Tenacity

As a Black, queer, trans, half-generation immigrant from Kenya, my American experience has been quite oxymoronic. Safe yet toxic, free yet hunted, expected to be at peace yet danger lurks at seemingly every turn.

BY GABRIEL UHURU

I just came back home after spending four days in New Orleans celebrating my thirtieth birthday. To be honest, I didn’t have a conscious reason for New Orleans, looking back, my reasons were hidden deep in the subconscious. What I knew is I wanted to go somewhere that had palpable and responsive energy. Somewhere that had a story of resilience, a story of defiance, a place that refuses to go gently into that good night.

Thirty is often a significant year for most folks, and I am no exception. I have looked forward to turning thirty from the time I was made rudely aware of how difficult life was going to be. We often take for granted how perceptive children can be. 

By the age of four, I impatiently questioned my mother on when I was going to get my body. Alarmed, saved and highly sanctified, she prayed over me with fervor, in tongues, took me by both shoulders and looking right into my soul, followed with a calm but stern instruction, “God gave me a girl, and that is what you will remain.” 

In that moment, I recall thinking, “Well that’s crazy and that means there’s no trusting them.”

I resigned to keeping my self-awareness to myself. It was abundantly clear that there would be no room for discussion or negotiating the matter. I also remember locking into the decision that by the age of thirty, even though I didn’t know how, I would finally be who I knew I was.

THOSE IT DEEMS EXPENDABLE

As a Black, queer, trans, half-generation immigrant from Kenya, my American experience has been quite oxymoronic. Safe yet toxic, free yet hunted, expected to be at peace yet danger lurks at seemingly every turn. America is gaslighting done to perfection. Learning to trust one’s lived experiences as opposed to believing the broadcasted narrative of what it takes to keep this society going is becoming a full-time job. It is resistance and at this juncture of my life, I have come to call it beautiful, like New Orleans.

As my flight approached its final descent into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), I recall feeling affinity deep within. Something welled in my chest and I struggled to maintain composure. We all know about the breaking levees of 2005, the rising water and the lives that were lost. We know of the displacement and loss that followed, that continuous loop of Mr. West informing everybody and their mama what Black people in this country have known since Plymouth Rock landed on them. It is the familiar story of how America and the west will utilize and grind to dust those it deems expendable in its ceaseless thirst for power.


By the age of four, I impatiently questioned my mother on when I was going to get my body. Alarmed, saved and highly sanctified, she prayed over me with fervor, in tongues, took me by both shoulders and looking right into my soul, followed with a calm but stern instruction, “God gave me a girl, and that is what you will remain.”


UNAPOLOGETIC QUEST FOR UNFETTERED FREEDOM

New Orleans’ history of tenacity stretches far beyond the disaster that neglect and Katrina wrought on New Orleans. Chattel slavery was introduced in Louisiana by French colonialists in 1706. Initially beginning with the Native American populace, the Indigenous proximity to their native homeland made it difficult to prevent them from escaping the plantations. To cure this and increase production, the French resorted to capturing Africans. In 1710, more than 2,000 captured Africans were shipped into Louisiana taken as spoils of war following the War of Spanish Succession. But control of the Black population was constantly in decline in Louisiana. The fall of French controlled Haiti in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) stood as a shining beacon. Slave holders throughout Louisiana were constantly confronted with insurrection. Banding together with the Indigenous people in the area, Black people would set fire to fields, homes, and even kill those who opposed them.

Stepping forward to 2019, New Orleans has not lost this unapologetic quest for unfettered freedom. While riding and walking through the city, I spent the first several hours straight from the airport at Aart Accent Tattoo and got my first tattoo. This is the oldest tattoo parlor in New Orleans and it is owned by Jacci Gresham, a seasoned Black woman who is a legend in her own right. 

Of course gentrification has not spared this beautiful and rich place, but the old architecture that makes this place stop you in your tracks will still take your breath away. 

I spoke with Scott, the parlor manager, a lovely fellow. For about an hour and a half while I waited, numerous people passed by on the sidewalk and each one would take at least a moment to acknowledge everyone on the bench. That exchange for me, however brief, is what sets New Orleans above the rest. Of course it goes without saying, the food in New Orleans is unassailable. Flavors so rich and well thought out, they’ll make you wonder what the point of eating is when you leave. 

STAYING TRUE TO YOUR TRUTH

I can confidently say that I was gifted a new lease on life in New Orleans. I received many confirmations about trusting my intuition and using my lived experiences to navigate the decisions I’ll have to make going forward. That no matter how difficult, how bleak, how never-ending the night might seem, staying true to your truth will always set you free. As a Black queer man of trans experience, learning how to do this has been the hallmark of my humanity. Doing so efficiently and with less pause, that will be the challenge that I now know I have the tenacity to overcome.