Advice to Young Black Men Named Cameron, After the Election

The beginning of anything is always the first heartbreak. Remember that.

Turn off the news. Turn off the news feed. Feed yourself. You have got to eat. You have got to feel full of something.

Kiss your mother, Cameron. Have you heard the news? America is going to be great again.

You haven't visited your family in two weeks. On Election Day you run into your sister at your polling station, drive her back home around the block when you're done, noting all the "Make America Great Again" signs on the far side of your street. "Who knew?" you ask each other.

Who knew?

When all the votes have been cast, you will see her disbelief spelled out in your timeline, see the same fire in her you used to fan for fun—now funneled, fuming. The heat is familiar. The heat is heartbreaking. You are two ends of the same thermometer, boiling over. Weep at a distance. It's okay. Sibling love is the fist and the tissue.

And the pundits say: Who knew?

When A Tribe Called Quest drops their first album in nearly twenty years, drown yourself in it. Make a whole playlist of black artists, put it on loop, blacken the space in your ears and make it holy. Let the flow of "Conrad Tokyo, Sapporo, pistachio" and "Sayonara tomorrow, it's just blood on the ground" become your mantra. Never mind if it doesn't mean anything. Never mind if no one understands. Tribe and Kendrick are all the permission you need to feed yourself. Feel full. You have got to feel full.

When you walk to work and eye the trees, you may wonder which of these would be a good place to die. Do not let anyone tell you this thought is absurd. The Klan is marching. America will be made great, and the leaves bristle in the wind because they know.

Have you heard? Kiss your mother.

You've been doing a project with students in your school, third grade through eighth, called the "Garden of Wishes"—the first halves of poems full of all the things your students wish for themselves and for the future, rolled up and buried in time capsules. Your students wish for peace, for justice, for equality, to be wrestlers, to be birds, to understand themselves, to be soccer stars, to see Pitt win a championship, for more wishes, for a woman president, for friendships, for love, for their family to be viewed as normal, for their anxieties to go away, for only better things. The first time capsule is buried on November 9th. The irony follows it into the dirt.

Sayonara tomorrow, it's just blood on the ground.

It is not new that people will dismiss your urgency. Black people have been speaking their fears for centuries, and some people will still never get it. You know this. You know never to pay full price for services that only come from the lip. You know an open mind is a playground for good-hearted ideas, not a jungle gym for hate speech. Poison remains poison no matter how much sugar you add. All these things you don't need to be told, tell yourself anyway.

The beginning of heartbreak is a thunderstorm between your lungs. Kiss your mother—America will be great again.

While driving at night do not notice the flashing red, white, and blue of a cop car and think of the American flag. Do not build a metaphor for the fate of black bodies. Do not numb your knuckles around the steering wheel, though the colors pass you by in the other direction.

Sayonara tomorrow, it's just blood on the ground.

It is okay to be shocked by the election results, and surprised at everyone else's shock at the same time. Emotions don't need to make sense. Everyone will have something to say eventually. Remember that your silence is yours, and you may break it only when you're ready. Only when you want.

The morning after the election you will step out of the bathroom at work and find a young girl crying by her locker, the small metal space littered with handmade Hillary signs, and you are the only adult in sight. Console her, though the right words may escape you. Hold your tears when you sit in your office alone thinking of her. Hold your tears in 2nd period when a student shows up late, weepy and red in the face, and keeps her head buried in her arms on her desk. Hold your tears when she whispers to you "I just don't feel like myself today," and you know the enormity of this statement for this student. Hold your tears. Your students are stunned, are tired, are angry, and you are standing there asking them to think about poetry. Poetry? Cameron, the Klan is marching. Through North Carolina. Through the thunderstorm. Through the silent spaces in the classroom. It's Wednesday. Do you hear the footsteps? Do they need poetry today?

A dream is the last hour of sleep you remember upon waking—the nightmare is the first five breaths when the dream insists on being real.

There will be voices calling for calm, for healing, for unity. There will be placation. Do not forget that America can hold a grudge tight enough to turn it into a fingerprint. Do not forget that revisionism is the first flicker in a bonfire. In the darkness, trust no one who asks you to see their way while also asking you to put out your fire.

Have you heard? America will be great again. Resolve to be so too. Resolve to be unafraid, unashamed, undeterred. Resolve to be the next steps in a heartbreak. Resolve to be the lightning tearing through the clouds. You owe the world nothing more than who you are, so resolve to be a young black male in his 20s, last seen writing dope poems.

Kiss your mother.

Sayonara tomorrow, it's just blood on the ground.

Cameron BarnettComment