I Will Not Call Her Name: An Ethno-poem on Racial and Gendered Violence

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this ethno-poem by L. Kaifa Roland who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Kaifa is the author of Cuban Color in Tourism and La Lucha: An Ethnography of Racial Meaning (OUP, 2010) “T/racing Belonging in Cuban Tourism” (Cultural Anthropology, August 2013), and “Between Belonging and the F/Act of Niggerisation” in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong (Sense Publishers, 2014). Currently, she is doing ethnographic research with Black women entrepreneurs in Havana.]

I will not call her name

There are other names to be called

In this prematurely labeled epoch of post-racial America

Our children lay dead in the streets

At the hands of authority figures who see their color

and gender as a threat

Shoot to kill not to stop or inquire

Call their names.

Like Emmett Till before them,

young black men keep falling:

From Amadou Diallou

to Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant

and Sean Bell and Eric Garner,

Tamir Rice and Michael Brown

and on and on it seems…

Black girls and women are exposed and vulnerable

and die a million deaths everyday in this country as well

Though we don’t hear their names as often.

Like the Four Little Girls killed in a church bombing —

Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley —

Their names are unspoken and quickly forgotten:

Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Jones, Gabriella Nevarez,

Tyisha Miller, Yvette Smith, Tarika Wilson, and too many more…

I call their names!

Dajerria Becton was the young biking-clad girl

Forced to the ground by her hair

At the hands of a police officer

During a pool party.

One week later

Arnesha Bowers was brutalized, raped, and killed by gang members

(A different gang from the police this time).

Yet the spectacle of she whose name I shall not call

Has cornered the market on race talk in the intervening week.

I will not join in.

And now worshippers from a church—

“Mother” Emanuel AME Church

(as a member of that extended church family, I weep calling her name)—

Lay slaughtered by what would be called a terrorist

If the significance of skin color could so easily be changed.

There is too much wrong with this picture—

Yes, race is fluid

And a biological fiction created by and for society

But it also has real world implications

Like a string of dead or violated bodies named or unnamed.

So, no, I will not call her name

She does not matter to me.

Without joining the growing ranks of self-designated race gatekeepers,

What matters are actual black people—

Men and Women, Boys and Girls

More often from the underclasses, and we mustn’t forget the many sexual minorities—

Who are living and dying an exhaustively old black experience

That has yet to transcend the on-the-ground meanings of race.

While certainly all lives matter, the unnamed one highlights the finer point that

Black lives matter

And that violence can be inflicted upon black bodies

Without the barrel of a gun.

 

Kaifa RolandL. Kaifa Roland. 18 June 2015.

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.