Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Voices that Choose, Memories that Live

I don’t leave people.

But as I listened to a post-show discussion of the play, Trouble in Mind, I could not help but tap into my visions of that talk. The talk where I leave. The conversation where I declare the fullness of myself and offer a choice: respect my identity or receive a wave, hello, and how are you. That’s it. See, the star of the show, E. Faye Butler, had some advice about how to deal with that frustrated friend who just does not get it. Her advice? Leave.

Banish yourself from the lives of the seemingly static ignorant and move on. Unfortunately, the actress did not problematize this action. As people of color, our actions do not have the privilege of being read with nuance. Our slow walks offstage are not always read as poignant resistances to racism. Usually, they are (mis)interpreted as either nothing or a “colored problem.” The ghost of ourselves becomes their one “friend” of color to pull them through 21st century interviews and “I’m not racist” defenses. Our shadowed selves are also the reason they don’t believe in serious dialogues on race. To them, these hazy and soft voices beyond the veil are mostly a legitimization of our silence. They did not want to speak. They did not speak. They do not speak.

Silence. I did not voice this concern at the event. I remained silent, but I am speaking now and I trust it counts. I hope the longing I feel when I dream of these “would be” experiences empowers me to have the courage to finally communicate my frustrations in a full and strong voice.

If we choose to leave, we must leave with force—with honesty. You could have known me. We could have developed kinship—a trust enriched by moments and, hopefully, memories of accepting and actualizing love. However, you allowed the constructions of society to frame, bind, and paralyze our friendship. I have tried to build a bridge, to meet you where you are, to see where you could be someday. I hoped that we could meet in the middle as I am not a complete project either. Yet, you resisted while I opened myself wider than ever before, a process that hurt me—that continues to hurt me.

And I am here to say goodbye. I am here to leave, not empty handed; instead, I leave you with a choice, a promise, a challenge. Choose a privilege that grants you ignorance or choose to reckon with these topics and to reconcile with people like me. I promise you that I will still be here when you want to meet on that bridge. And, lastly, I challenge you to let me live within your memory. Do not tokenize me, compartmentalize my experience, or forget me. Let me live as you rub against these topics, as you see someone who looks like me, as you stumble across me in your “universal,” that world that erases my color.

And I will live with a memory of you. Someone who saw me even if it was with an ignorant lens. Someone who began to engage parts of myself. Someone I had to believe and hope in simply for respect. As I continue to move and act, I will use a broad vision to see how you could be affected. You will join others and I will try to keep you distinct. I know the change will come from your person, rather than your skin.

I pray for you all; I do not leave.

We should not leave silently. We must leave with a trail. And only they know if we truly leave at all.


Frances said...

Josh, this post is amazing.
thank you.

Naima said...

josh, thanks for posting on this issue. i think it is a question that many of us struggle with daily. we all have different views and experience regarding these questions of "leaving" and "silence." i'm wondering a couple of things.

josh - what exactly do you mean when you say "and only they know if we truly leave at all"? i'm not sure i understood it but i think it's a crucial point, esp. considering that you end on it.

others - how do we think these issues of leaving/silence either change or do not across genders?

keep it coming yall!

Zach said...


good point with the gender comment, naima. it seems like the leaving/silence issue would be a problem for any person who finds him or herself in the minority or faced with the "ignorant" person dilemma josh describes. obviously it's different when you're a white man since "leaving" never really means leaving completely; that is, you can leave the "ignorant" person or the hypothetical situation where you feel disrespected by a group of, say, black men simply because of your race, but you never really have to leave or be silent in the greater context of society.

josh, who's the "they" in the last sentence?

Joshua said...

Hey all.

Sorry, I've been absent.

The "they" in the last sentence refers to those who witness our act of departure.

I end with this sentence because I think we live on in the consciousness of people as actors and believers, people who believed something was right and acted on those principles. I think in many ways we haunt those who leave. And, ultimately, our potential representative presence (the stuff we believe, more than ourselves) dwelling inside others gives me hope that change can come.

Naima, I am not sure if this example neatly breaks across gender lines. However, I think it significantly changes with relationships and sites where we believe love existed. I completely admit to using a stranger or casual friend paradigm in this essay as other types of breaks require a lot more energy and thought, including possibly shaking up one's societal framework to make a loved one more of a stranger in some ways. However, this is a project that comes from one who tries to love strangers too.