Have things settled down in McKinney? It seems that incident got co-opted by #Rachel? Then, we moved on. Eric Casebolt, the officer in question, resigned from the McKinney, TX police department. Greg Conley, McKinney’s Chief of Police, has issued a public apology and went so far as to call Casebolt’s actions “indefensible.” Mayor Brian Loughmiller has pledged to work with the community to help reconcile parties involved. We are (thankfully) processing our rightful rage. There have been organized protests and many well-written critiques of the incident. As a result, policies will probably be reviewed and may even be revised. Department curriculum may be altered to train officers differently. Maybe McKinney will mandate body cameras and integrate its ranks with people of color and more women. There is likely to be a civil suit. So…are we satisfied? I ask because I am sensing a pause before the brush off and forward motion. Just in case the shift is near (or has already happened), I’d like to interject with some very, very important news: There was, in fact, a death in McKinney.
Dajerria Becton, the child who was assaulted and debased by Mr. Casebolt, did experience a demise on June 5. It was a figurative death and we all saw it. It is a death she will likely revisit and unpack for many years to come. Figurative deaths are composites of emotional trauma, physical abuse, cognitive dissonance, social humiliation, and actual or perceived separations from a whole. These phenomena are now lodged and operating in Dajerria’s soul and body (like those of many, many other Black girls and women). Their diminishing and deconstructing effects may not even be registering in her active conscience yet. But, just wait. They will. The effects of figurative deaths sprint and also creep; they take root in flashes and in slow motion, and they travel through time and space. They are relentless and reverberating. We must get a handle on them. In order to understand fully how #BlackLivesMatter, we must understand deeply how Black deaths happen. When we remember earnestly to #SayHerName, we must remember to actually say she died. When we do this understanding and remembering, we must know fully what it is we mean.
The meaning in our movements for acknowledgment and equity cannot be limited to exclusive focus on violent deconstructions of the body (literal deaths). If our meaning is limited to literal deaths we will miss multiple opportunities to grasp deeply whole landscapes of trauma imposed by racist and sexist ideologies and systems and lived out by wounded, dying people everywhere. Missing these knowledge points means developing social justice movements that are only partially conceptualized and therefore partially impacting. God forbid. Our meaning must also rightly include serious focus on violent deconstructions of the soul (figurative deaths). We know from research that, for instance, the terror seeded in Dajerria’s soul will probably have several outcomes that span interpersonal, social, and ultimately, academic and professional spheres. These are spheres she will occupy on her own (as an individual, living in her own skin, daily encountering her own thoughts, and engaging with her own emotions). They are spheres she will occupy with multiple others (as a future partner, parent, employee, and citizen). How do these terrors manifest? Let me count the ways.
Soon, as an older adolescent, Dajerria is likely to experience involuntarily disassociations when she is engaged in conversation with people whom she imagines, on some level, might hurt her. The terrors lodged in her heart and mind may prompt her to question her sense of worth, adequacy, and agency in romantic, sexual, political, social, and academic contexts. This could result in risky behaviors, attrition, and expulsions. She is likely to question her body – debating her own visibility and also fearing the deleterious fantasies ascribed to her self by racist and sexist ideologies: surmountable, worthless, threat. She will probably attempt to defend her self from the power of her own voice by either silencing it or springing to the opposite effect: yelling, screaming, cursing, literally, and proverbially, in efforts to gain control in multiple relationships and personal situations. She may experience memory loss that interferes with her ability to learn in school, or perform at work. She may develop difficulty identifying and naming her emotions, causing her communications to become confused, inconsistent, or unspoken altogether. She could also develop agoraphobia, anxiety, or depression, crippling her ability to relate and be related to. This is another type of dying and it is very real.
So, although we can be deeply thankful that the violence at the pool party in McKinney, TX did not result in any dead bodies and we do not have to prepare for another funeral and bury more of our youth, we are not off the hook and celebrations are not in order. A part of Dajerria did die that day. We need intensive, compassionate attention and resources to support her healing and resurrection. Our community depends on this. If we believe we will not suffer and die with Dajerria, we are all fools, without hope…no matter what laws get passed or what policies get revised. Fools, without hope.
Jeanine Staples is Associate Professor of Literacy and Language & African American Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self, is an endarkened, feminist, new literacies event (Peter Lang, spring 2016). In it, she explores Black women’s terror in love. She produces research-based courses and methodologies that enable marginalized girls and women to realize internal revelations that fuel external revolutions.
Dr. Staples’ next book details the evolution of her acclaimed undergraduate course, The Philadelphia Urban Seminar. In it, she explores Supreme Love in schools. She shows how she generates curriculum and methodologies that incite anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist pedagogical stances among teachers interested in urban education and equity for all people in schools and society.