don’t leave after the ritual: a Geez meditation

“In the face of the murders of Black people, murders that endlessly repeat, how can one presume, still, that there is an ‘us’ and a ‘we’ that are in something together?” (Note 21).
Christina Sharpe, Ordinary Notes

When I think of death, I think of ritual, especially funerals. In the quote above, Christina Sharpe points towards the often unspoken fact that in this Westernized world, there are differing relationships to death. Facing death as Black folk has become a ritual repeated, a spectacle, an initiation, a coming of age, and part of the weather.

Here is a threshold story to open the conversation:

The most recent funeral I attended was when my cousin passed this winter. There was a significant smattering of white folks who attended her memorial. She passed in her thirties, retiring after 18 years in the Navy and Coast Guard. Two soldiers came up to the altar and performed the military honors and flag folding, giving the U.S. flag to her husband. Few to none of these white participants came with us to the repast to break bread after the service.


How can I presume to write a single note for Geez about death, inside death, underneath death when, as Sharpe notes ordinarily, “the architectures of violence fracture we; affect does not reach us in the same ways?” (Note 21). Have we ever been on the same page where death is concerned? Should I write, should you read as though we are? What has it meant for us to share space in the pages of Geez?

As I tried to write, my intentions for this essay fractured.

Since I was a young man, my father told me repeatedly, “The number of folks I’ve lost in this life can fill a room this size.” He says that in rooms of many sizes. I understand his Mississippi words more with each passing. I’ve been to three funerals this year and missed numerous others during this time. My own Black room is filling.

In writing this piece to open my hands and offer up my relationship to death, I wanted to create an ode to Black funerals. How the gospels of “Total Praise” and “His Eye is On The Sparrow” swell a room with awe. How these technologies, sonic and social, ease troubled minds and facilitate a devotion that points our hearts to heaven and strengthens us to live in this world. I wanted to write my family into this piece, how funerals have become the moments where we come together. I wanted to bring here in memory and in spirit my cousins, my brother, my mother, several aunts and uncles, my grandmothers, my grandfathers.

I wanted to show you my altar, vibrating with communal ancestors such as Greg Tate, Toni Morrison, Charity Hicks, and David Blair, all who sit with my ancestors of blood and bone. A place I return to for intergenerational healing, to give gratitude for this inherited life while asking for assistance to interrupt the patterns of exploitation that have been placed into my lineage. A porous landscape. A portal of great joy.

I wanted to introduce you to my brother and describe how I have been planted in the midst of his spirit and that of his namesake, my son.

I wanted to write – as I have previously – as your Writer in Residence, from my Africanness, this Blackness I wear. It has been important for me to show up in interfaith spaces wearing my “animism,” my “decolonization,” “polytheism,” my “colonized indigeneity” – not just in my heart, but on my sleeves. Our voice is often missing even when faith communities come together for justice. Part of that is because our spiritual systems are not just declarations of “faith,” but also collaborations of medicine, science, philosophy, family, divination, problem solving, and much more. Part of this is because a “Christian nation” has biases towards the kinship of its monotheisms and views associations with nature-based practices as devilish, primitive, or relics of a time gone past. Part of that is because this country and its European forbearers (ancestors) prohibited and punished our traditions into deep hiding and mistrust. Often we hide even from ourselves.


For the foreseeable future, this will be my last note to my Geez community. As I wrote this, I kept returning to my cousin’s memorial. Is this essay a moment of mourning, a gift of vulnerability, or a spirit of self-protection? Who do I feel with us walking from the public ritual to the family intimacy?

I started and stopped. The words came only haltingly. There’s another spirit present.

Even within my practices of worship, I have to fight off the demons of white supremacy, white word of mouth, white salvation, white tears, and white excellence. I don’t even believe in demons, but I still have to ward off these spirits. I can feel whiteness encroaching. My arm hairs tingle. Something freezes my body. I corral my attention back to these words between us.

In Ordinary Notes, Sharpe teaches us that spirits are also called by silence and omission – not just evocation. “They half spoke, they unspoke, they decided not to speak. They made peace. And with those equivocations, they reconstituted and re-enfleshed that ghost of a past that is not yet past” (Note 57). In this quote, she is reflecting on the silences she heard after the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. Maintaining peace, and kinship between white and white versus creating discomfort and possibilities of transformation. Within these silences, the spirit of white America is called forth and strengthened and the racist past resurrects to its present forms.

I silenced myself even in my own text. To fit into what I felt as Geez‘s expectations. I haven’t written towards what it meant for me to share in what I experienced as a space founded in and by whiteness.

I resurrect words from Geez Issue 58 where we affirmed, “we are embodied ancestors” by candle flame:

Set aside a clean space. Cover the surface with a white cloth. Enter the space with a spirit of reverence and appreciation. Burn a white candle. Know that your life was made possible, was handed to you by others – those named and (to you) unnamed. Generations upon generations want to connect with you. Their prayers and hopes run through your blood. Offer your thanks. Offer your gratitude for this experience of life. Keep this place clean. Are you ready for developing an ongoing relationship and seeing it unfold? Think of this like brushing your teeth – hygiene for your DNA and your unique inherited self. Are you ready to support and be supported? Don’t enter the work if you’re going to half-ass it. Don’t make the connection if you won’t follow through. Don’t leave your people hanging.

Do we want to call upon your Ancestors? That’s a question I leave to each of us to journey towards the burning fires.

We are gathered here for a justice that is not only calling for the propaganda of external criticism but also the creative fire of internal transformation.

In Geez Issue 70, we ask “What would movements look and feel like if we acknowledged that whenever we gather, we bring a host of spirits and ancestors with us?”

If your ancestors are called forth in ritual and tenderness, will mines vacate the space, the altar, this page between us?
If you call forth your ancestor will they be an elevated spirit or one of the principalities and powers that I must battle against?
How is the whiteness of Geez in relationship to the whiteness of Christianity?

Should I light a candle for Geez Magazine? Can a magazine be Ancestor?

We light candles for “those who have gone before,” not only for our memories, but also to affirm their continued presence in our lives. I will miss you, Geez. You helped to shape me into the writer that I am.You welcomed my words and were a home.

To the writers, to the artists struggling to be creative in publishing and arts spaces dominated by whiteness, I hear you. To the activists in majority white organizations and are doing good work but looking for something more, I hear you. To the students and employees who silence themselves to make it through and to the ones who refuse to silence themselves, I hear you. To the adoptees and foster kids who have a home but not a place to lay all your burdens down, I hear you. We hear you.


We are not perfect, even in mourning. But the one thing about our funerals is that here you don’t have to be alone in your grief. There’s always an invitation to come to the altar and make a few remarks. You don’t have to say a word. Some are crying, some are sitting silently, some stay to the back of the room, some are overwhelmed and can’t even go to the memorial. The music of the organ swells.

We hold each other together. Grief bursts us open.

We get inappropriate, secrets spill out, at our funereal best we feel less pressure to hold our emotions and maintain the composure we create for the everyday. Words and the wordless tumble from our mouths and our bodies especially when the one who has passed has meant so much to us.

Sometimes, beyond comprehension.

There may be something I am afraid to say or I don’t even know how to say in the world of letters and literacy to Geez, to this continent.

This world is creeping and crawling, stumbling, gushing towards fascism under a banner of Christian murder making. Some are calling out to their Ancestral spirits – their great white fathers and heads of state – to “Make America Great Again.” Some are calling forth their Ancestral spirits – the power of money, military, and law to prevent discomfort and maintain their self-image of being one of the good ones.

For some of us that evokes memories. Means lynchings, public persecution, inhumanity unleashed.
For some of us this spirit of inequality reminds us that we survived by making white people feel comfortable; my Granny is one of millions who worked in white homes, sometimes being thought of fondly “as part of the family” while singing the blues beneath our breath.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that Sunday morning is perhaps the most segregated time in the U.S. Will we ever know the same hymns and sing common songs of struggle and sovereignty?

When we honour our ancestors, we affirm both continuity and revolutionary transformation. Our loved one has transformed from someone we can hold and hear to a memory and an inspiration.

I petition that Geez dies and resurrects into a spirit stronger than it used to be, ancient, wise, and strong enough to create new vessels that can hold us yearning fighting mourning continuously, asking ourselves: How do we live and know spirit in a world that’s trying to kill us?

“Tenderness might just be a gesture, it might be a look, a Black look, some regard, related between people in peril”
Sharpe (Note 175).

Owólabi is a New Afrikan writer and life coach/ spiritual companion rooted in Detroit, Michigan. His poetry chapbook, Lee, Young Lee, is forthcoming from AWE Society Press. Essay is from the French for “to try.” Geez has been his writing hearth and habitat for the last five years and he is grateful for how the editors supported and nurtured him and held his essays with sacred intimacy.

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