1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath
– alternate names for black boys, Danez Smith
There’s something about the way I found out about Alton Sterling‘s death Tuesday night: through a hashtag on Twitter. Sterling was a 37-year old man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who was pinned down by two white officers wherein one of them fatally shot him.
Clicking the hashtag led me to the video of his gruesome and unjust death, as those recording the whole incident screamed and cried in disbelief. It was jarring. The scrolling came intuitively, as I read varied testaments of emotions, photos of protests and articles about the murder of black people by the police. One link was a Washington database of people killed and shot by the police in 2016. Sterling is the 114th black man listed.
His crime? Selling CDs outside a convenience store.
The next day, Philando Castile was shot to death during a police traffic stop in Minneapolis — all of it captured by his girlfriend on video as well.
At the last BET Awards, Grey’s Anatomy actor and human rights activist Jesse Williams gave a searing speech about the need to organize and mobilize for black lives. He memorialized Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Dorian Hunt. He called out whiteness. He called for action.
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.
To stand with black people is to recognize how deep racism still runs in the country. To stand with black people is to defy the culture of violence perpetrated by the state, by the police. To stand with black people is to understand the pervasiveness of white supremacy. To stand with black people is know that the roots of their oppression are the same roots of global imperialism that continue to oppress people from the Third World. To stand with black people is a fight for humanity. To stand with black people is to be ready when coal meets spark and wind.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.