Updated: Nov 22, 2021
My theory is that black people have fleas. There's gotta be something that makes us jump so high, laugh so loud, dance so hard, sing so deep and pray so much. The sports we dominate are full of conflict, swollen lips and bloodied knuckles. Our bodies take in more sun, more damage, more muscle. No matter how often we get beat down, we pick ourselves up and step back into the ring, the field, the stage, the arena. The comedy clubs we swarm to are packed tightly with people laughing so hard that their chests hurt. On hands and knees they crawl from the sticky floor back to their folding theatre seats. The dancing we do is full of wide swings and complete undulations of the body. Our leaps bring us up to Heaven and back down again. We dance so hard in one style, wearing it out, and are subsequently forced to create a new one. We spin and lock and push and pound. But really it's the singing, the music as a whole, that concerns me. They call it "soul" because there is no other way to describe a sound that comes out of one person and flows into another. There is no higher form of musical expression than the sounds from an artist who has something to scream about. This beautiful screaming must be what pulls us blacks on and draws us forward. First free, now forward. But back to the beautiful screaming. This guttural utterance must be what causes brothers and sisters within earshot to yell, "sing!" To command something that is already happening, "you better sing!" Ensuring that it will not stop anytime soon. "Sing," the people say, "sing and I feel my soul start leaving this wretched life behind. You betta sing, baby." Sing for me. That brings me to the praying, which is almost as concerning as the singing. I've seen black people pray for hours; even give up food for it! I've seen it bring tears to their eyes and a language never taught them to their tongues. Maybe when they close their eyes and concentrate long enough, they can see it, Africa. Or Heaven or something. Maybe if I close my eyes too I'll hear it. Not the beautiful screaming that begs for one of its sound waves to echo the original. But the original itself. Sweet, soft, peaceful, angelic, blissful singing humming, whispering; quiet enough to mistake for easy breathing. Maybe that's what they hear when they pray long enough. Maybe they see glimpses of it. I close my eyes and can't hear anything, my tongue lies still. I look around and attempt to understand why we have so much church; why we must always remind ourselves of coming joy. Coming glory. Once every two pews over you'll see a black person leap from their seat, seemingly not of their own accord. They shout like something bit them. Sometimes they stand and sway for a while, waving away the parasites, until finally they sit or fall out from the exhaustion. Maybe this scene played over and over before my eyes is the result of something, long ago. Maybe it's due to the years of a knife, inserted incredibly deep into stained flesh-Damn these stains, if only we hadn't fallen into the ink before God sent us here-This knife, for years now has slowly, slowly, so agonizingly slowly been pulled like a silk ribbon from our sides. And a hand rests on our shoulder, bracing against our bodies for the other hand to pull, pull, pull that knife out. "Just wait," the owners of the hands say. "It's progress" and "You are impatient" for "These things take time," warning us to "Just be grateful that the knife is not deeper." Maybe that long knife of aching stings sometimes on its way out. Maybe we lose patience or go mad from waiting and jump suddenly from the anticipation. Those gentle hands, one bloodied, calm us and return us to our waiting as they return to their pulling. We bite our big bottom lips and wait. If we look down at our side, the parted flesh, the river of metal moving so slowly, we can almost see, just barely imagine how our bodies would look if we were whole again, how we would feel. Whole and bleeding but safe, and past the agony. My new theory is that it is this knife, these knives, that make us jump. Maybe we're not born with them, but the time between our birth and the day we finally get one inserted into us is too cloudy for me to see. Yes, I'm sure of it now. We jump because of these knives. It's either that or the fleas.
*inspired by the Malcolm X quote...
"If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn't even begun to pull out the knife."