Reconciling ‘glorious healing’ & the ‘loving refusal’ of intracommunal violence in an era of disposability
I am not calling for survivors of abuse and those on the margins to be sacrificial lambs for some unforeseen greater good.
By Tez Files
Baptize me. Now that reconciliation is possible, if we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.
– Beyoncé, “Sandcastles”
I must have heard Beyoncé’s “Sandcastles”a dozen times. I read all types of complexity into its lyrics. After having gone through a very difficult break-up, it was healing to sit with my emotions and settle them. And while my personal connection to this song was glaringly clear to me, I had to sit with this Warsan Shire line for a year before I realized it was instructive for how we could (re)imagine a community with our people, the nucleus of this being the formation of “glorious healing.”
We encounter the notion of “glorious healing” at the forgiveness stage of Lemonade, when Beyoncé reconciles with her cheating husband. Here she absolves her lover—a man with whom she shares history, children, businesses, homes, and intimate familiarity. For some, this forgiveness turn in Lemonade illuminated, yet again, Black women’s unrelenting dedication to Black men even in all of their trash ass ways. For others, this signifies Beyoncé’s capacity to perform the dutiful “ride-or-die” to a “good man” who made a simple mistake.
Irrespective of interpretation, what largely goes unrecognized is the undertaking and process for accountability that led to forgiveness and reconciliation. Warsan Shire makes clear that there must be some exercise (s) or action (s) that make “reconciliation possible.” For Beyonce, perhaps it was catharsis working in tandem with the desire to be well. And maybe this reconciliation does not benefit the victimizer in any way. Or maybe it is solely to their benefit. How do we heal gloriously and lovingly refuse violence (macro/micro-aggressive as it may be) even from folks with whom we share culture, history, community, and at-times social realities and destinies?
I have not always loved Black people in ways that recognized their full humanity. In fact, my personal anti-Blackness materialized in a multitude of ways in my life. Whether it was my deep investment in white institutions, my inability to make space for Black suffering or my overwhelming fear around advocating for Black queer and trans folks, I have, indeed, enacted harm on multiple occasions and in ways that circumnavigated accountability.
As a community organizer in the modern deep south working to undo hella injustices, I have come to understand that we cannot afford to evade accountability for harmful behavior. Without it, folks tend to bring the same violence we’re fighting into social justice spaces. For me, this was my “running.” I am, indeed, a flight risk during times of complicated communal mess. I used to think it was me avoiding drama but it was really me retreating from unclean Black folks.
I ran away from those unwilling to “do the work” (a middle-class phrase that I never even operationally defined). Maybe the real work is discovering the work that you personally need to do to be well. These last few sentences are me pretending like I’ve done that work myself—I haven’t. Looking for the ugly in others is easier and comes with more communal accolades. How, then, do we refuse violence and heal gloriously?
Without accountability, no healing is possible. And not every harmful interaction is a mere violation of personal trust (i.e., Jay-Z’s cheating). There are folks in our community who have committed acts that are reprehensible (i.e., Cosby & R. Kelly). These folks have hurt our community in tangible, material, and glaringly apparent ways and should be held to account for those actions. Propagating the notion that harmful Black folks should be overlooked because we’re vulnerable is grounded in a particular type of white violence that refuses to see, hear, and understand Black folks as fully human. As Langston Hughes argues, “we are beautiful and ugly too.”
Early in my life, I was obsessed with how Black folks were being read by white folks. I was controlled by what Toni Morrison refers to as the “white gaze.” I would often hide the communal ugliness for reasons I still don’t understand. Staying in complicated and frustrating communities has led me to believe that even in ugliness and toxicity, there are ways to envision a community with one another not grounded in dehumanization and other violent white constructs such as punishment and abjection.
Please don’t misread me, I am not calling for survivors of abuse and those on the margins to be sacrificial lambs for some unforeseen greater good. I am, however, arguing that all of us at some point engage in behaviors and actions that are negligent, silencing, gaslighting, harmful and/or toxic, and these occurrences are not the wholeness of our being. We are much more than our misdeeds and harmful ways. We are complex and complicated human beings and that plays out in our interactions and exchanges with one another.
To that end, I read Hari Ziyad’s article “I don’t want as many “chances” to f*ck up as Kanye” and found insightful and instructive their argument for marginalized folks with less power to refuse the social catering that is often expected of them in exchanges with those wielding more power. Hari’s contention is that this refusal is an act of love. This assessment forced me to step back and ruminate on the ways that I have conceived of community. What struck me most was this offering:
When you love someone, you do not let them get away with violence. You do not let them claim to be something their actions do not prove. You may refuse to dispose of them, but you won’t let them make you their garbage can either. You offer them space and that offer may remain for all of eternity, but only if they show they can and will honor that space with you. This is what accountability should mean.
These words demand engagement. I thought about the myriad ways we might reconcile Warsan Shire’s “glorious healing” with Hari Ziyad’s “loving refusal.” What would a world where Black folks could heal gloriously and refuse violence (even at the hands of their own people) look like? How could we get there? As Hari notes elsewhere in the article, “many of my breakthroughs and better understandings of social oppression came when people whose oppression I have participated in refused to engage my violence any longer.” Thus, there must be space to understand our violent ways without forcing those we impose that violence on to sit with us as we work through it. Put another way, I seek social location(s) that make “reconciliation possible.”
Invariably, the ways in which we currently envision community is grounded in what scholar and culture critic bell hooks refer to as white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. In this way, we construct our understanding of accountability within the confines of these systems of domination. In Are Prisons Obsolete, Angela Davis argues:
[abolitionist frameworks trouble the racialization and gendered structures of those most likely to be punished], they strive to disarticulate crime and punishment, race and punishment, class and punishment, and gender and punishment [and] involves the ideological work of questioning why “criminals” have been constituted as a class and, indeed, a class of human beings undeserving of the civil and human rights accorded to others.
Davis’s logic here is that the label “criminal” makes possible, and even works, to maintain a social, political, and economic structure that does not see certain beings as fully human and in many ways transmutes them into a disposable. In this way, I believe Davis’ articulations are also instructive for how we shift the culture toward full recognition of the humanity of others. As with Hari and Warsan, Davis is seeking fullness. For Hari, this fullness is grounded in the refusal of violence. Warsan understands this fullness to be introspective healing work.
By all estimation, this fullness is a balancing act. It’s something I’m not fully versed in yet. I am a shit-show at all times in various ways. Balancing is difficult and strange. My body knows extremes and abuse. It is not primed for care, boundaries, or “no as a complete sentence.” I understand violence, exploitation, and abjection. I’ve made a home at their intersection on more than a few occasions.
In response to abjection, Warsan writes, “It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful, I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.” In her notable poem “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love”, she offers this prescription to grapple with complex human beings, “You can’t make homes out of human beings someone should have already told you that and if he wants to leave then let him leave you are terrifying and strange and beautiful something not everyone knows how to love.”
Regarding this re-imagined community with, for, and in service of Black folks, I truly believe there must be some balancing and reconciling of politics that center accountability, introspection, violence refusal, and healing. I believe reconciling Hari Ziyad’s notion of “loving refusal” and Warsan Shire’s “glorious healing” can help us ask the right type of questions that might yield workable communal frameworks. I argue that “the work” is only workable if it works or leads us to questions that yield workable work.
For Further Reading:
Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? Seven Stories Press, 2003.
Haley, Sarah. No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity. University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
hooks, bell. Belonging: A Culture of Place. Routledge, 2009.
hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. 1st Washington Square Press trade pbk. ed., Washington Square Press, 2005.
Lomax, Tamura A. Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Female Body in Religion and Culture. Duke University Press, 2018.
McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. 1st Vintage books ed., Vintage Books, 2011.
Perry, Imani. Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation. Duke University Press, 2018.
Martez is an Adjunct Professor of African-American Studies and the 2017-2020 Diversity Enhancement Program (DEP) fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He is completing his Ph.D. in Educational Studies in Diverse Populations with a concentration in Metropolitan Education Studies. Prior to that, he earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with an emphasis on social justice from Brown University. His work is centered around care, Anti-Blackness, abjection, mothering, and macrosystems of education like communal knowledge. He still hasn’t learned boundaries or how to say no as a complete sentence and probably won’t ever learn it. He is interested in locating sites of workable work in complex, complicated and diverse Black spaces.