Whenever Black death surmounts, somehow it is on us to answer for the bodies. But we know better than to absolve the white hands and ghosts.


by Donnie Moreland

There is a whispered binding between Black folks and the truth. Less truth, in that meta-ethical way we discern the spiritually evidential as Black folks, but truth telling. The expressions, negotiations and altercations with, and of, “facts.” How we tell the truth, digest it and confirm that truth as just that; gospel. 

A gospel which you learn, especially in the company of elders, submits nothing to “logic.” Because what is of reason, in the presumptiveness of the white psyche, and what is recorded in our bones are often irreconcilable. It’s my Uncle warning us kids, when I spent summers outside of Kelly, North Carolina, that nothing good was beyond the truck which indicated an end to our family’s held stretch of country road. 

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What’s known to us as the line where we end and klan begins is often in dominion of the logical. A transgenerational language of fear predicated on past incidents of racial trauma that, left unreconciled, has drawn a monster which, in the minds of many, dwells in the woods to validate our cognitive biases and fallacies of reason. But we do know what—more who—lurks beyond that broken down eighteen wheeler, and suggestions of the latter is a type of cultural gaslighting which has ostracized Black folks from the entryway of a national public forum, historically. 

Our evidence of experience is branded as folklore and conspiracy. Thus, Black thinking fortifies in its connections, its associations and this becomes a type of teflon web of private exchanges between us and only us, which our resistance and survival do necessitate in the war against cultural genocide. 

But nothing is without its complexities, and when that thing between Black folks and the truth becomes entangled with white incompetence masquerading as global knowledge, as it often does and as we are bearing witness with the global spread of COVID-19, out of our mouths is the only news on which we can depend. But to ensure we do not incur a greater toll, we may first inquire where along the vine the talking stick should be passed, in this, another season of doubt and disquiet. 

I disdain public discord about Black folks in moments of national crisis. The reason is that there is this tired practice of disabling white accountability when social discrepancies are amplified to limit proper access to resources and information by maliciously propelling the sociological distinction between local knowledge and global knowledge as a smoke-screen for racial injury. 

Whenever Black death surmounts, somehow it is on us to answer for the bodies. But we know better than to absolve the white hands, and ghosts, at work when we suffer. 

If it is “global knowledge” that Blacks feel pain at differential rates compared to whites, are disinclined to seek medical care because of spiritual pragmatism or that fertility health is an impenetrable component of Black pregnancies, then that global knowledge is racist, desperate and encourages a conflation of the survival mechanics of the oppressed with local knowledge. 

What becomes associated with our “local knowledge” is a proclivity for conspiracy. Yet, what constitutes conspiracy is a plot, a secret sealed behind the teeth of thieves. For Black folks, there are no secrets. Where we map trauma is where our skeletons lay bare in daylight. MOVE was bombed, in broad daylight. Black men were injected with syphilis, in broad daylight. Black folks were exposed to nuclear radiation, in broad daylight. Residents of Flint, Michigan were drinking lead, in broad daylight. Former marines and New Orleans PD personnel were murdering New Orleans residents on Danziger Bridge, in broad daylight. 

We know no secrets. But we do know the racial politicking of reasoning. 

I am in no way arguing that we are absolved from cognitive deduction via some kind of cultural exemption, but it can’t be called reason if logical presumptiveness is predicated on a well of absent, hidden and ignored records of our troubles, eroticisms and observations. Thus, I arrive at the same conclusion which Amber Butts retains in her article, Even when Black conspiracy theories are misguided, they are not nonsensical

We have always been entitled in our associations, no matter the fragility of relationship, because our reasoning has been based in observations of white terroristic acts. These acts are only ever challenged with their fallacies of reason—in the academy, the church and the courthouse—gaslighting our evidence as unsupported bias and hiding from what both parties know to be the truth of what has been done to us. And, more importantly, what is past due

Thus, as Butts purports, our belief in the words of our people should be unwavering because,

“It’s through rumor, urban legends and investigation that we’ve made our communities safe. The truth is that we have the data. It’s in our blood and in our apartment complexes. It’s with our neighbors who turned up missing, whose disappearances go on and underreported, who somehow end up shooting themselves in the head while being both unarmed and handcuffed…  Passing along everyday knowledge about the material conditions plaguing Black folks and the identity of the arbiters of these conditions is a skill. Black folk have always used this as an organizing strategy. Our rumors, ‘superstitions’ and conspiracy theories should be taken seriously instead of being easily dismissed.”

Even when we disagree, it is not as though we won’t discover merit in our opposition. It is only the piranha among us, the snake oil salesmen whose elucidation is in communion with their misogynoir and greed, for whom I worry. The “thought leaders” whose intellectual corruption deserves its own unraveling. But therein lies the tangled intricacies of our grapevine and the question of where to locate requisite information, especially when crisis arises. 

Whether you’re discussing 5G conspiracies or the synthetic migratory patterns of bats, arguments of the contrary that COVID-19 exists in the same family of coronaviruses as the flu, or that we are conditionally removed from the working agrarian knowledge of disease patterns, as our distant cousins might be, or that our disproportionate rate of death is due to our population size, these contentions are generally rebutted with the crimes which have been committed with the foul intention to peel away at our numbers. These counter arguments are not causal fallacies, but simply evidential to the point of our nomadic station, which extends to the situation for which we find ourselves. 

For example, when patterning how countries develop treatments for COVID-19, one may suggest that it would be a moral crime to compel folks to be vigilant of the sites where our dead are deployed, in the company of strange hands. However, now that it has been reported that post mortem transmission is occurring in Thailand mortuaries, would it not behoove us to remember how the corpses of the enslaved were appraised—as presented in Daina Ramey Berry’s book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation—per their ghost value? And how contemporary theory of anatomy and physiology, along with a developing global market for illegal organ donation occupied with our flesh, is rooted in white medical students severing apart the decaying limbs of our ancestors? 

The double edged sword of our skepticism is also a shield. And quite frankly, the catharsis of conspiracy is sexy. To look out at frenzied white folks, unwinding in their falsehoods of social and spiritual being, and say, “We told you it was worse than you’d imagine” is ever satisfying.  Conspiracies offer us control over that which we fear and for which we have no reference or knowledge, allowing for dismissal where disturbance is located. 

But we still have to locate the truth, undeniable truth from a first hand source whose words are sharpened to protect, because with this current pandemic, our sick, vulnerable and dying can’t afford the bickering of us working with hand me down, unverified data and armchair sociological presumptiveness. The dissemination of knowledge must be sought from, in the case of a pandemic, our immunologists, epidemiologists and medical laboratory scientists who’ve trained in the study of cells, disease and the parts of us which determine our vulnerabilities and the enemies to those vulnerabilities. 

But our medical professionals are not without worry, of which we must procure their sanctuary amongst kin. In my conversation with Ivory O., a board certified medical laboratory scientist who is transitioning to Black/POC centered holistic health coaching, she laid bare the difficulties of Black medical laboratory scientists in participating in the Black public forum, even in a time of calamity. 

“The way we get certified, through our classes and how we get skills, that whole process does not lead anyone to be confident. It is not a school of confidence,” Ivory stated.  “It is a school of how much information can you memorize enough to go to the test. After schooling you can go to continuing education to learn more and feel more confident about what you know, but out of school and out of your program, even a few years in the field, there is so much information to learn that there is no way to feel confident and if you don’t feel confident then there is no way to feel comfortable enough to go out and share this information to the public.”

When I inquired about what Black folks can do to endorse a channel of communication with members of her field, especially who look as we do, Ivory stated the following:

“For the public, it’s really hard to pinpoint outside of being really encouraging, double-checking credentials and holding those people accountable and building a rapport. A trustworthy relationship. Ask them questions. Interrogate the information. That way you can build trust with people who, despite not being confident or being scared, are still coming forth with information, because we need to know. So, for the public, I will say to be mindful of those who are already in the community who know this information. Be open and receptive to people who are already in these fields that look like you, who are near you, are already in the same area as you and really come to them to say, ‘Hey, I am scared. What do you know?’”

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It’s easy to be skeptical about even Black medical professionals, as being an arm of violence. We’ve earned our suspicion and just as imperative, as Ivory contended, our right to inquiry. We have the right to inquire who you are, what you know and why we should trust you to help us, even if you are one of us. And if they prove themselves worthy of our ear, we should invite them into communion, so that we may deepen our arsenal against preventable death, and disease. 

Our skepticism, the knowledge of our bones is not muted by the tongue of Black and obliging medical professionals. Our skepticism allows us pause when we see folly in method and their knowledge offers a vocabulary of defense when our right to healthcare is protested by our enemies. That is how the web strengthens, the web tightens. How truth shapes in new language, but with the continued wisdom of the body’s inscription.

Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.