Ode to a Black South Carolina Teen

White on Black…White on White

A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. Yes, and you want it to stop, you want the child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet, to be brushed off by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself. (Rankine, p. 17)

I say to my husband, “Let me read to you from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, she captures the basic destructiveness of racism, how it accumulates. With no way to call out injustice, there is no way of putting injustice after injustice behind. It lodges in the body and is held buried in the flesh. (p.63) You can’t turn the sound of the pain down. You can’t block it out, move on as you would like.” (p.66) I say to my husband, “You insistently punctuate every painful moment with the words, ‘move on,’ and maybe that is not possible.”

He replies, “I know what it is to be Black, how to live as a Black man. There is nothing I can learn anymore. It is very difficult to be Black. No matter where you go, (he has emigrated from France) what country you settle in, no matter what you do, it is always the same. You are stopped in doing what you want to do. It is something you carry all your life, you can’t hide it, and you may find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It appears as if they flush you out, and there is always that hidden panic suddenly emerging, and it all comes back to you, surging through your veins.” I ask, “Why didn’t you ever tell me this before, we have been together for many years?”

My husband doesn’t hear me, he can no longer hear words, he is in the middle of saying them. He continues for an hour punctuating his twenty five-year silence with the refrain, “I could have been killed. It it clear that it would have been worse in every instance, if I had spoken up for myself.” He now speaks the words that have been lodged in his throat for 50 years. He sits close to me for longer than he has ever done before.

His words open something that hadn’t opened when my first boss, Archie, a Black man, tries to help me work with Black teens, tries to help me know as much as a White American can know about what these teens’ lives are like and will continue to be like no matter what we do. I respond, “I know how it feels, I am Jewish in the White Anglo Saxon world of Greenwich Connecticut.” He quietly but insistently says, “No, you don’t. If you are scared, sense danger, you can always hide that part of you, the part of you that you sense is despised.

I am silent, suddenly discovered, I do not admit to him the many times I have done just as he suggests. I hide who I am to resist being scorned. I cave regularly in the face of hatred directed at me, personally and not personally. Having hidden in this fashion, the hatred is now in me and mine for all time. And so I try to form a mantra, to punctuate the pain. But it must contain words that respect that pain.

“you’re not sick, not crazy not angry not sad—it’s just this, you’re injured.” (Rankine, p. 145)

I acknowledge for the first time that,

“The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much to you” (p. 146)

I wish that I could say that the image of a 300-pound policeman slamming a Columbia, South Carolina 16-year-old Black teenager to the ground, as a method of resolving an infraction against the school rules, trumps all the horrendous images that I am holding in my mind’s eye. Instead, it melts, melds into many others, glued together by the blood of those moments, their blood, and now mine, as I can’t separate myself from these experiences any longer.

Pounded by the sounds, the emotions, the images, my blood fuses with their blood. These people are killed in the line of living their lives. They do not have the opportunity to protest. Jorden Russell Davis, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray are dead. Their last moments are thankfully witnessed and recorded by friends, bystanders who now form the Greek chorus sounding through image and word the crimes against the self, and the crimes against the sacredness of life. Knowing, seeing what happened, happens, doesn’t stop our lives, but we have to weave around them to continue. We cannot simply move forward in a straight line.

But this young girl wasn’t killed in the line of finding, living her life, she lives, and she does protest. Perhaps she is lucky that it all happens in a school situation, which in itself limits the expression of murderous rage directed against her as she attempts to fight for a space for her own humanity.  She tries to hold on to her phone; she tries to hold on to her right to stay in the classroom. She fights very hard to hold on to her right to be somebody. She does it in the wrong way, at the wrong time, but she does it for the right reasons. Her actions are not pathological, but generative of a self that has not given up wanting something from the society of which she is a member. Her actions considered in this context, are dignified and courageous, demanding a place of respect in a society that has offered her little respect, little place, and little legitimacy—a society which has rules in place that allow her to be brutally assaulted if she asserts herself in this fashion. In the most profound sense her actions express a deep connection to—not dissociation from—all that she knows about the society in which she lives, and all that she understands of her role in it.

I am learning a lot about courage from this young girl, a girl that has nobody, but is somebody; I am learning how to face some of the horrible truths embedded in the society in which I live; I am learning how to heal myself, help heal my love ones, and how to heal the people who seek me out as a professional and hope that I might somehow understand.

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)


Rankine, Claudia. Citizen, An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2014.

Image Credit:

Toyin Odutola

Title: Uncertain, yet Reserved. (Adeola. Abuja Airport, Nigeria.), 2012

Pen ink and acrylic ink on board

20 x 30 inches

  1. 86-87, Citizen by Claudia Rankine

One thought on “Ode to a Black South Carolina Teen

  1. Dear Dr. Joan,
    This is a very beautiful and compassionately expressed understanding of how it is to be human. Your words join and reflect with those of Rankine to help us and hold us as we feel the despair that comes with racism.
    “I could have been killed….” How often we of Africanist descent think these words. They have become a part of our silent mantra. Our collective knows and shares these words with one another intuitively. We embody these words and they entomb us.

    Your writing touches me–wakes me up more, encourages me to want to live more deeply, and to share my life more deeply with others in compassion. Thank you.


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