Now is an opportunity for Black folks to reimagine what constitutes loss
So many of us have been allowed to become living ghosts to a social world prescribed to the able bodied, young, white.
by Donnie Moreland
My father is a diabetic, with chronic pain and a fragile immune system due to rounds of dialysis, which cause more pain and thus tosses him into the throws of a cycle which is, observably, hell. He is also a business owner, which necessitates an urgency of decision making, that suffers when he does. He is not able-bodied, but to survive in his world, he must be.
All of this, and then Coronavirus became a monument in our national psyche. And with it, the bloating of trouble which has stitched together the philosophy of this republic, for such a time. The negligible martyrdom of the laborer, anxiety pimping, the perilousness of housing, white political incompetence, isolation and the dichotomy of capitalism against the interiority of human life have all been put to display for the white world to reconcile their complicity of and the Black world to mock with cathartic satisfaction.
But when the laughing dries into barely audible snickers, we are still left with the wake of state neglect, as with each national emergency prior: the human loss. Human loss, as Black folk know, isn’t counted in corpses alone. It is the psychic, interior soul losses that mount and brutalize perspective. It is the thought that my daughter may not be held by her grandfather. That our relationship may be forever caught in emotional limbo, because the words which need to be said may remain unspoken if my father fits between so many categories of whom do not survive contracting the virus.
It is the strangeness of premature mourning death which has not occured. It is the loss of persons unknown to the state, but heavy in our everyday considerations, to homelessness, displacement, immobility, health disparity and self isolation. It is the loss of confidence in one’s relationship to self-determination. Losses, of which, white folks may bemoan as their first encounter with political injury, but of which we are the most familiar. These are the losses which, as the republic churns its gears in efforts to offer their white citizens reprieve, we must contend with because we are not lost to the priorities of Empire.
We are simply unseen, and thus not considered in matters of the politically consequential. But we are a matter of great merit in the confidence of one another. And with the time which has been given in the stillness of dilemma, we have an opportunity to reimagine what constitutes loss, the evidence of, how we report and recover, both of the past and present, so that in crisis we can be gathered under one call: to remain.
Much has been written about the intersection of necropolitics, soul value and Coronavirus and what has been revealed about how much more parasitic the beneficiaries of capitalism’s redundant social brutalities become when corporate assets are threatened.
As Anuhya Bobba writes in their article, The Necropolitics of the Coronavirus: Who May Live, Who Must Die, “the coronavirus, as it spread across the country, came to reveal the ‘fundamental interdependency and vulnerability of all lives‘ under capitalism. As necropolitics predicates life on ‘the death of the Other,’ certain lives are more prone to said vulnerability… Low-income laborers must die so that the lives deemed indispensable may live, occupying a purgatorial space of ‘death-in-life‘ or ‘treated as if he or she longer existed except as a mere tool and instrument of production.’”
Bobba provides a grave historical context to Chris Moody’s article, Most Brown and Black Americans are Exposing Themselves to the Coronavirus for a Paycheck, where Moody reports, “among the American workforce, just 16.2% of Hispanic workers and 19.7% of black Americans are able to work from home, while about 30% of whites and 37% of Asian-Americans can.” But while these words may read like scenes from corporate dystopian fiction, to some, to Black folks, laboring beneath extreme physical, and emotional, duress was our purpose upon arrival and a continued expectation of our “service” to the state.
In the presence of white folks and their projections of social, and very much so spiritual, insecurities, we have become accustomed to our tasks being accompanied by varying degrees of abuses that must be waded through to secure a livelihood. According to Leon F. Litwack, in his book, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, fulfilling the tall tales of white class value necessitated the image of black subservient undervalue and the “demand” of white authoritarianism/sadism to ensure “social order.”
As Litwack writes, “having succeeded in keeping black laborers down, whites insisted blacks lacked the capacity to improve their lives, that their condition was proof of their unfitness and incapacity, their cultural and racial inferiority. The purpose of the labor system, a black newspaper suggested in 1899, was ‘to degrade a man as low as possible and then kick him for being a hog.'”
Litwick further suggests, “whether blacks worked efficiently and zealously or not, they could not escape the stereotypes white Southerners held of them. If blacks performed hard labor to the satisfaction of whites, that quality would be expressed in the aphorism ‘work like a nigger.’ If blacks failed to work to the satisfaction of whites, that quality would be expressed in the aphorism ‘lazy as a nigger.’”
To think that days off, employee wellness and considerations of health, and proximally familial health, accommodations for Black laborers is an offspring of such episodes of inhumanity, in the imaginations of both Black laborers and white employers is to be both ahistorical, and dangerous. Sinking into the drag of the deep, lost to time and reckoning, is being Black and employed here.
Thus, to be staggered by any of what has befallen Black laborers, and their families, in a time of pandemic, is to shout over a century’s worth of account, by workers, statisticians and the Black literati, of the blood spilled, tears cried and deaths surmounted just to acquire the scraps of what’s been left over to survive beneath the floor of this stolen house.
With governmental lockdowns, and Stay At Home orders in effect, there has been a progressing obsession with the terms quarantine, social isolation and their future implications of what it will look like to move through this world by one’s own volition and momentum. We inquire, even as Black folks, as though our disabled, elderly, imprisoned and ghettoized have not been branded as undesirable social pariahs and thus been isolated, surveilled and left to decay out of sight, and out of mind, of American futurists and their schemes.
When I lived in Houston, Texas, I found spiritual safety in Third Ward. There, I also became aware of a type of regional cartography of Blackness, across time. You become aware of patterns in migration, the ebbing and flowing of accessibility in the housing market for Black folks, etc. Shotgun houses, dilapidated but not condemned, nor foreclosed, tell a story. A story of their residents whose faces can be mapped to show what has occured, better than any politically geographic record.
And yet, our elders are rarely assisted in navigating the world beyond their windows, living rooms and front porches to reveal their wisdoms. They are reminded that beyond the age of retirement, if they were offered the privilege, is a burden to the state (the war on Medicare and Social Security, as “evidence”) and this is reinforced, socially, in where accessibility plateau’s beyond their homes.
The same for our disabled population—for where their is much intersection with geriatric discrimination—who require more than many, even of us, are willing to give over to support their inclusion in shared spaces. I think of our imprisoned, who only know the barbarity of forced isolation and even upon release must relent against stigma, unemployment and recidivism which bullies many inwards from the world.
This isn’t to mention those who’ve been politically ghettoized and due to a myriad of social hostilities (police surveillance, the community politics of food deserts, etc.) find that isolation is a non-negotiable act of self preservation. That white folks are flirting with what Dr. Martin Luther King might argue as the other of the two America’s for the first time, and are encouraging a trickle down panic should not obscure that so many of us have been allowed to become living ghosts to a social world prescribed to the able bodied, young, white in most cases and fiscally fit.
I argue, about the crisis of this day, that the question is less what will we lose, but what has remained from what has been lost. In her article, Crisis makes clear who can afford to survive (and who cannot), Amber Butts suggests that, and I concur, ”the training and knowledge of the fight ahead is already in our bones.” Because of what we’ve lost, we are obliged to one another to consider, and resolve, with much urgency the challenges of this spreading virus.
Misinformation cannot be allowed to poison the well and we must encourage an urgency of action for those who can distance themselves from others who are vulnerable, and unable to afford to self protect by their own means. We mustn’t be the ones to catalyze our own losses. And even when treatments are produced, we must remain vigilant in defense, as the afterlife of emergency always encourages accelerated relief for white folks in spite of what must be demanded in the development of non-prejudicial ethics of care.
And whether prayer, meditation or affirmation, how we hold one another in our breath, makes the difference with the troubles of grief. As I’ll reiterate, the corpses are always followed by unseen company, so what we do with that which is left over, let us not misjudge. It will be when the dust settles that we will come forth with new intention, to procure value for our kin who’ve been left to suffer what the republic needs to be the angst of ineptitude. But we will not give over to Empire what it longs to soothe it’s restricted design. We must locate what we’ve lost, who we’ve lost and operate to safeguard what remains.
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.