“Unbowed” by Bry Reed

There is fire in the streets. This time, it began with Minneapolis. Long ago, it was Detroit, it was Los Angeles, it was Birmingham. The fire has always been here. Time after time it sparks and rages. Right now, I feel it in my throat. Yesterday, it was in my gut. Five years ago, after the murder of Freddie Gray, it burned in my palms. No matter where I feel it in my body, it stays with me. Fire has made a home of my skin just as it has made a home of this nation. At its peak, it moves along my body looking for a way out. It seeks release and a way out of this labyrinth. As the fire grows, I contend with the world outside my skin. Amidst a pandemic, a revolution is brewing. 

This reflection is an attempt to address this moment, name the fire within my skin, and reckon with my fears. The truth is I am afraid. I am terrified to live in a world on the edge of revolution because I know that our freedom is not easily won. Our liberation requires so much more than we can even imagine now. There will be loss because liberation requires it. A new world requires us to untether ourselves from carcerality, respectability, and all the horrors of anti-Blackness. It forces us to find a new lifeblood beyond death, disposal, and decay. The reality is that to thrive in a new world first we must do away with this one. That fact is where my fear lies between worry and wonder.

I worry that even at our best, liberation is far in the distance, and I wonder if I will ever know it.  

As I sit with my fears, giving myself space to feel and be, I find comfort in text. When the world is loud and overwhelming, when my inbox is full, I find relief in my bookshelf. Reading is a meditation and a lesson in revolution building. I explore Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. With each book, a new piece of my imagination grows. Their work helps me to envision something new, liberating, and possible. 

Without ever knowing me, they named my fire. They know it’s core and edges. They named it tragedy, vulnerability, and passion. In their writing I understand that the fire inside is not destruction. It can destroy, but that is merely one part. It’s love. It is the ending and the beginning of so much. 

They knew fire too. Naylor used hers to write about the places where Black women gather and make magic. She knew the fire in Brewster Place and on the shores of sea islands. Shange used hers to write spells and poems and plays. The fire woven into the work of Black feminists nurtures me. There is refuge in the familiar. Within the stories of my Black feminist foremothers I see so much that before their words seemed illegible. It’s a gift. As writer Breya Johnson says, “They loved us enough to write it all down.” With each work I feel the pieces, even those I cannot yet name, of myself being put back together. 

Morrison’s work reminds me that now is not a time for inaction. She writes: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

There is no room for despair. I cannot fear liberation nor can I fear what it requires. If it requires loss then I must be prepared to lose. If it requires fire then I must be prepared to burn. Understanding love, as well as language, shows that burning is not the end. There is life after fire. It is our task to imagine what this life is and get to work.

In the final paragraph of her essay “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” Morrison leaves us with this: “I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

Right now, the world is on fire and searching for air to breathe. Morrison reminds us that there has always been fire and there has always been revolution. This moment is simply our turn to make choices and understand what information is carried within the flames (and with that ourselves). We must choose love, rest, healing, and community. We must choose these pieces as we move toward liberation because without these we succumb to disaster and bow to our same enemies. Now, we must remain unbowed and ready to burn.  

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed