Some thoughts on Charleston and holding space for Black grief in a Hawaiian digital world…
Yesterday I was struck with sorrow for the nine lives lost to racial terrorism, for the families whose enduring love has circled these lost lives in the wake of unrelenting violence, and for the Black community who look upon the memorial pictures of those killed and see siblings, parents, partners, children. Themselves. And in those moments I was profoundly struck by my social privilege of looking upon those faces and not seeing myself, my sister, my parents, my partner, and my beloved children. My privilege of holding this grief and the violence that begets it at bay, though the sorrow I feel is overwhelming.
And though there is much work that must be done in the coming weeks, months, and years, I see too that my immediate job includes holding space for grief that I cannot ever fully comprehend. I am no expert on this, but I understand holding space as an act of empathy that allows those who are grieving to experience the full range of emotions that come in the shadow of grief. Of supporting those in grief for as long as that grief remains. Speaking sometimes, but often not. Withholding judgement because that grief is theirs to bear. In a world that denies the value of Black life, holding space for Black grief is an affirmation of Black humanity. In the coming days I will do my best to hold that space in a digital world where images of Black Americans burning a confederate flag will undoubtedly invoke the familiar narrative that manifestations of Black grief are somehow disproportionate to the violence that creates it.
This narrative is ubiquitous, even in places where the presence of Black Americans is sparse and holds a slightly different set of meanings. I’m thinking, of course, of Hawai`i. My home that nowadays I continually long for, especially during moments like this. But again, in moments like this my longing is tinged with the desire to hold at bay the violence that creates Black grief. To distance myself from it with seemingly endless miles of life-affirming ocean. But I, we, must remind ourselves that this is no solution because the ideas that enable violence against Black life infuse the digital spaces that instantly connect Hawai`i to the continent. So I need to hold space for Black grief in the digital world that connects me to home.
So for those of my beloved in Hawai`i that would forget the depths of Black grief, for those who perhaps feel buffered from this violence, and for those who just cannot confront it, I’d like to offer this:
The struggle to affirm Black life is deeply intertwined with our dreams of justice for our stolen nation. Did you know that when our Queen was overthrown by Americans it was justified by a racist logic that “ranked” Hawaiians as “low” as Blacks in the South? As though comparing our Queen to a people upon whose backs the wealth of a nation was built was anything other than a compliment. That the capitalism that sees Black bodies as expendable is protected by the military that, as I write this, wants to self-regulate the storage of toxic fuels on O`ahu? Not to mention the desecration of our lands, our ancestral parents that give us life.
This is not an appeal to help others so that we might be helped. It is an appeal to justice. Hawaiians know justice. I am only beginning to learn the Hawaiian language, but I’ve been seeing the word pono used a lot lately, especially with the protectors atop Mauna Kea. For me pono is a rightness with the world. It evokes a collective sense of justice. I draw connections because I want to see rightness in the world. And today, though the bulldozers are lined up ready to desecrate our life-giving mauna, our protectors are not being killed in that sacred space. No.
Depayne Middleton Doctor. Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Reverend Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson.
These nine were killed in their sacred place. In the face of such violence pono, for me, means holding space for Black grief even as we suffer our own. It means, at the very least, affirming Black grief in a digital world that dehumanizes their heartbroken responses by implying that the destruction of objects is “too violent” a reaction to the killing of Black people. Hawaiians know justice. Let us affirm Black life through aloha. It is time.