It was 2008 when everything changed. Rather, it was 2008 when I started to change everything.

By any stretch of the imagination, I had failed to fulfill my potential. That is how my mother put it, often. I just never seemed able to get it . I knew the right things to do — go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house — but I struggled with the right sequence, the right type, the right timing. I bought the house at the wrong time after attending the wrong school at the right time and marrying the right man for another kind of woman.

I always got reading and writing right. For half a year in 2008, I went to a Books-A-Million store in Charlotte, NC every day and set about reading and writing my life into rightness. I would order a cup of tea, extra hot so it stayed warm for the duration of my ritual. Next, I closed my eyes in the periodical section and randomly chose 15 or so magazines. I spread them out on a coffee shop table with my notebook. For hours, I read about transmissions, Art Deco, French revival country homes, vegan make-up, transcendental shamanism, fashion weeks, deficit spending, Chinese politics, socialism, democracy, and Brad Pitt. I read it all, taking notes of new words and new ideas and connections between what I knew and what I did not yet know.

That is where I saw the ad for online school, Ashford University, in the back of a woman’s magazine. Staring at that ad, I began to wonder how it was like the online school where I worked. A Newsweek article about the coming internet disruption of U.S. higher education is where I figured that if adults returned to college online, one could also return on campus. US Weekly introduced me to MILFs and cougars, a language for a whole world where divorce is a beginning and not an ending. Town & Country magazine taught me, better than any class or academic research paper since, that we are not all equally afflicted with the shame that had marked my every waking moment.

I pieced together a new future and a self in that Books-A-Million, with a notebook and cup of tea. The notebook could well have been Post-it notes, like the ones Breonna Taylor used to imagine herself into being:

This was the year of big plans for the 26-year-old: Her home was brimming with the Post-it notes and envelopes on which she wrote her goals. She had just bought a new car. Next on the list: buying her own home. And trying to have a baby with Mr. Walker. They had already chosen a name. — Breonna Taylor’s Life Was Changing; Then The Police Came To Her Door

I cannot get those Post-it notes out of my mind. We favor the public, robust forms of resistance’s material culture. We like the pussy hats and the “I AM A MAN” placards and broken Molotov cocktail glass. Those are the artifacts of social change that find places in the museums and textbooks tasked with excising the symbols from the violent oppressions that produce them.

But it is the private material culture that speaks to our survival; how we exert dominion over our imaginations in a world that constrains our bodies so violently to a place, a history, a stereotype, a disposable data point.

Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Breonna was writing herself into existence, one Post-it note at a time. All vision boards are not created equally. Some of us are envisioning consumption for consumption’s sake, or an empty secular religion to give our lives meaning. Some of us are literally mapping overground railroads through credentials and neighborhoods and car lots and constrained choices to something that can feel more like freedom than where we have been predicted to die.

It has been said, repeatedly, that there could not be justice for Breonna Taylor. When the police executed her in her home as she slept, they ripped apart a private sphere that cannot be made whole. It can only be actuarialized, with a dollar amount judged sufficient for a woman’s entire life. The settlements negotiated to settle Black lives as line items do not sit well for me. They stretch private spheres — our homes, our lives and our bodies — into transactions that feel like auction blocks. And, they are a poor substitute for Public justice is the kind we are all owed for the terrorism enacted on the body politic each time a human being is summarily executed.

Those settlements also fail to get at the heart of the thing: a person is who they are and also who they are not yet. Every one of Breonna’s Post-it notes is a future that we cannot weigh. Any system that does not know the difference is a system that can only expect violent resistance. Projecting alternative futures is the very essence of human sociality. It is the basis of all the exchange we so value and the reproductive labor we despise. Every Post-it note, every blank journal, every scribbled envelope is a social world.

There should be a real price for murdering an entire world.

There should be a real price for murdering Breonna Taylor.

There should be.

Sociologist. Writer. Professor. MacArthur Fellow. Books, speaking, podcast:

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