This weekend, a young black man who was one of our students was killed at a party. A 23 year old white man stabbed him and students are saying that the EMTs and police did not respond promptly. That they had their tasers out and were more concerned with crowd control than helping this young man. He was a CJS major but I didn’t know him. I say that to myself over and over again. I didn’t know him. Photos of him are haunting me despite this. There is so much hope and enthusiasm in them. He has the look of someone who feels strong in his body, like it can move with speed and carry him where he wants to go along with his mind. His smile makes me think he had a clear mind. I think about how young people’s brains can be so fresh, still capable of adapting and changing to analyze new things and take on new perspectives easily. How one can grow so much in even a semester. Who would he have grown into if he had four years of contemplation, new books and new friends? What ideas would he have had? What words would he have found inspiration in if he were in my classroom, at my dinner table, reading this post. What questions would he have asked me that would have pushed back on my thinking, forcing me to rearticulate and thus, rethink my Self?

There is a scramble at the university to support students and host meetings and get things done. I just want to stay at home under the covers. There is a small, artificial glimmer of safety and warm comfort in my home holding my baby. She doesn’t go out in the world yet, except for brief excursions, meticulously supervised and watched over by myself. I still have some measure of control, or seeming control over her safety. It seems that way I guess because I never leave her side, but this too is imagined. It helps me not lose my mind as I try to incorporate this vast and startling love that I’ve found in her. Josiah, the bright, smile-shining faced student who is murdered, had a mother. Her name is Charmaine and she is coming here. The unimaginable terror for her, the way the moments must tick by, while the clock is also stopped in a profound way for her. I keep trying to stop myself from thinking about her. I don’t want to make sense of the senselessness.

As a new mother, I cannot breathe when I think about this pain that can’t have any words. Language is central to who I am as a scholar and yet, this seems beyond language. Writing about it now seems like some solitary, selfish and desperate attempt to feel in control, keep my composure. I don’t want to cry in front of my colleagues. I project onto them accusations that I am silly or incompetent. The residues of too much time in predominately white institutions. Intrusive thoughts that police us.

Maybe this is pain and terror that can only be painted or performed. I see images of black paint smeared on a white canvas. The canvas that resists this difference, this trespassing in its pure space. For POC on the HSU campus, we are that paint, appearing to sully the comfort and vulnerability of white folks, trespassing, claiming a space where there is no space for us, where we are an impossibility. HSU is a place where people of color are continually assaulted with questions about our belonging. No one can ever believe we are legitimate. That we have thoughts in our heads. I am so often Professor Byrd’s TA or her student. Sometimes people have assumed I am entering someone else’s office. I like to imagine that I am having a wild affair with Dr. Byrd, the imaginary scholar who legitimately occupies this office space. Her and I steal away and finger the words of all the latest monographs, rolling them over in our mouths. They are sweet, our secret pleasure. How problematic that this is the only way I can imagine legitimately inhabiting this space, as someone’s illicit lover. Once at a grocery store a white man said that I must be some drug dealers girlfriend. Inhabiting my body, buying $100 worth of food at the co-op was upsetting for him I guess. I couldn’t be a professor, collecting her groceries at 1pm on a Tuesday. I must be having a wild affair with one of these drug dealers up here. Otherwise, I’d be at my 9-5 labor exploitation, or maybe even that would be having too much.

I wonder if Josiah felt that way at HSU. Like a trespasser, a thief, which is precisely what those white folks accused him of. The accusation that people say started this all, that he stole their cell phone. The claims that rendered him murderable.  Did locals look at him, another “thug from southern california” trespassing in the purity of their back-to-the-land dream. I imagine they were so sure they knew his guilt. I like to imagine that he is here in this house with me. I am going to keep him here for a little while, safe with me and my baby. I invite him in and he sits with me at this table. He wants to read one of our books and feel the way the words move in his mouth, how the pages feel in one’s hands as a new idea occurs to us. He is safely here at my table, laughing, tears streaming down his beautiful brown face.

RIP Young Brother.

May our tears help you to cross over to the ancestors’ arms.

Lawson
By Renée M. Byrd 

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15 thoughts on “He is safely here at my table

  1. Beautifully written. Moved me to tears of sadness and regret that I haven’t reached out myself. I felt you’re emotional connection as a professional, as a mother, as a loving human being. Again, beautifully written. Thank you.

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  2. The “pure” white canvas is meaningless without paint, without color. I ache that you ache. I cry for the young person whose life has been torn away from him. I, too, wish that there could be a safe place, that the *world* could be a safe place. I do what I can to make that happen, but it seems like it will never be enough.

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  3. I will never truly understand what it must feel like to be a person of color in this world, especially since November 8th. As a woman I get glimpses of it but I know it’s only a fraction of what you must deal with. I am so sorry. As a white person, I want to do whatever I can to make people of color feel safe and at home. I don’t really know what I can do to help beyond examining my own prejudices (I am not so naive as to think that I don’t have them) and speaking up for those who may not always feel safe doing so.

    This is a beautifully written article. I am truly sorry that you had to write it. I don’t know you but you are clearly a wonderful person and I hope that things get better for you and you can feel more comfortable here in Humboldt.

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  4. This entire post is nothing about emotion. You didn’t address anything about the incident. Who was the guy who assaulted the kid? Motive? You leave out useful information, and fill this entire article with cultural Marxist tripe about how whitey hates blacky, and that’s why he’s dead. Fuck off.

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    1. I love even you. Please open your heart to humanity, and leave the hate behind. It’s a matter of choice. All you have to do is decide that you want to stop hating for it to begin.

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    2. I think you’re missing the point. Emotions infuse every human experience–why shouldn’t they be part of the story? Try to listen to the pain behind the words of the author, even if it doesn’t match your reality.

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  5. Bless u and your beautiful words…..my mind has not found peace with this situation….with the loss of life and possibility….thank ypu for expressing what some of us are unable to put into words…..

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  6. Yes, thank you, Dr. Byrd. This is so eloquently put. I cannot express the profound sadness and anger I feel, and the shame that this happened in our community. And that POC don’t feel comfortable here is so disturbing. We must all examine our assumptions, our biases. And our voices of love, support, and reason must drown out those of hate, bigotry and ignorance. Thanks again for your moving article.

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  7. Thank you for your reflective beautiful insight on Josiah. I graduated from Humboldt State in 1976 and I remembered all the hate, challenges and organizing we had to do in Arcata and Eureka to keep all People of Color as safe as we could… I heard about Josiah’s death from a friend whose son goes to Humboldt, was good friends with Josiah and just happened to be at the party when the young white came into the party and kilt Josiah. There are no words to express the deep sadness felt when there is injustice and loss…Thank you, Dr. Byrd.

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