Hunter Blu: Can language solve our problems as young Black people, and if so, what form(s) of language?
Krista Gay: [Laughs] I don’t think it can. I think language is limiting, especially if we’re talking specifically about Black language. Are we talking about oral language—conversations had in person, or are we talking about words being transcribed and then sent out into the world?
H: I mean, at this point, it has to apply to the internet as well. The internet is real life.
K: Initially, my thought is no. When I think about the internet, it’s a little different. The internet has a way of taking things. We like to share our information and our culture on the internet, but then the intentions are misconstrued. Things can be taken and used the wrong way. People’s culture is robbed through language. Queer culture is robbed through language; black culture, robbed through language; underground nightlife culture, robbed through language. A lot of people don't get heard in the way that they were intended to be heard. I do think that there is something powerful about not saying anything at all on the internet and keeping certain things for IRL conversations. It is a different space. It’s a very vulnerable space and that can be dangerous.
H: I guess, lately, there’s this sense of being responsible without actually being responsible.
K: Yeah, yeah!
H: Constantly being held accountable by this vague digital spaciousness. If I slip up and say something wrong—whether it’s IRL or it’s on the internet.
K: That gives me an idea for a question. When I say the words “body” and “virus,” what do you think? How do they affect each other? I can tell you how it affects me if that helps.
H: Okay, let’s start there.
K: First, let me preface this by saying that I think I’m a robot.
K: In my brain, I’m a robot. I’m programmed to be a certain way. My brain has an algorithm. I do the zero-one every day. When I wake up, I perform in a certain way in order to not present myself as a threat (that could be that I’m a Black person, but that’s another discussion.) When I think of “virus,” it feels like an alteration in the code of my programming as a human being. It also feels like freedom, for me. When I say “body” and “virus,” I think of an escape from the performance, from the algorithm. That’s what I think of, does that help?
H: Yeah, I don’t know, I’m someone who hates getting sick. So, when I think of “virus” it is very fleshy and biological. Still to your point of freedom, there is that great moment when you’re recovering, and it feels so liberating. It’s also very emotional because of what my experience with the most famous virus on the planet was and currently is. It's very convoluted. I recently lit up a Palo Santo for the first time since I was sick in the winter. That’s what I used to use to check if I still had my sense of smell when I was sick.
K: Oh, wow.
H: And I hadn’t smelled it since then. It took me back.
K: Are there things that are sensory that ground you in your home, whatever home means to you? You said Palo Santo brought you back to being able to smell, and it was a very freeing experience, but it grounded you in that moment.
H: That's interesting because I feel like I know what grounds me outside of my home, but I don’t know what grounds me inside my home. For example, remember when I was talking to you about walking down the street on a Friday night on the Lower East Side, I had my bike with me that night. So despite all the social hierarchies, I had my bike with me and I love my bike and my bike loves me. My bike's name is river. I felt so grounded having this vehicle that is an extension of my body's endurance. It always feels so grounding being outside with my bike because I know I would never hurt it—at least not intentionally, and it would never hurt me, we can do so well together. In my home…
K: And you’re speaking of the physical space that is your home; the place where you live and rest your head?
H: Yeah, I don’t know exactly what grounds me.
K: I think it’s interesting, It sounds like you're saying your home is the city. It seems like you going outside and being in the streets of New York City, that's your home. You being on your bike, in your body present at the moment. For me, going outside in New York terrifies me. It’s just so different from what I’m used to back at home in LA. That already makes it feel like it’s not home. Every time I step outside in New York, it feels like I’m fighting for my life, but when I’m back home, I don’t feel at home in the place where I rest my head either. The place that I feel most at home is when I smell the Pacific Ocean and when I hear the waves.
K: That's when I know I’m in a place that’s home. It doesn’t have to be bound by four walls for it to be a home for me. It’s a visceral feeling; feeling like you're safe, most importantly. And I feel safest when I smell the salt water and I hear the waves hitting the rocks and I can look out and see blue skies and there’s nothing behind it. It’s freeing, almost.
H: That's great, I love that… You know what? Language isn’t enough.
K: It’s not! It’s super limiting.
H: Because you have the protest from last year, protests from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s—whichever-the-fuck era. Those are all forms of language—whether it’s bodies, music, tongue—and it hasn’t worked.
K: Also, people don’t listen to words the way they were intended to be listened to. People don’t take words seriously enough. People use words all willy-nilly and just throw words out like “I’m using this word confidently and that's enough.” But it’s never really been enough. We use words incorrectly, we use words without knowing their full intentions, without knowing their origin. And I do the same thing. I’m by no means a super word nerd. I’m not on it the way I want to be. But it’s hard because we as a generation want to communicate so badly. Our whole thing is to be understood, but none of us are listening to each other, so it feels like a cycle. And then if you look back at history, different groups have been saying the same things for years, and we’ve seen little to no progress. Maybe a little, but I think most of it is a performative progress. So, what progress are we really making? Is it just so we shut up?
H: It’s surface level.
K: It’s just so that we can be docile.
H: It’s making it look pretty. I don’t trust shit…
K: You shouldn’t! Don’t trust anything, nothing is to be trusted.
H: Fuck you, I don’t trust any of this shit!