I must admit I’m nervous.
Nervous to stand in front of those I know well and those only vaguely.
Nervous to proclaim the things which have caused turmoil within me.
Nervous to talk about a topic always avoided so tactfully.
So forgive me if I shake and my voice and body quake.
But know that my tremors are not those of timidness mere,
but those of desperation, indignation, fear.
My concerns used to haunt me.
I held on to all my worries, letting them consume me.
Too weak to fight, too weak to let go.
Too weak to let go, fears gouging my life force,
leaving me an ocean of ragged breaths and salty tears.
And so I initiated my own downfall,
withdrawing into myself, internalizing my turbulent emotions.
When my mother, brimming with tears and grief,
told me of yet another black male shot and killed on the street,
another human paraded through the media in living death,
another officer’s wrongful actions validated by the law’s rotting breath,
another moment of stillness, chests tight with loss,
I could not disclose to her my thoughts.
But I speak to you now.
Not as a juvenile afraid of the scars she would soon bear,
But as a child who speaks freely about race and racism
because race and racism have spoken quite freely to her.
Mom, I'm scared.
There are so many people,
their voices the 400 years we’ve somehow survived.
They’re surrounding, clamoring, demanding my ear
insisting all is well, but I can see that it’s not.
I’m drowning slowly in their cacophonous melody.
It’s getting harder to see through blinding lights
I can barely hear my rights over the siren’s sweet goodnight.
And what social rights do I have, really?
They're not mine, they’ve only ever existed in theory.
I was granted, gifted the privilege of being a human.
But perhaps this matters only to us.
There is no injustice in the eyes of the oppressor.
There can be no injustice in the eyes of the oppressor.
All is fair through colorblind lenses.
From this my true fear stems.
How can I break the glass protecting their conscience?
How can I fight institutions existing only to us?
But what do I deserve anyway?
My ancestors didn't colonize this country.
(We were to serve as farm tools, not citizens.)
My ancestors didn't immigrate here for freedom.
(Because we were seized, sold, imprisoned,
for their betterment, not ours.)
My ancestors didn't found this great nation.
(Who could create a nation built on their own people’s degradation?)
I try, I try so hard to reach their level.
But every time I do, they say that I didn't.
Not like them, I didn’t work hard like them.
I was accepted because of the box checked on my application.
And if I surpass the meager expectations for my race,
I am undeserving, I’m a disgrace.
Achieving through conformity,
complying to criteria consisting of our similarities.
Here’s the understood secret:
we were never even supposed to break free of our physical chains,
let alone our institutional bonds.
Can't they see my success doesn’t come at the cost of their failure Mom?
If I am to be successful,
if I am to hurdle the boundaries only we see,
only we feel when we stumble,
only we cry when wounds torment.
I must be the exception.
Our success threatens the very apex of our hierarchal society.
No, their society.
Their society, not ours.
See our wellbeing pains, our lives discomfort.
they threw curves in our road,
we take twice as long and are twice as sick
by the time we reach the halfway tick they’ve passed long ago.
But let me say this:
the myth of our unattainable success we must dismiss.
We must dismiss the obstacles thrown in our way,
paving a new, straight path to equity.
Yet in my senior class I am but one of two black girls.
And if you believe other black females simply weren't qualified,
then American prejudice has led you astray.
I’d love to accept the title of excellence,
but how can I do so when others can't even try?
When I am the one percent in my class?
Through this I do not attempt to maintain the cycle of blame and demonization.
I will not widen the dangerous divide anymore,
for if it grows we will surely be swallowed whole,
plunged into the deepest circle of Dante.
And “they” are not simply white, are not always white.
We cannot continue this culture of otherizing.
We cannot, we will not, survive as “us versus them.”
I only wish to show you all what I feel
in the hopes that you all will feel something too.
You’re not wholly culpable for your actions,
Like me you are still growing.
We are shaped by the views and behaviors of our parents.
And there’s no greater American heritage than that of racism.
Now, together, together, we must fight malignant prejudices.
We mustn't look for a party to shame into silence,
but for solutions which build our future,
rectifying the ramifications of the past;
for moral strength to break apathy’s cast.
It’s not my fault the adversity I face,
nor yours the privilege you were born with.
You’re only to blame when you deny the wrongdoings, refuse to uplift, ignore the protests.
I wasn’t born immoral or evil, nor were you.
I was born to a loving mother and father,
My summers were spent playing in the protective bubble of a suburban town.
But all bubbles must burst and like an explosion, mine did.
Reaching for a hug from a child no more than six.
My friends, one after another,
receiving the warming nature of a child’s love.
I was not worthy of that love.
He seemed apologetic that he had to refuse.
I am apologetic for him, his father warped him before morality could rebuke.
Still resounding in my heart are the words from his lips:
“I’m sorry, I don’t hug black people because my dad doesn’t like them.”
How to confront the tears of new knowledge?
How could the camp counselor possibly be equipped for this?
She just needed to earn money for college.
Tears in her eyes and pain in her voice
as she told me she’d seen the absolute ugliness too.
Words of school children turning a beloved cookie into memories,
haunting and taunting.
Shaming the skin she had once loved,
For the offense of a mother white and a father black.
How was this to soothe me?
How was this to soothe me?
How does knowing this hatred is long and far reaching, soothing?
Awareness crept further into consciousness as a realization emerged,
blooming and bruising:
maybe my skin tone does matter.
Jokes can be injustice in its most venomous form,
perpetrating racism as the hilarious norm.
“I'm so tan, I'm blacker than you!”
“You don’t need any of my sunscreen, your skin will protect you!”
My childhood friend.
“You’re one of the good ones, you go to The Hill School!”
“Just because you’re darker than her doesn’t mean you have to follow her around like a shadow.”
I was nine, he must have been thirty, he should've known better.
They all should have known better,
but known better than to tell their vitriolic jokes in my presence, or to not say them at all?
If once is an accident then what do you call two times, three times, four? Five?
It’s all a lie, racism didn’t end with slavery.
And it sure didn’t end with reconstruction.
Oh roll of thunder please hear my cry as I read the bones where memories lie!
Fire hoses and teargas.
Police dogs and Billy clubs.
“Freedom now!” and “Hands up don't shoot!”
“Black power!” and “Black lives matter!”
“No justice, no peace!” and “I can't breathe!”
1960 or 2017?
but hell does that mean?
Racism is alive and well
and I have heard its noxious knell.
If you haven’t heard it you’re not listening.
It booms in the policies of the housing market,
it chimes mockingly in the policies of education,
it echoes in every harsh sentence of the court system,
it thunders in every meaningful aspect of our lives.
Yet we continue to ignore the pleas of hundreds of thousands,
because it’s uncomfortable.
Daddy, I'm worried.
I'm so tired of fighting, arguing,
screaming into archaic smiles.
Are my eyes those of some inverted Medusa?
Because their hearts turn to stone when I turn my face.
They harden when I'm just another case.
How could anyone be so base?
What happens if I give up?
Do I settle like the dust kicked up from a storm?
Lying my back onto the ground from which I had foolishly hoped to rise?
And what of my ancestors?
Kings and queens, stargazers and architects,
the very beginnings of humanity manifest.
So much history remains untold,
it seems we’re destined to be defined in terms of slavery’s mold.
We’re portrayed as barbarians starving helplessly in the brush,
rabidly dancing to the beat of primeval drums.
That is, that is, until white culture selflessly civilized us.
Sister, I'm sorry.
Apologetic for the world you will see.
Troubled knowing you will have questions,
for what they say and how they act,
and that I will never have answers for you.
Distressed knowing you might internalize the prejudice
reflecting it in turn onto other little girls. Anxious
you should break free of subtle shackles
which no longer clang with the sound of metal,
but with the tears of our quiet realizations
and their quieter ignorance.
I am uneasy for your future,
knowing you will be forced to qualify,
validate, your opinions in a voice that is
strained, yes, but pleasantly obliging to their doubts even so.
Lest they dismiss you for having the emotions
which they alone have the right to show.
Sister you’ve heard my worries
but they’re hardly mine.
They’ve passed through our family
for American racism isn't subject to time.
And you might wonder why we still fear.
It’s 2017, surely we have a world pristine?
And I’m sorry once again
to wake you from empty slumber.
But to blind your mind is to bind your body.
For when we silence truth to avoid being uncouth,
we lock the door to the prison cell we were born in.
Our power is not strength in body,
but fortitude in mind.
Not dominance in society,
but will to speak.
And the moment we lose our voice,
we lose our lives.
I cannot lose you to our culture Gabrielle.
I know to protect you I must hurt you.
This education hurts. It’s the greatest pain I know.
But you have no choice but to learn.
It’s essential to the survival of your body and of your mind;
of your morals and of your strength;
of your empathy and of your compassion;
of our bond, not only as sisters,
but as black women.
Let this not be another righteous child’s angsty pleas,
or the privileged child’s calls for attention,
laurels resting on another’s agony.
But the words of a child who has seen,
felt, the injustice which we face.
The injustice of a nation whose eyes cry for the downtrodden,
but whose idle hands remain staunchly folded in the lap of apathy.