Content Warning: mentions of lethal anti-Black violence, mentions of sexual violence
thanks for being here, dear reader.
your favorite Black feminist bricoleur is byke! if all had gone according to plan, this issue would have reached U on October 31st, but time trickled away from me as i drafted it. i spent October in the midst of preparing for my move down South, and Halloween weekend especially was packed with all the goodbye treats (and tricks) my heart could have desired! my beloved friends Dion, Charlie, Sarah, and Patricia planned a surprise citywide scavenger hunt featuring all of my favorite spots, along with a trip to Skate Zone 71 and a Halloween kickback, for my second-to-last day in Central Ohio. then thanks to U-Haul's overbooking mistake, i almost didn't have a moving truck the following morning, but the besties gracefully swooped in to call different locations and find me a backup. what's a cross-country move without at least one massive unforeseen hiccup?
as U might already know, Halloween is a day for the dark, for the unknown and unknowable, for the beings beckoning from the other side of the veil, so it felt appropriate to deliberately be transitioning out of the city on a day meant to honor death. how to summarize what the last five years have meant for me, how to illustrate the different selves i've shedded and come into? how to wrap language around the boundless love i have for the family that i found here? it seems impossible. i can start by saying that my time in Ohio is inseparable from my experiences as an organizer. it's really begun to dawn on me how much of an impact my presence there has made, particularly for fellow Black queer, trans, and gender-expansive/defiant people, and Black people directly affected by police violence. i discovered the life-saving magic that can ignite when i'm "willing to be transformed in the service of the work," and i'm so grateful to any- and everyone who believed in me long enough to join or support BQIC, welcome me into their home, trust me with their stories, call me their friend or comrade. i showed up in Columbus five years ago knowing no one and having no real sense of the landscape, but i didn't want to be an aimless interloper simply taking up space for the sake of it. i made the promise to myself that i would at least try to leave the city better than i found it, and i like to think that i've lived up to that promise.
Columbus also taught me on on a molecular level how centering multiply-marginalized Black people in my life's work, no matter what the work becomes, means willfully bearing witness to death and extending care to those caught in its wake, and this lesson is well aligned with the holiday that ushered me out of the city. Halloween -- or All Hallows' Eve -- was originally created "to honor Christian martyrs and saints, [which] paralleled the appeasement of ghosts of the dead during Samhain." Black people have more than our fair share of martyrs, and many of our dead didn't have to crusade into war. our sanctuaries are often the battleground. Aiyana Taylor, 9 years old, had the breath snatched from her chest while she slept soundly on her couch. Fanta Bility, 8 years old, sat with her family in their car as they headed home from a football game. now, she is never to cross the threshold of their front door again. the 48th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing passed not long ago. then and there, four little girls were buried under a blast while getting ready in the basement for Sunday service. the word "martyr" comes from the Greek root martur, which means "witness." this summons visions of a pastor feverishly testifying at the pulpit before bellowing to the congregation: can i get a witness?! instead of a chorus of hallelujahs and amens, rubble rejoices in response.
excerpt from the profile that the New York Times published after Michael Brown's murder
we are routinely made un-whole, and then unholy. the above profile calling Michael Brown "no angel" came shortly before his killer described him as a "demon" and "hulk-like" during the grand jury proceedings. the world readily warped a dead teenager into something subHuman yet superHuman, thus ultimately something worthy of being brutally severed from life. this time of year (Scorpio season) is associated with the Death card in tarot which typically signals a significant spiritual transformation instead of an actual death, but my desire to reinterpret Blackness onto the cards out of ontological necessity leads me to think about actual death and how it specifically affects our people. like Juju Bae said in an episode of her podcast, "niggas die different." many of our martyrs were unwilling and unexpecting, so bearing witness for them in their physical absence will mean having a more unique relationship with the spiritual realm, and there exists a massive opportunity in this holiday to cultivate that relationship. we're invited to reach across the thinning veil with loving arms towards those who were stolen away. hallowed be the names of those made to haunt us.
instead of considering Halloween -- or October more broadly -- a time solely for entertainment and consumption, i got to explore ways of personally uplifting Black and Indigenous* histories, presences, and futures. in the last R2TS issue, i reckoned with how my relationship to this holiday is inseparable from wider legacies of enslavement and colonial violence because the first sexual assault i experienced in college was at a Halloween party. around this anniversary last year, i came across a picture of a younger me dressed as a devil for Halloween and was immediately inspired to capture how it felt to find this version of myself:
i was sexually assaulted at one of the first Halloween parties i went to in college. the following semester, my hands started trembling nonstop the moment I returned to campus; at the time, i thought it might’ve been a neurological illness, but looking back it was likely a trauma response. silence became my shield. i learned to further train my face so that it did not betray my internal world.
(there’s something to be said here about why the Devil U know is better than the one U don’t)
more casual violence over the years, more opportunities to hone and sharpen my skills of self-defense: a vicious “no,” a filthy read, a stony gaze, a punch to the mouth. so forth[...]
there are no errant hands that could’ve ever taken the refuges of ether and underworld away from me, so Halloween is still a joyful time. and like i’ve said before, triumph often sounds like weeping. reclamation is a hard-won victory. the other night, i cried for both the 7-8 year old me pictured here, and the 17 year old me who is not. i’m straddling very sensitive times because there are other painful moments coming full circle at this time of year. the past is never past, i repeatedly have to start over and keep it in mind.
-- written in 2020
the picture struck me deeply when i first rediscovered it because i was so suddenly confronted with a reminder of a time i was untouched by violence, but revisiting it this year as i came to terms with what was influencing my departure from Central Ohio helped me find new meaning in the costume i chose over a decade ago. i realized that i could find likeness in Carrie Mae Weems' Portrait of a Woman Who Has Fallen from Grace and into Evil, her irreverent smirk and open legs an assured refusal of any redemption the viewer could hope to offer.
the title of her piece evokes the story of Adam and Eve being shut out of Eden, but it also evokes the story of Satan's banishment from heaven. my gleeful demeanor as a little devil in the picture i found parallels Weems', almost foretelling of the time when i would fall from grace myself and still keep my head held high in the aftermath. through my own experiences, i witnessed how anti-Blackness and patriarchy need sacrificial scapegoats in order to appease the hunger of their gods, and who better to be brought up to the altar than Black women, girls, and gender-expansive/defiant people? never were we Human, but for having suffered under the rubble and those errant hands, we become devils, something demonizable. we are "no angels" too.
i've been called to more deeply interrogate who (or what) the Devil even is, and the Devil as we know it today would not exist without the white imagination. the forced Christianization of colonized, enslaved, and dispossessed people was one of many culturally-imperialist agendas ruling the 15th-19th centuries; colonizers and missionaries (not that they're mutually exclusive groups) have historically used the bible as the moralistic means to the ends of control and violence. as the "logical" result of this onslaught, the Devil climbed out of the bible, through the Door(s) of No Return, and into the pantheons of our ancestors, into the roots and the seeds and the sand of their homelands, into their still-beating hearts. white men spoke of the Devil and he appeared, so it became their "burden" to save enslaved Africans from the wicked darkness that clung to them as flesh. In nomine Patris et Fili et Spiritus Sancti, amen.
Luisa Teish, highly-respected spiritualist and author of the Black spiritual handbook Jambalaya, shares a trove of wisdom in the video "Indigenous Voices," but there was one truism she shared that really stuck with me: "When you set out to oppress a people, the first thing you do is demonize their deities." or as Joshua Idehen rages on Sons of Kemet's album Black to the Future: "You had me saying prayers in your language/You made me forget my gods/You had me question my spirits/Forsake my prophets." attempts to sever Africans' connection from their cosmologies were attempts to bar them from the possibility of life after death, not just because being Black was a sin that earned condemnation in life, but also because many African traditional religions affirm the continuity of spirit once the body has perished. i come back once more to the image of the Bântu-Kôngo dikenga cosmogram:
The crossed lines communicate an array of meanings concerning both the oppositional ordering of the cosmos and the invocation of spiritual powers into the land of the living. The vertical "power line" connects the Godhead above with the lower realm of lesser spirits, ancestor spirits, and the dead. It also communicates the invocation of spiritual power from below into the land of the living above[...]
The crossed lines provide a more focused and selective invocation of the intersection of the spirit world and the land of the living for immediate social action. Among the BaKongo people, this was the "simplest form" of dikenga rendering, and was used when individuals took oaths of truthfulness or undertook private rituals to seek spiritual aid (MacGaffey 1986: 118).
These crossed lines were typically drawn upon the ground, and a person would stand at the intersection of the lines when swearing an oath. Similarly, a ritual specialist would draw the lines upon the ground to demarcate a private, ritual space in which a spirit would be summoned for the aid of an individual supplicant.
-- Christopher Fennell, "Multivalent Symbols of an Enclosing Hand" from Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World
this cross-based conception of the cosmos predates the crucifix's appearance on the continent, and it found a precolonial companion in the distinct religious practices of the Yorùbá as well. their Orisa Èṣù/Exu/Esu/Eshu maintains his dominion at the crossroads; known colloquially as the "trickster god," Esu is the primordial gatekeeper of both worlds, "the arbiter among all sentient beings and custodian of the primordial ase, the life force for all 'motion.'" Esu is an unmistakable linchpin within the Yorùbá raison-d'etre, so crusaders of the Christian agenda sought to diminish his sanctity, most notably in the empire-fulfilling prophecy of English translation. in 1842, Nigerian missionary Samuel Ajai Crowther mistranslated "Esu" to mean "Satan"/"Devil" in the Vocaublary of the Yorùbá Language, a quintessential example of how African traditional religions have been forced on katabatic marches into the realm of evil.
two cards after Death in the Major Arcana comes The Devil (XV), which depicts Baphomet on his throne reigning over a couple of chained individuals. this card has considerable visual overlap with The Lovers card**, which elicits the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, so i think of this card as an illustration of their Fall. when The Devil comes up in a reading, it can point to feelings of "entrapment, emptiness, and lack of fulfillment in [the querent's] life, which speaks generally to Black folks' conditions worldwide. for us, the chains are no exaggeration; we're not bought and sold in the same ways, but the afterlife of slavery keeps us bound to an abject condition -- hell if U will -- where the Devil (anti-Blackness) watchfully presides from its pedestal.
we've been left scraping to meet our material needs while being prevented from dreaming beyond false pretenses of salvation (read: proximity to whiteness and capital), but the salvation we need is precisely in what we've been told to forget, fear, and hate, including indigenous African spiritual practices. simply put, do we want to be free? only after answering that question can we do anything about the chains around our necks. i understand that Christianity has provided refuge to countless Black folks throughout the diaspora over time, but that doesn't resurrect the countless people who have been slaughtered at its helm. what could happen if we distanced ourselves from the cross (i.e. the multifaceted antiBlack and patriarchal logics of how the religion continues to operate) and moved closer to the crossroads? what would it mean for more of us to reclaim the world-ending and world-building power that is our birthright?
Mama Rue, a well-renowned spiritualist, created Hoodoo Heritage Month three years ago in October as a way for us to intentionally connect more deeply to the earth-based traditions that our people were ripped from. hoodoo is the exclusively-Black spiritual technology that evolved as enslaved Africans and their descendants in America (particularly in the Southeast) tended to their own survival; it involves working with roots and herbs, and it is inseparable from the practice of ancestor veneration. our traditions blessedly did not leave us due to the Death-defying efforts our forbears made to preserve them. they reworked the customs into new forms, weaving them through spirituals and work songs, awakening them at revival meetings and ring shouts, resurrecting them deep in the wood under the protective embrace of the night sky with only starlight to guide their steps.
Robert Johnson's story strikes me as relevant here. rumor has it that he took his guitar to a cross road and asked the Devil to tune it; he offered up his soul and received his virtuosic playing skills in return. knowing what i know now about the crossroads, i want to tell myself an alternate version of Robert Johnson's story. he was a lifelong admirer and student of music, but i imagine there might have been something damming his own wellspring, so there he went, under the cover of night, to the cross road by Dockery plantation, falling to his knees in supplication with guitar in hand, tuning it himself and pouring a libation for the timeless Spirit residing there, maybe someone approached him, maybe not, but he did leave alone, not looking back, but within, witnessing a mournful ecstasy pour fourth from his fingertips like the waters of the Delta, deep and blue. just like hoodoo, the blues is a survival technology born at the crossroads. it's not a coincidence that this genre of Black desire, revolutionary will, and presence would widely be disparaged as "Devil's music" even as the myths surrounding Robert Johnson faded from popular consciousness. anything that can serve as a blueprint for our freedom is evil in the white imagination, so why not shroud ourselves in pride for our darkness? our futures depend on being "accused of tending to the past." if that makes us evil, so be it. i know for certain that we are sacred without having our blood spilled.
another anniversary that i celebrate in October is the anniversary of my altar creation in 2019, and the timing of it matches up with some other significant life events that i navigated at the time, like my first ever breakup and the explosive fallout i had with my mom over my decision to take testosterone (since resolved). the clarity and peace that my benevolent guides fostered for me despite/because of all these overlapping deaths showed me how influential they are from the hereafter, which reflects the magnitude of what we can do here in our realm. anyone trying to convince us that the work of getting free is evil must be ignored. our dearly departed deserve our commitments to acknowledge, feed, and thank them for the sacrifices they ultimately never asked to make. Spirit is strongest at the point where the roads meet and diverge, all we have to do is show up.
* i've recently been exposed to conversations around how Blackness and Indigeneity aren't mutually exclusive, so i don't intend to present them as such in this sentence! i don't yet have a solid grasp on the perspectives, so my choice for brevity in this sentence means to reflect how little i know currently. Ebony Oldham recently shared Tapji Garba's essay "Slavery is a Metaphor: A Critical Commentary on Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor” on her Instagram and i plan on revisiting it (along with other pieces i've bookmarked) to aid in my learning process.
** if i'm being honest, the appreciation i feel for Oubria's deck doesn't quite extend to her interpretations for the cards. my main reason for linking her blog post is to direct your attention to the image of The Lovers for comparison's sake. if something in her words resonates with U, great. i'm a big believer in taking what U need and leaving the rest.
a TikTok from @trapyanaali about Christian colonizers -- it ain't funny but it is!
Nikki Giovanni's application of the biblical Genesis story to Black women and their experiences of misogynoir, has a nod to Nina Simone's "Four Women"
request for assistance: i really wanted to read "'At a Crossroads': Spirituality and The Politics of Exile: The Case of the Yoruba Orisa" for this issue, but i couldn't easily navigate around paywalls. ***if U have institutional access and can download a PDF copy of this essay for me, please hit my line! (firstname.lastname@example.org)***
another request for assistance: if you'd like to impart some ease on my transition into this next phase of life, peep the graphic below:
text reads: "pls help with moving costs! Dkéama is moving to a new city with the help of their comrades, Charlie and Sarah. Though this ask for funds isn't urgent (aka none of us are in danger), we're asking in order to help Dkéama get comffy, start a new chapter in his life, and to cover moving expenses. Please donate if you can afford to, and share if you can help us spread this ask! You can donate to any of the payment handles below: