Sigh. I feel like I’ve said this a million times in my last few posts, but 2020 has been an exceptionally trying year, especially for Black people. I feel, in the last few months particularly, like every day that I wake up I have a new reason to be angry, to be frustrated, or to grieve. As Black people we have lost so many as a result of institutional racism and injustice and we continue to do so. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Christopher Kapessa. Belly Mujinga. Mercy Baguma.
We have had to watch while white supremacy works at its most effective: Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by police and a 17-year old white boy murdering two people in front of the police, at the subsequent protests, without being apprehended by them.
And now Chadwick Boseman. His death rocked me to my core, not least because it came as such a surprise. Chadwick Boseman was a fantastic actor and his career impacted me and so many Black people – especially children – across the world. Boseman as Black Panther gave so many Black children hope and belief – seeing a Black royal hero who exuded intelligence, grace, strength and unshakeable values made them believe they could. It helped them realise that people who look like them are all these things and more. Black Panther, as a film, was an important cultural moment for us as Black people – it was a moment of celebration to see elements of our culture and history represented on the big screen. As the brilliant writer Chanté Joseph so eloquently put it on Twitter: “It was a small pocket of joy between the constant violence and trauma waged on us daily.”
Black people are losing their loved ones as well as their heroes. Covid-19 means that we cannot meet to share and express our collective grief, so for some of us said grief is compounded by loneliness and isolation. Had the pandemic not existed, I just know that Boseman’s death would have triggered mass screenings of his films; I can see Black people donning their dashikis and reliving the epic Black Panther experience in his honour. Knowing that we can’t do that somehow makes his death even harder to take.
Holding myself together as I watch the events of the world around me has at times been a challenge. I see the videos (even when I try to avoid them), I see the tweets and the Instagram posts, people ask me “Have you heard about…?” Yes, yes I have. I take it in and I feel it all. I become so overwhelmed that when I go to write about them the words get jumbled and then they get stuck. My social media goes silent and my blog posts stall because at times I don’t even know where to begin.
The events of 2020 combined with lockdown have left me feeling incredibly lost. The world is spinning and I have struggled to keep my balance. As people poured out their feelings about Chadwick Boseman on social media, there was mention of how mourning the passing of someone you don’t know is a way of processing your own internal grief. The news of Boseman’s death came a week after I buried my aunt, whose death also came as a horrid surprise to me. However, being around my aunt’s church family during her nine night and burial got me thinking about my own faith. I grew up in Jamaica, the country reputed to have the most churches per square mile in the world. It is an uber Christian society and so going to church when I was a child was just the thing I did. I ended up going to Catholic church and, coincidentally, a Catholic high school. As I got older I began to quietly reject the church. I couldn’t quite articulate why at the time, but I felt troubled by the dogma and the way Christianity – the European version of Christianity at that – dominated so many aspects of Jamaican society, including gender-based expectations, and how parochial I felt it was. I felt that I couldn’t follow all those rules and when I returned to the UK I stopped trying.
While I do not want to return to the trappings of organised religion, I do miss the comfort and sense of belonging that faith gave me. As I sat on my bed and cried for Chadwick Boseman and my aunt, I realised how much I miss being able to pray without it feeling unnatural. I spent that Saturday thinking about my future and the future of this blog and I realised that spiritual grounding will be essential in whatever journey I take in this life. I have repeatedly been encouraged to enter politics; many have told me my voice is powerful and my passion for social change and justice would make me a good MP. Even though I have refused to take that particular path, I have often thought that there may be something to what I’ve been told – all these people, including people who have only met me once, can’t be wrong. I want to find my way, but I don’t yet know what that way is. I do know, however, that whatever it is using my voice as a Black woman in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy comes with personal risk. It comes with abuse; it comes with threats. It comes with crushing self-doubt and self-defeating thoughts. I am not ashamed to admit that I cannot withstand that on my own, and without faith, without belief I can and will spiral. I know my ancestors drew on their faith to help them withstand the horrors of slavery so, as a Black woman, relying on faith and spirituality to help navigate difficulties is not a new phenomenon.
So today, I pray. Slowly but surely, I intend to rebuild my spiritual faith as I navigate what can be a very hostile and traumatic world. I appreciate people have their doubts and this is a very personal thing, but I see it as a way of loving myself and others in the process. I plan to educate myself more on Black spirituality and I look forward to seeing where this journey will take me.