Brooklyn bound on the ‘A’frican Xpress—a.k.a. the A train—yesterday. Sardines have more room than rush hour commuters on day 1 of regular traffic post Sandy’s wrath. Young brother to his co-worker. ‘You votin?’ Brother shakes his head: “Nah, son I ain’t vote. I could, ain’t gonna. My vote ain’t count no-ways.” His co-worker tries to persuade him he should vote, especially because it is his first time. Young brother not convinced. Behind me, packed train I hear a lady’s voice. ‘Xcuse me, pardon me sis, xcuse me’. Elder with a walker trying to manouevre her way through a packed subway car. Everyone’s pissed, only her elder status & the fact of the walker stops out-loud comment. Much side-eyeing instead. “Young man!” Elder to the young brother who just said he wasn’t voting. “Me?” “yes, young man you. You’re not voting?” Young man shakes his head. The elder lady starts. She explains it is not his right to not vote, that neither she nor her friends and family stood and faced danger so he could shrug his shoulders and just decide not to vote. She tells story after story. Everyone is quiet. Young man waits for her to finish, he tries to explain he doesn’t agree with President Obama’s policies. Elder stares at him. “You’re not voting because of him, you’re doing it for me and every woman who took a beating so you can. You need to wake up, xtra early, get down to them polls and vote. You hear me?” “Yes’m”. Am thinking about the young man today and that elder.
Frank Ocean’s act equals emotional justice; emotional revolution. One step at a time. One conversation at a time. One revelation at a time.
I created that term to tackle a legacy of untreated trauma stemming from a brutal and violent, history of racialized violence. Those battlefields of movements—abolitionist movement, civil rights, Black power, women’s rights—moved nations forward, scored victories. They also left scars, like keloids on the soul. Bodies were broken and mended. Hearts broke and stayed broken. Some atrophied, rigor mortis settled in for several lifetimes. No time to tend to those wounds when humanity was on the line and Black folk were catching hell as they fought to escape nooses, to vote, to acknowledge and celebrate their identity, seek equality. Some wounds were bandaged; many festered, so many were passed generation to generation. Silence did not still their passage; indeed, in some ways it made that neglected emotionality more deadly. Movements moved nations until slowly a nation that profited from human bondage emerged from that space. Black folks’ journey has never been a single story. The blood, brutality, battlefields also saw love, laughter, creativity, community, and entrepreneurship. Success bloomed. As movements rose, fell, staggered; neglected emotionality continued its journey. We had intimate relationships with violence, risk was life and death, blood and breath. So love was this dangerous, forbidden thing, and it became revolutionary. Emotional justice is about giving voice to hurts—present and historical—to speaking the most intimate truths, not being held hostage to a generational inheritance of untreated trauma and to shaping your future and not being shaped solely by an unresolved past. That past manifests in our present; in how we love and stay, how we build family and community, shape relationships, construct institutions, negotiate power, navigate leadership. And so now we arrive at a moment to pay attention to what was necessarily neglected. Why now? Because there is a Black president in a White House, because a congressman married his love, because a mainstream news anchor declared his sexuality and an R&B singer in the hyper-masculine world of hiphop wrote his love letter to personal truth and freedom.
Did Frank Ocean’s letter body the phrase “real black man”—no it didn’t kill it—but it gave us room to hold other conversations, and in that space re-imagine masculinity.