I do not want to grieve with white people because they have no reference point for the types of loss Black people routinely experience.


by Indigo 

In the early hours of October 17, 2019, United States Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD 7th District) died of complications related to long-term health conditions at age 68 at a hospice center in Baltimore, Maryland. Representative Cummings has represented Maryland’s seventh district since 1996, Kweisi Mfume preceding him prior to becoming President of the NAACP. 

During his tenure as a congressman, Representative Cummings championed issues of and relating to the suppression of the Black vote, the killing of Freddie Gray in 2015 and police brutality at large, and the mass detention of immigrants at the border and continued separation of children from their families. Representative Cummings has also been among the most visible in the struggle to impeach 45

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A symptom of our digital culture is a public, hyper-performance of grief. As soon as we opened our eyes on the morning of October 17, commentary on Representative Cummings’ passing had already begun pouring out from Baltimore to Capitol Hill to Texas to California.

I’d read, “We’ve lost a giant – a representation of how far we’ve come as one great nation” about 50 times before I’d hopped in the shower. 

I’d heard, “A powerful voice for breaking down barriers to the ballot box that will be dearly missed” another 50 before the E train arrived at the platform.

I’ve seen the phrase, “He was a voice of moral clarity” every day since his passing.

In regards to that last one specifically, I couldn’t help but ask, “Then why didn’t they listen to Representative Cummings while he was here? How can a giant’s warning not be heeded?”

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve almost muted Representative Cummings’ name on Twitter. I just do not want to see what the world is saying or know how the country is handling this loss. I don’t want to share Representative Cummings with them—with the people who often reduce his tenure in Congress to the recent push for impeachment, with the people “accidentally” posting Representative John Lewis’ photo because they either do not care enough to verify if it’s really him or honestly can’t tell the difference between two Black men. 

I do not want to grieve with white people because they have no reference point for the types of loss Black people routinely experience. They do not know what it’s like to lose our heroes, young or old. They do not know what it’s like to lose our champions and then have to share that loss with them. 

Unfortunately, this goes beyond Representative Cummings. It extends to all of our heroes. It extends to the reduction of Toni Morrison’s work to a text featured on their AP summer reading lists just to have something to say about her. It extends to the suggestion that Diahann Carroll merely “shattered a glass ceiling” rather than having completely redefined what it means to be a Black woman, talented, and on-screen. 

The same is almost certainly bound to happen following the even more recent death of former Congressman John Conyers at age 90—a man who co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and was the longest serving Black Congressional member (having resigned in 2017 amid allegations of sexual harassment). 

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I want nothing more for Black people than the opportunity for us to exist in a bubble. I want those we lose to pass on without the parts most threatening to white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy to be chiseled away before their body has even fallen cold. And I know that this is probably unrealistic, but I’d settle for just being able to mourn our dead in our own bubble. 

I want those of us still taking on our earthly forms to have access to a level of vulnerability in our communal grief that white supremacy has robbed us of. I want us to have the opportunity to sit with our raw and complicated feelings without being consumed by reactionary anger and instinctive protectiveness in response to white supremacy. I want us to stop having to pause our grief so that we can fight for our champions the second that they leave us. I want to stop feeling like white people are competing with us in grief performance because as always they’re at an advantage.

In June, Representative Elijah Cummings stated, “200 to 300 years from now, people will look back on this moment and they will ask the question, what did you do? … I may be dancing with the angels when all of this is corrected, but I’ve got to tell you, we must fight for our democracy.” I believe that in memoriam, and I believe we should fight for some semblance of a bubble, too. 

Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.