When Marginalized Folk Take Our Lives, It’s Because the State Already Has
TW: This essay discusses suicide
I had just finished my first and most brutal semester at Morehouse College days before. I went over to my brothers’ house to stay there before heading back home to North Carolina. Sitting in the back room scrolling through Twitter, I heard my eldest brother start crying in the living room. Then my twin brother followed. I got up and walked to the front of the house where my brother told me the news. “Tifah died,” he said shaking.
It was December 16, 2014. A cold night in Atlanta. But when I heard the news, I felt swelteringly hot. In that moment, every memory we’d ever shared flashed before my eyes. The second-to-last time I saw my sister was early in the summer when she took me to visit Morehouse. The last time I saw her—and the last time anyone saw her, for that matter—was the day after we returned from a concert she took my brother and I to for our 18th birthday.
On our way back to town after the concert, we didn’t stop for gas until it was too late. Stuck in front of a gas station that was not open, and a motel too expensive for the bed bugs it was sure to have, the three of us slept in the car together. Tifah was such a positive spirit that, despite how much my brother and I wanted to be frustrated, we couldn’t be. Instead, we spent that night talking about how sure we were that an increase in our finances was coming. She talked about the get-money-quick schemes she was part of; returning to school at UNC Chapel Hill, and the hardships of life, but how excited she was to get over that hill.
We slept for only a few hours. When the sun rose, we got gas, got breakfast, and got back on the highway. But I left my blazer in her car. So she dropped it off to me the next day. I didn’t know that July 23, 2014, was going to be the last day I got to see my sister, but after that day we all struggled to get into contact with her. She would post on Facebook here and there about some of the things she was doing to “obtain wealth,” as she put it, to get herself and her family out of poverty. But none of us were able to contact her to know how she was doing until we got that call.
The details are far too gruesome for me to revisit. However, what I am entirely certain of is that, though my sister died by suicide, it was capitalism that killed her. Capitalism is a socioeconomic system under which all means of production—or resources specifically used to produce goods—are privately owned by individuals and companies. Through this system, these people and companies, which help make up the bourgeoisie class, make most of the decisions in society and own most of the property.
In a world like this, money is withheld from the public, leaving many communities—largely and disproportionately Black—impoverished and scavenging for resources. These circumstances are what led to my sister’s death.
She left school to take care of her mom and family. And she, like so many others, was too poor to afford to return to school. She eventually found herself in an abusive relationship. And each of these things combined led to her being clinically depressed. While most research shows that Black people are less likely to die by suicide, other research shows that this is only true when examined on the surface.
According to this research, due to insufficient training of coroners and medical examiners, as well as Black people’s religious ties and other legal implications, Black women’s deaths by suicide are oftentimes not marked as such. But anti-Blackness and capitalism have also always forced Black people, especially poor Black women, to internalize the idea that we are to always be strong, resilient, and capable of surviving anything.
Attitudes about Black women’s inability to feel pain led to ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology,’ James Marion Sims, experimenting on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. Or to Samuel A. Cartwright coining terms like Drapetomania that would be used to diagnose the Slave with false illnesses, which would essentially birth what we now understand to be scientific racism.
Scientific racism has been the often unnamed cause of death for so many Black people. And it is a byproduct of capitalism in the same way that poverty is. With regard to Drapetomania, this “illness” was created specifically with the intent to characterize the Slave who sought to flee the plantation as psychologically abnormal and inept. This served only in the interest of the Master who gained capital at the expense of the Slave’s labor. This remains true today, even as the Slave and Master have taken new form.
My sister had so much to offer the world, but what is more important to this story is that the world refused to offer itself to my sister.
She was failed by capitalism, just as we all are. She was failed by the medical industrial complex who mistreated her mental illness. She was failed by a world that, despite the numbers indicating that Black women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, prioritizes maintaining patriarchy over the lives of the women it harms most.
Suicide is murder by the state. The longer capitalism is a fully functioning socioeconomic system, the more Black people it will kill. When marginalized folk take our lives, it’s because the state already has. We see no other option.
We are inching towards the 5 year mark since my sister’s death. I think of her every day. Nearly five years later and I am still organizing around the destruction of capitalism on her behalf, and I won’t stop. I believe in a better world because she lived; I organize in this current world because she no longer does.
My sister was murdered. Yours doesn’t have to be.
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