Writing Through White Terror
Last weekend, my partner and I created our own writing retreat. We drove away from the bustle of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, hoping a change of scenery would inspire our writing. It did. The Air BnB was a cute cabin. The child kept herself entertained. The weather was sunny and mild--perfect for writing outdoors in front of the lake. The words poured. A section of my monograph chapter that once made me feel stuck and frustrated began to take on a new shape. Everything was perfect... if only I could ignore the confederate and Trump flags the surrounded us, and the terror they inspired.
On any given day, sighting Trump flags, as we often do in North Texas, sends a quick wave of anxiety through me. On this trip, I felt particularly tense since it was only four days removed from the failed coup at the Capitol and the upcoming inauguration of Joe Biden.
I was cautious of how our presence would register in the neighborhood. We kept in the house. We were cautious of how loud we were. No karaoke fun on this trip. Definitely no outdoor PDA. Instead of walking down the block to the lake, we drove fifteen minutes to the local state park. All through the trip I worried and wondered: would someone call the cops on us as we roast marshmallows over the firepit? Would someone vandalize our car while we slept? Would someone start some shit and the encounter dissolve into physical violence? Try as I might, I couldn't relax. I even had nightmares.
There was a part of me that wondered if I was overreacting, if I was being extra. Then, as details of the violence that erupted during the coup surfaced, I realized that I was gaslighting myself. As a visibly Black, queer family in an area that had multiple signifiers of hostility towards those identities, I had every reason to be concerned. My concern grew to anger when I realized that the fear and anxiety I experienced was exactly the purpose of white terror. I was meant to feel unwelcome and unsafe, even without an immediate threat present. This fear was meant to permeate my life and keep me from engaging in activities and enjoying the activities in which I did participate. Moreover, I was supposed to work and be productive through this terror.
This is what it means to be Black in the midst of continual white terror: the fear, the anxiety, the self-policing, the self-gaslighting, the striving for and towards a sense of security and normalcy as the world continues to fall apart. It was always falling apart. It was nice, in theory, to get away. We've been trapped in the house because of the pandemic. But I won't pretend that I wasn't relieved when it was time to return home, to the terror I already know.