’t want to die like this.
This is my greatest fear, of dying by the hands of white supremacists or dying just to become a hashtag that eventually loses its steam. But, I frequently do want to die. It is a constant lingering thought. On good days and on bad, crossing a street and hesitating each time.
This is my madness. I am unashamed of being suicidal and sad, but I am ashamed of wanting to die when I spend my days trying to convince white folk that all Black life is precious. The guilt is a gnawing relentless ache in my chest when I feel all my Blackness and all my sadness mixing together.
I am reminded of the strength of my people. How brave and radical it is that my people have survived this long. That I come from the very definition of life. Black people are life, life-giving, life-sustaining, life-alternatingly beautiful. What an honor it is to be Black.
For me, being suicidal feels like a betrayal of this gift that is my Blackness. I feel weak. Now, I remember being younger and expressing that I was sad and hopeless, and I got nothing but anecdotes about how we survive. Survived slavery, Jim Crow, Reagan, AIDS, the War on Poverty, the prison industrial complex, and more. We continue to survive them—and I think how terrible it is for me to not continue in that legacy of survival, of wanting to survive.
To exist at the peculiar intersection of madness and Blackness is a constant battle—of being both a danger to myself at times and the system being a danger to me always. The mad pride movement and the resistance to the neuro-typical diagnosis of the DSM and its critique of the psychiatric complex leave no room for Blackness. They often fail to be critical of the ways in which Blackness is pathologized, of how the diagnostic framework for schizophrenia changed in order to wielded against Black men during the ’60s.
Spaces that aim for deinstitutionalization and provide safe places for people to experience suicidality without the state, such as peer support centers are often harbors of unchecked anti-Blackness. Where should all the mad Black people go? Where is it safe for us?
I am Black and I am dreadfully suicidal most of the time, but I am still dedicated to keeping Black life sacred. I can exist in duality. And I know that I would be safer, better, and healthier in a world without police. Without inpatient stays that are controlled by the state, in spaces made for whiteness.
I am certain that I will be suicidal for the rest of my life. But I refuse to be certain that Black people will be murdered by the state for the rest of my life. I refuse to believe in a world in which we mark the events of our lives with the hashtags of who has been killed. I refuse to believe that cops will exist for my entire life span—that every time I am feeling suicidal or paranoid or experiencing psychosis that I will meet with the arm of the state. Believing in a radical future is my therapy. My coping mechanism. I believe that there will always be those of us whose brains convince us we want to die but there will not always be those who want to kill us.
I am Black and I am suicidal, and I am alive to fight for those who are not.
Lennox Orion is an emerging scholar of mad/ness and its intersections with Black identity and lived experience. They currently work as an anti-racism educator working towards liberation for all oppressed peoples. They are a graduate of Simmons University and push to teach anti-racism in more accessible ways that center anti-capitalist and anti-colonial discourses.
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