Though Black History Month is more than just a month-long celebration for those of us, like myself, who are black three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, year after year, it is a time in which many of us allow our voices to rise just a little bit higher. We sing a bit louder. Praise harder. Dance stronger. Laugh with more robust. Smile wider. And shout, at the top of our lungs that equality is still NOT ours to have, and America should WAKE UP and realize how they’ve only shifted the powers of oppression into other realms. However, that is a story for another day.
Instead, as a kick off to what will be the BLACKEST month in 2018, especially with the premiere of the Black Panther movie on the horizon, I share a piece of literary work by a Black poet by the name of Amiri Baraka. Formally known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amear Baraka, Amiri Baraka, was a notable Black writer of not only poetry, but also works of drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism. Author of numerous books, Baraka’s literary career spanned 50 years. His writing focused on themes of black liberation, racism, criticism of white supremacy, sexuality, misogyny, among many other topics. In particular, the poem that will be shared, takes a critical look into race and violence, whilst exploring the limitations we face when it comes to knowing the “truth” about what is or has happened around us.
So, without further ado, I share, Amiri Baraka’s poem: Incident.
He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came
back, he shot, and he fell, stumbling, past the
shadow wood, down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt.
At the bottom, bleeding, shot dead. He died then, there
after the fall, the speeding bullet, tore his face
and blood sprayed fine over the killer and the grey light.
Pictures of the dead man, are everywhere. And his spirit
sucks up the light. But he died in darkness darker than
his soul and everything tumbled blindly with him dying
down the stairs.
We have no word
on the killer, except he came back, from somewhere
to do what he did. And shot only once into his victim's
stare, and left him quickly when the blood ran out. We know
the killer was skillful, quick, and silent, and that the victim
probably knew him. Other than that, aside from the caked sourness
of the dead man's expression, and the cool surprise in the fixture
of his hands and fingers, we know nothing.
A bit dark, but in the face of violence, darkness is always present. And being that Baraka is a black man, violence’s presence is, sadly, nothing of surprise. It has been something deeply rooted in the history of black people (people of color in general) in America. It is still a significant piece in our history now. And though this piece was written in the late 60's (during the heights of the Civil Rights era) it can be noted, even in its movement, that it is infused with the mind of someone who has learned to become desensitized to the act of constant violence. It is representational of a reality many have a hard time coming to terms with, as well as demonstrative of what many people of color will experience at some point in their life, be it on a personal level or through the news, or whatever medium violence is presented. It is a piece about erasure. Erasure of a point of view. An erasure of a piece of a story – which in turn is how black history has been documented. In segments. Points of view missing, here and there. Pieces to the puzzle lost to those killed prematurely. Again, a reality, that many of us, people of color, still must come to terms with even now, in the 21st century. Yet, even despite, slowly but surely, even in what is not known, we do our best to learn and acknowledge what we do not KNOW to start to uncover what we need to KNOW and hopefully will one day KNOW. A slow and painful process, but one that is necessary to go through. As they say, "what is done in the dark will always come to light."
Interested in reading more of Amiri Baraka’s works, you can visit the Poetry Foundation. Dive in and indulge. And remember to share because there is power in shared knowledge.
As always, read, enjoy, and repeat.