That Terrifying Darkness

by Dr. Stefanie K. Dunning

(special to The Dreher Report)

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 2.54.14 PM

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 3.51.09 PMI was settling pretty nicely into my self-chosen cloister when the news of George Floyd’s murder came to me and then the uprisings across the country. And then, the director on Twitter that “if there is looking, there will be shooting.”

Do I need to tell adult human beings that the destruction of property isn’t violence in this case?

Do I need to say that violence is the murder of people and that murder of people is the real crisis–not what happens to some resource-depleting crap in Target that will end up in a landfill and only worsen our climate crisis?

Do we need a lesson in the difference between a chair and a human being?

I keep coming back to this quote from James Baldwin, that writer, prophet, and seer who has never left my mind and heart once I cracked open Go Tell it On the Mountain all those years ago:

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.

All of these anti-quarantine protestors are caught up in a grand and complicated projection designed to forestall awareness of the reality of death, whose imminence materialized quickly with CV-19. Denial of the dangers of CV-19 connects to the deeper aspects of this culture so obsessed with youth (evidenced by the cultures of beauty, plastic surgery, dieting, wrinkle creams, hairlessness, and so on).

Do we need a lesson in the difference between a chair and a human being?

Now, as is the American way, all of those anxieties and fears about death will be offloaded onto the necks of black people. It’s as if forcing black people to die allows their white murderers to feel more alive and more firmly rooted in life than in death. But the fact of death, regardless of your skin tone or class status or gender identity or sexuality, cannot be postponed, negotiated with, or made otherwise a reality of living.

My spiritual journey has shown me that what people do is a reflection of what they feel inside. So murderers “feel” dead and can only feel alive in the presence of an actual dead body. People who can only see criminality in another feel guilty themselves because ultimately, there are no others. Everything is a mirror.

I suspect, black people do not behave in the genocidal manner that racist and murderous white people do is because we project what is inside of us–which is life, not death.

I have seen some racist arguments which wonder why black people don’t terrorize white people in armed militias or take up an eye-for-an-eye strategy vis-a-vis police/vigilante shootings. [My daughter] Omi was speaking to a (now former) friend of hers in Sri Lanka who told her that “black people are weak.” Many people whose consciousness is framed by anti-blackness think like this. By this logic, Jesus was weak too.

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A makeshift memorial for George Floyd near the spot where he died in police custody in Minneapolis. 

But the reason, I suspect, black people do not behave in the genocidal manner that racist and murderous white people do is because we project what is inside of us–which is life, not death. As a black person, I have no desire to kill anyone, for any reason. I am too concerned about what I would become if I did such a thing. And, I am too concerned about what I would foreclose in the life of the person I would kill. In other words, if living in this society means becoming a serial killer–I’ll fly away.

 

I’ll close with a prayer:

I pray for
the safety of
each and every one of us.

I pray that
our children
are safe.

I pray that
wisdom and insight
will rain down upon all of us and
the killing can stop.

I pray for
our collective
healing.

Love to you all.

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 3.51.09 PMStefanie Kyle Dunning is Associate Professor of English at Miami University of Ohio. She is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of California, Riverside and a Ford Fellow. Her first book Queer in Black and White: Interraciality, Same Sex Desire and Contemporary African American Culture, was published by Indiana University Press in 2009. Her work has been published (or is forthcoming) in African American Review, MELUS, Studies In The Fantastic, and Electric Literature. and several other journals and anthologies. Her latest project, Black to Nature: Pastoral Return in African American Culture, is forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi in 2021.

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