Throughout this week, Rookie will roll out a series called How We Live, a collection of essays, interviews, hair and makeup tutorials, poetry, visual work, and interviews centering on the lived experience and thought of black teenagers.
The idea for this series came about in December 2015, when the journalist Rebecca Carroll tweeted Rookie suggesting that we dedicate an issue titled “How We Live” to Tamir Rice. News had just broken that a grand jury had declined to charge the Cleveland patrolman, Timothy Loehmann, who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir. That same month, a different grand jury—this one in Texas—declined to indict anyone in connection with the death of Sandra Bland, who was found dead while in police custody in July. By then, accounts of black teenagers who had experienced police or state violence were piling up: Dajerria Becton at a pool party, Niya Kenny and Shakara at Spring Valley High school, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, and Trayvon Martin were just a few of them. In that moment, as today, it felt important to affirm how black people survive and thrive, while also navigating, tearing down, and unlearning antiblackness and white supremacy.
We invited Rookie readers to send us their work to be considered for this series, asking especially for creations that “affirm black life and joy in the midst of state-sanctioned violence and death.” What has come to us is reflective, warm, and generous. Zaria Ware’s makeup tutorial challenges the idea that ulzzang makeup is exclusively for people with pale skin, and Sydney Vernon’s geometric portrait studies pay careful attention to black faces. There is brilliant poetry, and essays on having to work the summer that Trayvon Martin was killed, and on insisting on your feelings, regardless of who is telling you to suck it up and “smile!” That’s just some of it.
What isn’t here are quick, thinkpiece-type responses to police or state violence. Those reaction-pieces are important, but as we dreamt about How We Live, we imagined what a relief it would be to slip outside the exhausting speed of daily news, and to escape the loop of recorded violence and 911 calls, to figure out how we cope with images of harm against black people—they linger. We also wanted badly to have space to talk about blackness that was not, to paraphrase the words of Black Lives Matter activist Mara Jacqueline Willaford (one of the two black women who interrupted Bernie Sanders’ Seattle appearance last year), sparked only by a black person’s death.
How We Live gives room to thinking about how we die—and grieve, and sometimes need to “call in black”—without presenting death as the totality of black experience, because it isn’t. Blackness is capacious, it isn’t an impediment, often it is joy, originality, hair, carefreeness and magic, makeup, laughter, dancing, and more and more and more.
This series brings together a heap of critical, affirming, and edifying work by young black people, figuring through how to thrive in a world that can feel not just hostile but dangerous and deadly. Black lives matter, and how we live them does, too.
Chelsea Charles is an illustrator who resides in Brampton, Ontario. She creates her illustrations through a combination of digital and traditional media and enjoys using visual metaphors to communicate her ideas. You can contact her at [email protected]