*This post is part of our New Black Surrealisms series organized by Tiffany E. Barber and Jerome Dent.
I do not know where else to begin but with an arrangement of fractured endings. Suspended around us, the scattered shards of lost Black life, of untimely Black death, play the familiar, broken scenes again and again. The countless faces to the names we write on t-shirts, posters, websites, and our flesh peer through the fragments, expressing a want, or perhaps issuing a demand, that we Black folk who live too intimately with the sharp shards of their shattered existences and bear the inevitable gashes and cuts over and over again, reflect upon the temporal bits of them that we (choose to) know.
Really knowing and feeling the relationship between Blackness and time has import in and of itself because a more precise diagnosis of the conditions of Black life and death in the antiBlack world is necessary if one of our aims is to develop a more precise treatment of those conditions. Understanding what it is to be Black ‘in’ time temporally reorients us toward Black acts and artifacts of creative destruction and destructive creation because a more accurate understanding of Black time—to what I call “untime”—better orients us to the possibilities, stakes and impacts of Black creative/destructive work. Knowing when we are(n’t) shifts our imaginative and imagined relationships to one another, ourselves, the work we do, and how and why we do it.
While I do not know when or how else to begin, I do know that each and every Black fragment matters.
Here are the entangled arrangements of the ones I could collect, the ones I hold the closest. I sit with all the bits that I can bear, listening and looking with intent.
My strained eyes aim at a blue-light filtered laptop display and stick, quiver, and move on the dash-cam and surveillance footage playing again and again.
Dashboard Camera Footage. Sandra remains unseen in her car stopped at the side of the road.
Suddenly, Sandra Bland finds herself stopped, held, suspended there.
Enter Officer, Screen Left, approaching driver-side window.
Suddenly the door is open.
Suddenly she is out of frame, but he remains. The void where she stood enraged and afraid only implies her being by way of his power, his gaze, his threats, his violence.
Suddenly she is in the frame, transmuted into carceral inevitability meant to satisfy his carnal needs.
And suddenly she is removed again. He becomes two—he multiplies as she dissolves into the disembodied and timeless fury of Black fire, manifest in a voice, “All of this for a traffic signal! I swear to God…Slamming me to the ground and everything! Everything!”
Suddenly, that, too, is gone.
Surveillance footage. Enter and exit officers, overseeing the cells of the jailhouse.
Suddenly, she is invisible again. It is unclear if, where, or when we might find, know, or sense her again.
Hours pass, and silently, the routine terroristic surveillance of the officers, the exterminator, and the jail nurse persist unabated, the only indication of Sandra’s life implied by the lack of disturbance in the routine.
Enter several officers, pacing, communicating something lost in the silence of the surveillance. Their movements might barely be interpreted as urgent; they appear frustrated—a sheriff outstretches his arms in exasperation.
Suddenly, they are in her cell, where she hangs from a noose fashioned from a plastic, jail-issue garbage bag, strung up over a partition.
Suddenly, she is gone.
Enter another sheriff, Screen Bottom. She looks down the hallway toward the commotion, wiping her hands clean with a white cloth. Exit sheriff.
Exit several officers, pushing a gurney on which medical equipment sits helplessly, silently.
All of that vacant time. All of those lapses between Sandra’s life and her death.
My left hand shakes while reaching for a coffee-filled TARDIS mug, and my right hand anxiously taps my pen against an otherwise blank page. Dots appear in disarray in the page’s space, forming what I am only able to describe as a clutter of ellipses, littering the lines with a deranged array of the false starts, open ends, and loaded silences ellipses tend to signify.
I have had Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-part documentary series about Kalief Browder’s wrongful imprisonment and ultimate suicide, paused on my computer for…It lives, muttering in the background of open documents—this one included—peeking behind the edges of open browser windows. Time and time again, I switch to it, plan to watch, look away. I committed to bearing witness to the glimpses offered by the Black narrative fragments I chose to hold in my hands. But I hesitate to hold Kalief in my vision.
I can hear his frustrated insistence as my thumb hovers over the spacebar.
They took over
three years of my life!
Going to get those years back
He shakes his head and his eyes go elsewhere.
I shake my head. I press play.
The gears of a clock spin before us during the opening title credits of each episode, reaffirming that the aesthetic choices and audiovisual arrangements will be guided by a careful attention to the machinations of time. Stylistic dramatizations of time passing, rewinding, and spinning out of control clarify the violent unpredictability of time in relation to Kalief Browder. They reveal the temporal violence experienced by Kalief, his family and friends, the Black folk who know of and feel the familiar horror of his narrative fragment, and of we who witness the familiar horrors repeatedly unfold in the documentary series. And we who sit and watch are meant to not only bear witness to the way time itself devastates Kalief, his family and friends, and Black folk, but also to bear that devastation in our own imaginations.
I shudder to the rhythm of the moving gears of the clock. I pause again.
I lost my childhood. I lost my happiness.
In my imagination, Kalief remains insistent.
I’m never going to get those years back.
I hear Kalief, and I see his face on the screen, at turns appearing defiant, despondent, enraged, disgusted, and lost, or at a loss. I feel that loss in my flesh and in my imagination.
Can’t you feel it?
His is an insistence of his lost time and of the lostness of his time: that it is lost, how lost, how it is lost, and above all that Kalief knows, embodies, articulates and lives the dispossession of temporality for as long as he can bear. Both out of terror and out of a lack of available vocabulary, all of it collapses in me with immense density.
A gaping hole in me widens, engorging its massive absence with all the measures of Kalief’s lost time and what they scream from within: just 16 years old when the theft of his time began; 1,110 days the wrongful incarceration on Riker’s island; over 800 cumulative days in the mad torture of solitary confinement; 31 court dates that came and vanished in the legal machinery of New York’s justice system; 2 years of “freedom” haunted by the ghosts of all that lost time; 1 suicide; countless casualties in the wake of it all, most of all his mother who “literally died of a broken heart;” all the numbers and percentages that tell us fragments of the master narrative of mass incarceration; all the tick-marks and tallies of the slave-ledgers; all the years, all the bodies, all the unnamable, irretrievable loss.
Tears blind eyes.
I feel like the whole point of me being on this show is just…to get my story out there.
I feel like this happens every day. This happens every day, and I feel like this gotta stop.
I feel like I had to fight.
I had to fight.
I am trying to do the impossible, typing the hard words while gently holding these fragments with care. The shards of their fractured Black lives seem attracted to one another; I can feel the push and pull of invisible tethers, a magnetic force suturing them together. I wonder about the texture, strength, and malleability of the unsettling homology, and the way giving this force field of fragments its disturbing coherence.
Time loss. Time lapse. Time loops. Time lengths. Time emerges in these narrative bits as a problem for the Black lives imperiled by or subject to its peculiar and violent machinations. These parables of the perils faced by Black folk in time offer glimpses of what I understand to be a fundamental problem—a problem at the levels of being, feeling, and experience—between Blackness and time. Stories of the insidious sense that time seems to, at the very least, operate on a different register, with different resonances, and with different outcomes for Black living and dying in this antiBlack world.
After all, these are what I understand to be the stakes of holding, beholding, and being beholden to these and all the untimely Black fragments I am able to bear, and all the ones beyond my bearings: Black life and death, themselves.