We live in a torn world.
While there is obvious truth to this lament, the “world” itself is hardly this nebulous galaxy of unsuspecting or vague entities, but rather, of people with the ability to think and do different and better—people who set its orbit into motion through repeated microaggressions, complicity, acts of outright violence, and wars that continue to assail the very human spirit. The political and social unrest in this country alone has become so unbelievably disconcerting and predictable that one can easily acquiesce to this as the new normal.
Though I have also made the observation that the world seems to have gone mad, I refuse to readily embrace new mantras of hopelessness. Their hollowness suggests an inevitable personal detachment that comes from thinking a problem is far too protracted or complex for our human undertaking.
American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. (James Baldwin)
Still, I wonder. How do we get past this impasse of yelling at each other (both on and offline) and the outright dismissal and denial of each other? How do we tend to the huge awkward elephant in the middle of the room and still come out whole? The very fabric of America seems to be warring with itself and no one can say that they have a sizable or traceable enough piece of it in their hands to help put it back together again.
As a writer who is Black and still very much alive, I don’t have the luxury of ever going to the page without the backdrop of a reality steeped in this unrest. My spirit does not allow me to divorce myself from those questions or more pressing questions like “Now What?,” “How Do We Move Forward?,” or “What If … This Happened to Me Or Someone I Love?” These questions need a depth of critical thought, analysis, and a personal accountability that plagues me as a Black woman writer and woman of faith living in America.
That I am alive seems to be its own new privilege, given the propensity of violence exacted upon Black bodies in this country. And there is always a guilt that comes with any form of privilege. I must confront this ridiculous privilege on a personal level as well as the collective grief and mourning that we continue to bear when another beloved man, woman, son, or daughter dies in police custody or at the hands of another. I cannot simply create amid my legitimate fears for my very person and for those whom I love, but still, I must create, and fiercely so.
If I am to do more than stay alive, I must find ways to preserve my very soul. Away from the phones, social media, and the constant barrage of bad news, I must deal with who I am at my core. In and apart from the events that mar this country with blatant racial injustice and the larger world with violence, I must deal with who I was created to be. Increasingly, I am craving time away and time alone, and rebelling against the need for any external validation of my thoughts.
I dare to write, not for mass consumption initially, but to self-reflect, nurture my spirit, and arrive at my own thoughts and opinions about what really matters. In these acts alone, I find myself remarkably whole and useful, and more aligned with my divine energy. It is where I feel most capable, and where I am at my creative best and highest spiritual self. This has become my quiet rebellion.
In my rebellion, I have the power to craft the ultimate story. I have the power to construct new narratives that free me from the constant burden of staying alive while being Black in America. Even at its most fictitious, what I create in my rebellion becomes its own clarion call for what I call an accountability to love and justice.
Strangely enough, my rebellion keeps me sane, though not insulated. It is anything but passive. It is intentional and essential not just for my becoming, but for my remaining whole. And I must stay whole and intact because in being broken alone, I cannot continue to serve the world, counsel or tend to the forgotten and dismissed, or advocate for the un- and underrepresented. And I need to be whole because it is simply not enough to remain or survive. I must thrive as best I know how.
Lastly, my rebellion is part homage. In my rebellion, I honor the sacrifices made in my creation and preservation. It is both an expression of gratitude to my creator and my ancestors, as well as a very reminder to myself that I was created with intention and purpose, therefore, I must also create intentionally.
I will create in the meantime because I know that not another second of this new privilege can be taken for granted. Not now. In this sad urgency, I am going to rebel like the woman fighting Stage IV breast cancer who knows that she might as well live while fighting, in the meantime, because there are no guarantees. In choosing to create, I too, am rebelling against the forces that conspire to extinguish my very soul, and rob me of my rightful humanity.
Rebellion is what I have. It is my best and only true defense. It is often said that the revolution begins within, so I must resist while tapping in, in order to create. I must create in spite of the knowledge that doing so might very well be my last act of rebellion.
Avril Somerville is a writer and speaker. She is also the author of A Journey Of Life On Purpose, a collection of personal essays and poetry that address operating authentically and purposefully from the intersection of creativity, identity, and spirituality. You can also find her at her blog at Life As An Art Form, where she writes prose and poetry, and quips and commentaries as she is inspired. She is working on her début novel. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Citation: James Baldwin (1924–1987), U.S. author. “A Talk To Teachers,” October 16, 1963, published in The Price of the Ticket (1985).