A Brief History of the Present

After Michael Brown: Morgan Parker

August 11, 2015  By Morgan Parker

Virgil Tibbs isn’t arrested, exactly, but the white cop in Sparta, Mississippi tells him to spread his legs, boy, and get into the back of the police car. It isn’t just a movie. Darren Wilson cannot find a job, twelve months after the shooting, which left his round cheeks pink with adrenaline. He lives a quiet life. His blue eyes sparkle. He is a man who shot a boy. No, a suspect. Boy. Rodney King became nationally known after he was beaten. Even angels want to live forever. Even angels want LA fame. On the phone I ask Jericho how the south is treating him. He says today he wasn’t shot to death, and we laugh. There’s no way a black woman killed herself, because everyone knows we can withstand inhuman amounts of pain. (There’s no way she didn’t hang herself, dumb brown martyr, not mentally sound to begin with.) Immortal. Magical. Not like angels, but like drinking water, like dusted roads. There’s no way we don’t deserve it. In 1992 in California my white classmates are like, aren’t you glad you’re free. Your people. What if you lived in the olden days. I’ve seen pictures of slavery, crude charcoals in watered-down history books, and that’s how I know I’m not a slave. What began to leak, then, from the laceration (the Sergeant’s name was Koon, and repetition is a literary device, and paranoia is a weakness of the oppressed—we cannot be mentally sound) was discipline, which for the slave is a tic of survival, and for a nation is the practice of denial. What did he have in his system? Was it hunger, or money? Was it glass, plants, voice? Death is the only cultural truth, because there are fake marriages every day, and even the rappers and their beef is cooked up in an office, in somebody’s pink cheeks. I know it’s just a movie, but I’m still afraid of what I see when I fall asleep. I know the masses ask me everyday for a eulogy. I know I am supposed to say shot and killed, say brutality, to call my life a life. This is their language and not mine. This is not my mouth. Multiple choice: In what year did a black man hang from a tree? Who is a nigger? Which of the following are negroes free to do: marry, own property, vote, drive, speak, bear arms, organize, revolt, be president, make movies, laugh. I worry sometimes I will only be allowed a death story. No one will say in the New Yorker how my mother made her money, who I married, how my career began. The death story might be a hashtag, a name folded into another name. My name might be a list, or a hymn, or a body, an investigation, a year, a lineage. I might become an autopsy, and the reason won’t matter, only my understanding, my swallowing of my rightful place, tectonic plates clicking like a jaw, and—stubbornly, like history—my mouth becoming their mouth speaking who I am.

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Request: Permission to Occupy Your Body, Roger Reeves


From Within the Dark-Blood Depths, Rachel Eliza Griffiths


Other Outrages, Other Deaths, Rion Amilcar Scott


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Rachel. Trayvon. Michael. Dying. Laughing. A. Fiction., Kiese Laymon


How Do You Write From a Country That Doesn’t Exist, Danielle Evans


To not write another word about who the cops keep killing, Khadijah Queen


Am I a Reliable Witness to My Own Life?, Sarah Labrie


Keyword Search: “Ferguson” and “Mike Brown”, Angela Flournoy


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Slow Dance, With Bullet, Hope Wabuke


Breath of Fresh Air, Yahdon Israel


A Very Brief History of Police Killings in the U.S., Metta Sáma


Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize. Her poetry and essays have been featured in numerous publications as well as anthologized in Why I Am Not a Painter (Argos Books 2011) and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books 2015). Morgan is Cave Canem graduate fellow, winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and poetry editor for The Offing. She also co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series with Tommy Pico, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Brooklyn.

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I want to not have to write another word about who the cops keep killing So at first I wanted to make another video and I thought I could do it on the weekend or after work but motherhood and overtime...

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