Goodbye, Rickey Williams

I just finished reading James Baldwin’s Another Country. The book was published in 1962, and focused on (I think) how anti-black racism makes love (between blacks & whites, and blacks & blacks) a difficult proposition, if not impossible.

The book (basically) opens with Rufus Scott, a young black jazz musician, attempting to come to terms with what his life has become. Unable to cope, on a cold night he (in a macabre and beautifully written passage) walks to the middle of the George Washington Bridge, and plunges himself into the “black” water of the Hudson River.

This must have been an extremely scandalous thing for Baldwin to write in 1962. For their was the notion, which some of us still believe, that black people don’t commit suicide. This, in spite of the fact that Baldwin got the idea for this character, upon reading a newspaper report f a former black male lover’s suicide, executed in the same fashion. [NOTE FROM KAZEMBE: Rufus Scott’s suicide in Another Country was inspired by a person that Baldwin was in love with, Eugene Rivers. Rivers committed suicide after professing a love for Baldwin. The incident haunted Baldwin for a number of years.Baldwin too attempted suicide, after being jailed in Paris for “stealing” (He took a sheet from one hostel to another) Fortunately, the rope broke.]

A week ago, black gay activist Rickey Williams jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I didn’t know Rickey, but learned about this first from Keith Boykin’s blog. [NOTE: I have subsequently learned he was only 28, and was friends of several other brothers I love and respect– Frank Roberts, Tim’m West, Marlon Bailey.] But I am still concerned, affected in some way, by his death. As another Black gay man, I can certainly understand the type of alienation one can feel from one’s self, one’s community, and sometimes the whole damn world. As an “activist/community organizer,” I also know that while one’s work is often trying to build a sense of community–and to attempt to inspire the conditions that create alternative ways of being in the world, new ways of relating to each other–it is often a lonely endeavor. I have often felt that many of us who do this work are often the most alienated.

But specfic to the Black LGBT community, I urge us to work hard to try to create community. I live in a neighborhood that as a Black gay man, I don’t feel particularly safe in. Whilst I am lucky that because my boyfirend has lived here for over 5 years (and has close relationships with lots of people in the community), and I have gotten to know alot of people in the community (both straight and otherwise), I see LGBT folks in the community all the time who I don’t know, and have made no attempt to get to know, and they haven’t tried to get to know me either. With all of the violence (and murder) happening to us in NYC (and dare I say, every other major city in the US), we can’t really afford to live in isolation from one another.

In my personal circles, and with my work, I continue to urge us, particularly Black gay men and transgendered women, to really interrogate the culture of shade. Where does it come from? What is the impetus to cut each other down so quickly, and with such venomous ferocity? I know we come from communities (esp African-American) with a tradition of playing the dozens, but is it more harmful for the most oppressed members of the community? Is it a form of shaming? Is it kidding? All the time? When do we get to show care for one another? Me’shell Ndegeocello, in the song Dead Nigga Blvd said “I can’t even tell my brothas and sistas that they fine/this absense of beauty in the heart and mind…”

I don’t know if any of this woud have saved Rickey. People make the choice to end their lives for all sorts of reasons. But I do know, if we took better care of one another (whether white folks, or quite frankly, the larger Black community does or does not embrace us), his time here may have been a little easier.

And so would mine.

And so would yours.

3 thoughts on “Goodbye, Rickey Williams

  1. I also know that while one’s work is often trying to build a sense of community–and to attempt to inspire the conditions that create alternaitive ways of being in the world, new ways of relating to each other–it is often a lonely endeavor. I have often felt that many of us who do this work are often the most alienated.

    True dat.

  2. Just as a historic note, Rufus Scott’s suicide in Another Country was inspired by a person that Baldwin was in love with, Eugene Rivers. Rivers committed suicide after professing a love for Baldwin. The incident haunted Baldwin for a number of years.
    Baldwin too attempted suicide, after being jailed in Paris for “stealing” (He took a sheet from one hostel to another) Fortunately, the rope broke.

    In terms of community, I agree with you Kenyon, people are tough on each other, particularly in POC-communities. I always linked it to 1)Survivial mechanism, i.e.- developing tough skins to protect a soft interior. I think this is the reason why “camping” or “playing the dozens” is so prominent. We have to laugh to keep from crying.

  3. You know, Kazembe, I though to look up that factoid in Leemings biography, but was lazy and didn’t. I literaly thought to myself if this is wrong Kazembe will catch it! LOL!!! I knew that you’d be the person to catch me out there!

    Thanks!

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