This month we’ve been thinking about the issue of suicide as an individual experience and as it connects to some of the wider issues we’ve been talking about throughout our blog. In light of the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and so many others, we’ve been looking for words in the midst of our grief and wordlessness. Melissa Harris-Perry is a writer, professor, television host, and political commentator with a focus on African-American politics. Below, we’ve included her creative use of the category of suicidality to help broaden how we think about the larger social implications of what’s happening within the black experience.
Please note: The writer is making use of the idea of suicide as a way to symbolize the desire to escape one’s suffering and oppression - this is not in support of death by suicide. For any readers struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, or any survivors of suicide please be aware there may be some triggering language.
The following excerpt is from the Anna Julia Cooper Center:
This piece was originally performed on July 6, 2016 at Sidewalk Cafe in New York City as part of a show by Jamie Kilstein & The Agenda.
“This is the suicide note.
I have been writing it a long time. In the quiet place. The lower left side of my brain. This place is my Walden. Where I write.
I read Thoreau in high school. Tenth grade. Fell in love with it so deeply I even fell in love with the small-boned, dark-haired, earnest man standing before our class of rowdy teens pleading:
‘I went into the woods because I wish to live
deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and
see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not,
when I came to die, discover I had not lived.’
I listened. Sighed.
I would be Thoreau – escape a town that had already done violence to my body and my intellect. Create in quiet space. Advance confidently in the direction of my dreams.
I hadn’t read Hurston yet; didn’t know yet what it meant to be the Mule of the World. Didn’t yet understand all the privilege, power, history, whiteness, and maleness that let Thoreau chill for a couple years at Walden. I hadn’t read Faulkner yet; didn’t know that I am Southerner through and through, so ‘given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.’ I hadn’t read Morrison yet. I didn’t know that even if I escaped to freedom, even if I stood in the clearing with Baby Suggs Holy and loved my black flesh, that the slave catchers would pursue, and send me fleeing to the shed, with my children, and the knife, and Sethe’s choice.
When I was 15 I thought I would go to Walden and write. Now I just go to the quiet place. Lower left side of my brain. The only part not taken up by bills, emails, demands from every single person who wants every single thing from me. And there I write it over and over. The note.
Don’t be sad. We are all replaceable, even though we are utterly unique. Each snowflake is an expression of the inexhaustible creativity of God, but we don’t mourn each individually with the Spring thaw.
Don’t be shocked. Colored girls consider suicide, ‘cause damn it, the rainbow is enuf.
Even the Queen. Bey. Did you see her? Everyone wants to talk about the Oshun. The birth, the water, the yellow dress, the bat and broken car windows. But I saw. The ledge. The leap. Down. Down. Is that how long it would take?
This is my Walden. The quiet place. Where I write. And what I write is the note. The exit.
I sense your judgment, concern. What hypocrites you are. How we love, celebrate, revere, build monuments to the slow suicide enacted on our behalf.
‘Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got
some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter
with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity
has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I
just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up
to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the
Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want
you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the
We applaud that suicide. Revel in it.
For our entertainment we gladly cheer the gladiators of suicide by CTE.
We danced and sang and fucked and pretended not to notice while Michael and Prince killed themselves for us.
We like suicide as long as it is martyrdom. We are only shocked by the swift and sure final act that renders the black body unavailable for use by others. That says – this suffering will not be endured.
Igbo Landing. 1803. South Sea Islands of Georgia. The people were stolen from Africa. In return they have stolen the ship. They cannot turn it back. They will not be enslaved. So they turn and they walk. They walk all the way across the water. Back to Africa. Back home. Julie Dash tells us the story in Daughters of the Dust. The Igbo who walk back cross the water. Generations who tell the story of the Igbo who would be free. Until she reminds us: no one can walk on water. No one can fly. Igbo Landing is revolutionary suicide.
This is the suicide note. I have been writing it a long time. In the quiet place. The lower left side of my brain. My Walden. Where I am free.
Revolutionary suicide, Huey tells us, ‘is not a death wish; it means just the opposite. We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible. When reactionary forces crush us, we must move against these forces, even at the risk of death.’
My Black girl suicide might not be what you think.
Do you imagine me Sandra Bland, wasted in a Texas jail cell, the imprint of the system sitting roadside on my back still visible? My laugh still audible?
Wakiesha Wilson, supposedly self-hung from a two-foot phone booth in LAPD lock-up?
No, no. Not that.
I am not writing that note here by my Walden. Here I am not a mule. Here Donald Trump will never be president and I don’t have to be with Hillary. Ever. Here I don’t have to pretend Bernie cares about black folks or that Ms. Warren is Cherokee.
Here by my Walden they didn’t cancel Nerdland or Doc McStuffins and they ain’t coming for Shonda cause green-eyed Jesse spoke a fraction of truth.
Here it is quiet and baby boys walk to stores in the rain safely with hoodies up. And play in the park with toy guns and still go home for dinner. And grandma drives home from work without having to give an officer a blowjob and no one thinks sex with an unconscious girl constitutes ‘action.’
This is the suicide note. I have been writing it for a long time. We have been writing it for a long time. We, the black people. We despised folks whose stolen bodies built this nation without pay or acknowledgement or gratitude. This is our suicide note.
Oh Freedom Over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
And if you cannot read it; if you are not literate in our language, cannot decipher the characters on our page, we brought you the interpretation in dance. Barefoot. In the water. With fire.
The revolutionary suicide note…
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves
This is the suicide note. If you are reading it, I am already dead.
Dead to oppression.
Dead to patriarchy.
Dead to sexism.
Dead to racism.
Dead to homophobia.
Dead to hatred.
Dead to nativism.
Dead to partisanship.
Dead to small-mindedness.
Dead to violence and ignorance.
This is the suicide note. If you are reading it, I am already dead. Already free.”
We hope to address suicide from a therapeutic and critical social perspective in our next blog entry.