Sex and Death Revisited
by Yolanda Carrington
If anyone were to ask me what my mother, Ethel Patricia Ann Bridges Carrington, died of, I would tell them that it was â€œBlack womanâ€™s diseaseâ€—heart disease and hypertension. Heart disease is now the top killer of women in the United States, with African Americans like Mom being at the greatest risk.
If anyone were to ask me what one of my childhood heroes, Kurt Donald Cobain, died of, I would say â€œWhite manâ€™s diseaseâ€—depression-induced suicide. In the US, European American men are more likely to attempt or commit suicide than any other constituency. The most privileged group of human beings in the nation is more likely than anyone else to end their lives forever.
If yet anyone else asks me what another one of my childhood heroes, Tupac Amaru Shakur, died from, I could just as easily say it was â€œBlack manâ€™s diseaseâ€ as I could say what the real cause of death was—homicide. Given the statistics, I would be right too.
Many people would argue that the early deaths of Mom, Kurt, and Pac are symptoms of the human condition, and that things like these happen in a danger and illness-fraught world like ours. Other people would argue that these people—three of the most important people in my life—made choices of their own volition that led them to an early grave.
I know that death happens to all human beings. Anything that lives will eventually die. For most of us, we have no idea when or how we will meet our deaths. That is the way the game of life works.
But in my twenty-eight short years, Iâ€™ve been struck by how similar most of us on Earth die. Of all the ways that a human being can expire, there seem to be a small number of methods that emerge again and again and again.
Death in childbirth. Death by state execution. Dead from alcoholism. Died of heroin overdose. Died of a stroke. Died because of contaminated food and water. Died in the famine. Died while starving herself skinny. Died because prostate/breast/lung/colon cancer advanced too far. Killed by her abusive husband/boyfriend. Shot to death by his battered wife/girlfriend. Murdered by her pimp. Killed in self-defense. Shot to death by the police. Shot to death at checkpoint by accident. Blown apart in familyâ€™s house from aerial bombing. Caught in friendly fire. Died while being tortured for information. Died while awaiting rescue from the flood. Died while waiting for medical attention—for five days.
Died by his own hand.
Died from gunshots sustained in drive-by a week earlier—no witnesses.
Died of a heart attack, or a broken heart.
Again and again and again and again and again.
Maybe you read this list and see the human condition. Maybe you see the consequences of neglected social problems. Maybe you see personal irresponsibility, or wonton risk-taking, or laziness, of lack of willpower, or excessive hedonism. You may see government chicanery or global politricks at its worst. You may see Godlessness, or the Devilâ€™s work, or the coming of prophecy as stated in Revelations.
I see race and gender.
I can read about a death from anorexia and guess with relative accuracy that the decedent was a White woman. I often guess correctly that the victim of a shooting death in Durham, North Carolina was a Black man, usually under the age of twenty-one. Iâ€™m usually right when I say that a woman who has killed her husband was either beaten or raped by him. I know that most lethal-force shootings by police are instigated by the police. I know that most people executed in the United States are dirt-poor drug-addicted child abuse survivors of color who end up there cause some district attorney or governor needed to stand for reelection.
Now there are more issues at stake within the subject of arbitrary human death than gender and race. There is class (of course), global resource distribution, political empowerment, political entitlement, levels of geopolitical engagement, geoeconomic concerns/crises, global policy, ecological concerns/crises—hell, the list is seemingly endless. But none of these issues/problems can be divorced from gender and race, because it is gender and race that frame our perspective and approach.
When I think of death, here is what I see.
I can see the Black or Latina single mother who neglected her own health to make sure her children had what they needed. I see the woman forced to sell her body after a lifetime of abuse and addiction. I see the gay kid who got shoved and called a faggot everyday before he was bludgeoned to death behind the school gym. I see the woman who is raped and murdered after the bastards discover her penis and scrotum. I see the many people—sick, elderly, children—who died outside the New Orleans Superdome in the hot August sun. I see the twelve-year-old girl who is forced to marry some dude old enough to be her grandfather to pay off the family debts, who is then killed because she canâ€™t fuck.
I also see that man who drinks himself into a stupor everyday, and then gets in that car to drive himself home. I see the rich kid who tried smack to be cool but now shoots up everyday so he wonâ€™t get sick. I see the poor kid who joined the Army so he could pay for college, but he will never go to school â€˜cause he bled to death in Basra. I see the suburban housewife who tried crystal meth for kicks but whoâ€™s quickly being destroyed by her addiction. I see the man who beats the shit out of them punk-ass sissies after he fucks them. I see the most popular girl in the whole school who pukes up her lunch so she wonâ€™t get fat. And I definitely see that man who hates bitches so much that he is shot to death by the one he once claimed to love.
I can see all of it, and I canâ€™t ignore it.
People, I donâ€™t pretend to know the all the answers about life and death, and I seriously doubt that any human being does. But I do know this: Kurt and Pac did not have to die when they did, and their deaths were neither natural nor predestined. Neither was my motherâ€™s.
But the roads that led to their deaths were paved for them the day they were born. This is true for you and me as well.
Iâ€™m getting off this road. Will you join me?
Consider this, my friends:
If Kurt had been a successful gospel singer who juggled her career while raising a daughter, or if Pac had been a marginally-talented Hollywood starlet who made the papers after every little breakup, or if Mom had been a high-powered executive at IBM with a stay-at-home wife to raise his three daughters, they may all still be dead.
But would they have died by the same methods? You tell me.