The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.20 million US cases and 118,695 deaths as of 12:30pm on June 19, 2020.
I read each of the thousand names in the pages of the May 24, 2020 edition of the New York Times. It takes me almost an hour I read each entry. Since there are no Johns Hopkins updates on the weekends, the updated Covid-19 numbers appeared the Friday before on May 22, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 1.59 million US cases and 95,276 deaths.
The New York Times features one thousand deaths out of nine hundred twenty–five thousand, two hundred and seventy–six dead. To read the names of all those who have been documented as dying from Covid 19 by May 22, 2020, it would take me take nearly forty hours. I would gladly read them out loud were they available. I would gladly mourn their passing in honor and respect.
Meanwhile, U. S. police kill nearly one thousand people each year. Most of the people killed are children, women and men of color. This is a pandemic of violence.
Covid–19 has burrowed into the DNA of the U. S. It is exploiting the European founding fissures of colonization. The genocide and removals of indigenous people and the enslavement of African people has created a health pandemic, a miseducation pandemic, a food insecurity pandemic, a housing pandemic, an unemployment–under employment–non–livable wage pandemic, a domestic terrorism pandemic, a denial of civil– human–constitutional rights pandemic, and an ecological pandemic. A toxic capitalism pandemic overarches all. The valuing white power, white caste, white property and white profit while devaluing, exploiting, segregating, over policing and imprisoning indigenous, black and brown children, women and men who make up nearly forty percent of U.S. citizens. The intersectionality is clear, glaring.
George Floyd tested positive for Covid-19. His life and death are still being honored. His remains have been interred. His daughter believes her father has changed the world. His brother testified on Capitol Hill. The course of justice, to hold those most immediately for his death accountable, is in the making, and protests continue in our nation, our world.
Brionna Taylor was grieved, celebrated and interred with the suppression of the circumstances of her death. Two months later the nation knows of her sweet life and horrific death only because of the insistence of her family and their lawyer. This natation and we, as a people, struggle to remember the lives of black women and children murdered, assaulted, raped, and injured by police and other authorities of the state, and civilian vigilantes.
I live in a gated community or people over fifty–five in Rio Vista, California. Gay friendly and diverse, this community is mostly middle class retirees. On the other side of the wall of my back yard is Airline Road. Cherish Thomas, a black woman, was pulled over for an expired registration with three passengers on Airline Road with three other young family member occupants. One of the occupants called a relative for help when the police decided to impound the car rather than give the driver a warning or a ticket. When Thomas’ mother arrived, she began filming her daughter’s encounter with police. While she filmed, a police officer body slammed her daughter, Cherish to the ground.
How many times have black women and girls be intimidated, assaulted, falsely imprisoned, raped, and killed by police and civilian vigilantes? Do we, black and brown women, report these incidents, and if we do, what are the police and court responses? And when we don’t, why don’t we? Who keeps the statistics? Why don’t we include gender and age disparities in our conversations about police and vigilante violence, and the school to prison pipeline?
I turn to the blues this morning. Bessie Smith sang to me on Pandora. When she began singing Careless Love, inexplicably, I began to cry. I puzzled over why I was crying. I pushed a button and placed Careless Love on repeat. I listened to Bessie Smith sing this song three more times. The piano holding the melodic line and swinging the pace along lulled me close to this altar of sound. The trombone growling low and keeping syncopated time with the high sound of the trumpet repeating and embellishing Bessie Smith’s voice, opened and washed through me.
I’ve heard this song in the background of my life growing up in New Orleans. I listened on thirty–eight records, albums, blues and jazz radio stations, instrumental jazz versions played during jazz funerals and street parades, and in blues and jazz night clubs.
Love, oh love, oh careless love.
You fly through my head like wine.
You’ve wrecked the life of many a poor girl
And nearly spoiled this life of mine.
My throat and chest kept tightening and swelling. Tears kept spilling and dripping to the edge of my grief and rage. I knew this song. I knew the places the sounds and emotions came from. The song of was of betrayal, but worse, self– betrayal.
Love, oh love, oh careless love.
In your clutches of desire
You’ve made break a many true vow,
Then set my very soul on fire.
I have been betrayed by my country. But much–more elementally, I feel, like my ancestors, African slaves and free people of color, and my generation have allowed ourselves to be seduced and duped by the ideas and promises of the United States Constitution all of its amendments, declarations, and pledges, its justice system, along with all its Judeo-Christian morality.
Bessie Smith’s voice, the wail of the trumpet, the moan of the trombone, and the melodic swing of the piano uncovered layer upon layer of the consequences of the United States of America’s carelessness within me. Promises of acceptance and equality coated in beguiling lies and inducements that were wrapped in forced dependence, self–exploitation, and unspeakable violence waiting at the ends of billy clubs, fire hoses, and ropes. I imagine generations of slaves and former slaves laying twisted and shattered or hung while smiling faces spoke to the terrified bereaved of boot straps, resilience, the healing power of forgiveness, and the faults and responsibilities of the vanquished for their degradations and deaths, those never fully human, those never white.
Bessie Smith sings songs of lost love in ways that remind me of the ways that black women have preserved our union while being enslaved, abused, and marginalized by men, white and black, with little recognition of our worth or our fragility. Yet, while we have never had the value, respect and rights of full citizenship, we have hoped, lived and worked to constantly create a more just and equal society and world. And miraculously, we have insisted on justice and freedom instead of revenge.
Bessie Smith on Spotify
I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home-except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. I drive the speed limit, I keep to all social norms. I avoid all contact with the police. I Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action and art.
I continue to chronicle these times.
Still, In Joy,
© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA