Summer of Reckoning, Summer of Love

kehinde wiley Astrologically, the heavens right now resemble those of 1969. So why is this the opposite of the Summer of Love? Is everything wicked in our culture–everything rotten that’s been simmering like the worst witch’s stew—coming to a boil so we can recognize it, expel it, brew something better? I incant, I pray, I roll up my sleeves to make it so.

The day after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was riding on a rush hour subway to a Black Lives Matter march to be followed by a screening of the Ghostbusters remake. (An incongruity that underscores how irrelevant I find my work lately.) Around me, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to face, stood the rainbow of New Yorkers that you can find on any MTA subway car at any minute of the day. Everyone looked worn, weary, wary. It wasn’t just me, I was sure of it. If there’s ever been a moment on a New York City subway uninformed by centuries of financial inequities, gender politics, religious wars, and, yes, slavery–and I highly doubt it–this most definitely was not it.

Amidst all this o-the-humanity sat a very beautiful black baby, presiding from his oversized stroller. He was probably nine months old–verging on mobility and language, already more charismatic than everyone around him. Like a tiny emcee, he was cackling and winking and swiveling to connect with each of us. His mom kept handing him bits of fruit and he kept offering them to his neighbors, staring in our eyes intently, warmly, as he waved chubby fingers in our faces. Despite our various shittiness, no one could resist this little person (though we could resist the fruit). When it was my turn, I gave him my biggest Muppet smile, the one I always bestow upon flirty children, but he furrowed in response. It was only then I realized tears were running down my face–that this male child of color trusting strangers, welcoming strangers, on this day, on any day, was making me cry. Would our country protect this beautiful person as he grew up? Would we grow worthy of him? All around me eyes were welling up. I was ashamed of my maudlin display; comforted it was not the only one.

audre-lorde-hawaiiThis in its own way is a Summer of Love, I suppose. We are feeling things. We are not numb. Our headlines for once are not full of gossip and reality TV.  They are full of each other: our shared and scary present, our shared and scary future, the bodies–what I call “we otherbodies”–that are endangered, entrapped, enraged. Enraptured. Once again I flash on Audre Lorde’s Black Unicorn words.

and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy