‘Darnell’ and “Black Bodies Beauty”
October 28, 2020
Nathan Stanton has spent the last 10 years as a pastor, church planter and artist on the West, South and Northsides of Chicago, and is an Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellow.
The following short story and poem are a part of a series of vignettes from Stanton that we will be publishing each month and are connected to a larger narrative called Master Peace. The narrative is about characters seeking personal solace in a time of unrest.
The warm crimson liquid dripped down in pools collecting on her blouse. The color that stops the world because of its sharp juxtaposition to everything else around it. Like the color often attributed to Jesus, the reddest kind. Blood yes and more specifically that of his sister. She had found the wrong end of another boyfriends fist that mimicked the same impatience of many past and to come. Darnell’s surprise was none but fabricated as I feigned shock over a situation he had witnessed frequently for at least a decade with the whole of four years between their ages. Charline kept the world afloat with her buoyancy and optimism but with their father leaving or being left early, they’d found soon enough that brother and sister would have to fend for themselves. He knew he was not fit to serve as a father figure but he tried as the occasional provider and even moonlighted as a protector. No shield could be erected high enough to protect her from the toxic mates that traversed the barren terrain and dotted the landscape. Like predators, they stalked her future as if serving as a stand-in for poverty’s resolve. This town was a place that offered the most desolate picture of the future. When one graduated high school it was well known that leaving was the only choice available for those with any ambition. Otherwise teenage pregnancy, adolescent imprisonment, and general dissatisfaction would be the result. But very few would make it out. Daniel had the disappointment of being offered a basketball scholarship to an obscure university in the central part of the state. Even after cheating on his standardized tests, he could not qualify for admission. The dark cloud that followed him wherever he went was akin to the darkness that shrouded the brilliance of many in the black community. The race riots of decades pasted haunted the ambitions and crippled the resolve of many with the determination to shine outside of the rusty confines of this cursed enclave.
Darnell was one of two children born to his mother first abandoned by her husband and then disabled by the obesity and diabetes that followed. Depression had taken a hold of her and hadn’t let go years before he could remember the “good” days. Now she only sat in the darkened room of their government-subsidized townhome. Barking barely intelligible orders to Darnell and his older sister who had inherited his mother’s likeness and penchant for hardly being seen outside of their home. By all standards of European beauty and Darnell’s friend’s opinions his mother could possibly be the ugliest woman on the planet and maybe a crown her daughter was set to take after her demise. They had never been taught the beauty of the natural world cannot be matched by that inside of us. The dingy walls colored with the muck that comes from cigarette smoke had served as torturous protection from the prying eyes of judgment the world reserved for her inevitable visits to the store to open funds from a food stamp card that carried a shame all of its own. Many of Darnell’s friends could relate to some aspects of his existence but it was also as if he had won the lottery of misery in miserly revelry.
On a journey to buy his mother’s foul brand of cancer sticks, he witnessed his sister returning from the latest attempt to brand beauty on her skin by way of destruction. What her once romantic suitors turned abusers did not realize is this nation has tried to beat a new beauty into us for quite some time, but yet finds the resilience, nay the nature of the black body’s existence still persists. She held her head down in shame and barely stopped in stride to greet her sibling. Why would anyone treat him any more than invisible? For his own beauty had been forfeited long ago given to any vice that presented itself. He paused nearly shoulder to shoulder with Charline to hear a low rumble in the distance accompanied by shaking under his feet. She continued past and he ran the rest of the way to the corner store. Through the menacing stares of faces, he once went to school with as they blocked the entrance to the dilapidated building. Slung haphazardly amidst the well-worn businesses crowding the gum stained sidewalks. They stood ready to serve their community with the same disenfranchisement they’d learned from centuries of neglect. All to procure what he knew would eventually kill his mother. “But maybe she was better off dead”, he thought with a particular flourish that brought him peace.
Black Bodies Beauty
Honor the black body we must
from ancient trafficking to
fast lynching and state violence
to the slow disintegration in prisons
the environment has poisoned the land
long before a child enters in
God we trust has seen the lust
for destruction never satisfied but let the
love of Heaven’s divine deliver Us
America minus the willpower
to involve decency when capital hearts have
collected rust in the place of affluency
Black bodies beauty
Black bodies beauty
Black bodies beauty
Black bodies beautiful
Whether basking in the sun like black gold
Or languishing in the confines of forced
containment age old
The jump of the soul when the smile or ire
of an eye has been drawn in like Art
excited then inspired upon a whim
Black bodies beauty
through this torrential trial of existence
approving the love upon humanity remaining
Yet in its regal obstruction of privilege and revolutionary
garden remains like the
obstinate obsidian that will never harden.