The global Black experience post-1492 has been inextricably tied to the dehumanization and subordination of Black bodies. For centuries, Black and brown bodies have faced physical, sexual, and psychological violence in and outside of the United States due to enslavement, colonialism, and state-sanctioned executions. In a ‘post-racial’ Obama era, it is a mistake to believe that violence towards Black bodies is a thing of the past. In 2006, the Women of Color Network found that 40 percent of African American women have experienced sexually coercive contact by the age of 18. A similar study by Black Women’s Blueprint in 2011 found this number to be 60 percent. In 2015, the Washington Times found young Black men 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. During that year, more than 1,000 American lives were lost at the hands of the police force. Despite the passage of time, Black bodies continue to bear the brunt of America’s tormented past, beginning with the colonization of Indigenous land.
If metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life, then Black Metabolism is the set of processes that work to preserve Black bodies in spite of overwhelming violence. The following poetic conversation, written by Black undergraduates at Brown University, engages with the sensory experiences linked with this metabolism. While each stanza does not grapple directly with issues of Black survival, the various voices work in conjunction to discuss personal notions of the Black body, whether it pertains to romance, loss, or (emotional) paralyzation. We chose to publish this anonymously because we prefer to explore these issues as a collective body rather than as individuals.
Here, the voices of a few confront the circumstances of many.
All those nights I talked away
My body remembered
I found them on Sunday mornings
Wrestling to quiet
Grass and gasoline tugging at
Narratives tucked in my pocket as I found myself
Laid to Rest
i’m filled to the brim with ghosts tonight.
them pale creatures found refuge on my back:
jumping out of my mouth,
crawling 'round my skin,
dark brown body so tired.
i can’t move a step without one of them
grabbing some part of me,
taking hold and voice of me,
tightening the grip they got on me...
real comfortable in me.
surrounded by ghosts like memories.
i still see fragments of you in my sheets:
if i wanted to, i could look over right now and find you standing in the spot
where the cheap xmas lights made your empty eyes look like altars.
i start to pray
and hands, not mine, trace circles on my shoulders.
but then i blink.
ghosts of you are back under my skin.
never imagined i’d learn to crave the company of something dead.
These days your grasp was barely real
Your memory I relish in (dark rooms) [nightmares]
Where I circle round white castles
Searching for anything to breathe into
Cold silk draped over
Meat: Thick skin
A helmet of bare bones growing through tears
Tension in (our) upper middle back
Cradling the fears and memories
Of (our) livelihood
sometimes I start crying before i've realized why
i look into my eyes for two minutes
and follow the trail of glass tears down my cheek for the rest.
i ask "why?" when i look at my lips
and if they press shut, tighter, pouting but revealing underneath
the graceful corner has already started
the phrase my voice will not say.
I sometimes find my mind
Awake before the rest of my body
A presumed agency over myself soon to be invalidated
I can't move my own body
At times I simply lay in bed
As my body contends with itself
For control over my very own limbs
But other times I simply give in
And take the easy way out
Exiting my own mind
In the hopes that I can awaken
To a blissful ignorance
I've always managed to wake up
It's less so that I try to remembers these instances
But more so that the exact feeling
In these moments never leaves my being
Nevertheless I try and focus on rejoicing
In the ability to move
My hands and feet as freely I please
And my sense of self
I lie here
Strapped to train tracks
Between the conscious and unconscious
I’ve already been run over
Do I get up—?
I think I’d rather lie here
Stretched limb to limb.
1. the chemical, spiritual, physical, and
psychological processes that occur within a
Black body in order to maintain life.
I would wake up and feel sunlight
Penetrating through the window
I would wake up and feel like sunlight
Warmth enveloped me under the blanket
The feel of his bare skin
Soft, would awaken my senses
I would turn over
Align my body with his
Calibrate my face with his
He’d open his eyes
Right, then left
Before I knew it I was falling into his eyes
And then his lips
He spreads his fingers.
Releases his grip.
Soon his arm contorts.
He rests his left hand upon his right.
His fingers slide through the cracks.
Then fall dead.
But very much so alive.
Will it last?
Sends a wave through his body.
His toes receive the message.
The wave ricochets back up.
His legs intertwine.
His entire body reconfigures.
Legs spread far apart.
Separated onto opposite sides of the bed.
Arms flow away from his head.
Isolated from each other.
He listens intently to his breathing,
As if it’s not his own.
Almost as if he can hear someone else’s
Listens more closely
Breathing in and out.
Out and in
He begins to drift into the bed.
His eyes begin to fall into his eye sockets
And his mind follows.
He imagines a scene
They collapse onto one another
Soon he is asleep
Mindful and mind full
His body still.