I want us to survive the virus.

By  Sagirah Shahid

It has no cure. Death has no cure. When I was 12-years-old, I remember going to Quran school beneath Cup Foods and how afterwards my 6-year-old cousin peed on my lap while we waited for his mother to do something or get something—I’m not sure. I just remember sitting in the backseat of that late 90’s Toyota, the sun beaming in through the rolled up windows, the hot air, the lukewarm pee on my lap,  next to all my other cousins and siblings, lapped up and wanting desperately to go home and clean everything.

I was home—and cleaning everything with a surface, after our Governor announced the stay-at-home order in March, or

I was home, and crying onto everything with a surface: my white countertops, the doorknobs, the ground below the refrigerator, the oatmeal colored sofa I bought with an ex years ago, the boxes of fliers I still have from when my cousin went missing, the ocean blue skirt my grandmother bought me when I was 12 and how I refused to wear it because I thought it looked corny and was too big. After she died it’s all I wanna wear. I am wearing the skirt and my lap is wet.

I want us to survive the virus.

I couldn’t watch the full 8 minutes of the video. Hadn’t I just watched Ahmaud Arbery get chased down by two White men before they murdered him while a third filmed it? Hadn’t I just read about Breonna Taylor being shot to death in her own apartment by the police? What does it mean if I want to slam something, scratch its eyes out, scream? I went to Zoom calls afterwards. Sometimes the murder was brought up. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes I brought it up myself. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I put a blanket over my rage and told it to numb itself to sleep. If you don’t feel anything, is it the mind, or the body, or the soul, that is numb?

I skipped around while watching the video. Fast forward. Rewind. Pause. Play. I do not have children of my own and when he calls out for his mother, I am briefly grateful I do not have children of my own.

I want us to survive the virus.

In the state of Minnesota, we make up 7% of the total population. In the state of Minnesota, we make up the second largest group of people with confirmed cases of the virus. When segmented for race, according to the June 10th Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 update—

I want us to survive the virus.

When our Governor was first elected, he did a tour of Minnesota. I raised my hand at his UROC talk in North Minneapolis. It was crowded and I kept my hand raised for 3, maybe 5, maybe 10 minutes until they gave me the mic. I asked the Governor what his plan was to address the health crisis faced by Black Minnesotans due to structural racism and our racist health care system. He told me to join a city commission (or committee?) and something else. I don’t remember fully. I don’t remember anything beyond that, except for rage. I put a blanket over it and told it to numb itself to sleep. I went back to work after that.

Some of us went back to work after watching the video. Some of us had no work to go back to. Some of us are minimum wage essential workers. Someone told all the suburban white folks to drive to our neighborhoods and burn down all our grocery stores. A Black man is dead. And someone set a car on fire right outside my apartment window. It was 4am.

There is a deadly virus. 

There is a video of a white officer with his knee on the neck of a Black man calling out for his mother. I have no children of my own, so I go out one night to beg the children of my neighborhood to wear their masks. I have no children of my own, so I go out one day, and sit down in front of the officers spraying rubber bullets and canisters of smoke and pepper spray and I bow my head. And I wait for whatever is thrown at me, whatever is aimed at me to hit me, hit me, hit me. And when it doesn’t, I open my eyes. I am surrounded by people trying to protect me.

There is a deadly virus with no cure.

We inch the police back into their precinct with our bodies. They spray us in the face, they spray us and we gag and we cough up phlegm. A stranger hands me a pair of neon goggles. A half crescent of misfit milk jugs seems to accumulate behind us and advance with us. The police spray us and there are scraps of cardboard and bits of fence and target carts used to shield us as we inch the police back into their precinct with our bodies. We barricade them with our shields and carts. There’s horse dung splattered right outside their precinct from earlier, from when a Black man rode a horse down Minnehaha Avenue.

I sit down near it. I think maybe we’re winning. I think maybe they’ll stop. They aim their weapons at us and I yell at them:

Stop shooting our children! Put your weapons down! You’re a trained professional, they’re children!

A white man on a motorcycle drives his vehicle directly in front of me, inches from my legs. There’s a cramp in my leg. A different white man carrying a skateboard falls on top of me and jams the wheel of his skateboard into my leg. The blue-eyed stranger to the right of me tells me there is a rainbow to the left of us, do you see it? the stranger asks me. I don’t see it. I am only looking forward. I am only seeing the police. My hands are raised. My arms are tired. I am only seeing every possible threat.

There is a virus that has no cure.

But when the police storm us, destroying our cardboard and hodgepodge barricades and spray us in the face, I can’t stop myself from reaching over to the stranger on my right, who has been gripping me the whole time and trying to shield me from pepper spray and gas canisters, my body reflexively tries to shield their face too—they don’t have goggles.

I am angry at everything. I am angry at everyone. I walk home alone that night, to the neighborhood now known to the world. I think, what is this? What is anything anymore.

I want us to survive the virus.