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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Issue
Editor's Message

Proximity of Violence & Our Black Woman Bodies

Mahogany L. Browne, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
Mahogany L. Browne, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.

I am scrolling through my twitter feed when a video of Dalia Kafi flies across the screen. Caught on camera is a Black woman, detained and leaning against a wall, in a Canadian police station. The Calgary officer, Alex Dunn, enters the frame and tries to remove her headscarf. When Kafi inches away from his probing, without struggle or raised voices, she is instantly slammed, face first, into the cold hard ground. You can hear the smack of bones and flesh against the hard floor. She doesn’t move as he restrains her arms, hands still handcuffed behind her back, awkwardly above her writhing body. Her body is moved by another officer and blood spills from her face and mouth. I close my eyes from the too much of the scene, cover my eyes with my hands, and leave my ears open, waiting and praying to hear a wail from the pixelated screen. I rub my hands across my forehead, the sweat pooling in fear, and I wait for a sound, any sound, to signal Kafi is still alive.

Roger Britton.
Roger Britton. "Rumors Of War" for B. Renaissance photography. Instagram: Brenaissancephotog.

This is a reaction that I’ve learned is a defense mechanism. Closing my eyes doesn’t take away the violent images, but it allows me to brace for the pain. The first time I sprained my ankle, I was a center on my high school basketball team. A girl pushed me and I felt a tear rip through my ankle and up my shin. I think about the way I hobbled off court. The way my coach checked the swelling with both hands, her brown fingers gently assessing the disintegration of a young Black girl. I close my eyes when I think of this pain. I can access it even still. This kind of pain is a moment that will live beneath my skin for always.

Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War
Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War" for B. Renaissance photography. Instagram: Brenaissancephotog.

Today, eight months into this quarantine life, I close my eyes and allow my hands to linger on the cutting board. I am preparing dinner, something I am still not good at. But my hands clean the seafood. I touch the knives and the steel is not welcoming. Instruments are a means to an end. The flesh is infinite. Its propensity to touch and be touched. The heat of consent, the balm and healing properties of a body beaconing safety. I am afraid of who I will become without the kindness of human touch.

Someone on my twitter feed jokes that “quarantine is like prison” and I close my eyes. My hunger can lead me to a kitchen. My skin has access to showers whenever I choose. This is not close to mass incarceration and still, it is haunting, the absence of a heartbeat orbiting my own. The light burst of us sharing the fraction of time, breathing the same air, breathing in our own becoming.

Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War
Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War" for B. Renaissance photography. Instagram: Brenaissancephotog.

Since March 2020, I have only felt the hugs and hands of family members. I miss hugging my girlfriends, the lavish brunches once shared. Dishes of sweet syrup and honey blossoms passed from hand to hand. We rely on fuzzy text messages now. We try not to fill too much space up with grief. A cousin dies. As I write this, it has been 340 days since Breonna Taylor’s body lay dying on the ground. It’s been 340 days as I write this essay, as I #SayHerName and still, no one has been charged for the crime of her murder. The pain of this injustice feels like a stone in my shoe. It’s the only thing that can touch me without emptying my fear reservoir. The internet fills up my haunts. The social media platforms pull my blood closer to the protest line. The news feed pretends we are angry at being COVID-Stricken, the culminating injustice pulls at the neatness of my survival as the images of so many grieving, dying, and gone fill my screen. Elders and children pepper sprayed on the way to the voting booth. Elders and children are pepper sprayed during protest. Face masks only cover their nose and mouth. Their eyes are a sea of sad milk. Their hands, defiant mountains erecting new skylines amidst the soot. They march and weep, openly. My hands wring themselves a new coat of failure. I am afraid to touch. I am afraid of touch. The Trump administration has shown me what it is capable of doing to bodies like mine. This government has proved my life is not worth saving, even if they are the culprit obstructing the ease of this bittersweet life.

Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War
Roger Britton. “Rumors Of War" for B. Renaissance photography. Instagram: Brenaissancephotog.

I miss touching. Breonna Taylor was made an example. I miss hugging my friends. Eleanor Bumpurs was made an example. 500,000 and rising have died from COVID-19. Alteria Woods was made an example. I miss the way arms tangle with one another when walking together down a sidewalk, or through a park path. Rekia Boyd was made an example. I almost cry when I begin to dream of dinners with friends and shared plates of joy. Sandra Bland was made an example. I clean my hands when I touch the door, after I open a package, and after I pass a 20 to the food delivery person. The day I vote, I move in front of a computer screen instructing me to submit my ballot. The plexiglass is smudged with my sweat, even though my hands are covered cold and trembling.

Contributor

Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany L. Browne is a writer, organizer & educator. Browne has received fellowships from Agnes Gund, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of recent works: Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, & Black Girl Magic. As the founder of the diverse lit initiative, Woke Baby Book Fair, Browne is excited to release her newest poetry collection responding to the impact of mass incarceration on women and children I Remember Death By Its Proximity to What I Love (Fall 2021, Haymarket Books), She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

All Issues