Rivers Such as This

An excerpt from Jesmyn Ward’s September 2020 Vanity Fair piece “On Witness and Repair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by Pandemic.” It is a classic that deserves revisiting over and over again.

In the days after my conversation with my cousin, I woke to people in the streets. I woke to Minneapolis burning. I woke to protests in America’s heartland, Black people blocking the highways. I woke to people doing the haka in New Zealand. I woke to hoodie-wearing teens, to John Boyega raising a fist in the air in London, even as he was afraid he would sink his career, but still, he raised his fist. I woke to droves of people, masses of people in Paris, sidewalk to sidewalk, moving like a river down the boulevards. I knew the Mississippi. I knew the plantations on its shores, the movement of enslaved and cotton up and down its eddies. The people marched, and I had never known that there could be rivers such as this, and as protesters chanted and stomped, as they grimaced and shouted and groaned, tears burned my eyes. They glazed my face.

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Grief Doesn’t Fade

An excerpt from Jesmyn Ward’s memoir Men We Reaped.

I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess.

Simply Being Black

From Jesmyn Ward in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016)

Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black.