I am 6 years old
it’s Christmas again and I pretend
I’m not excited.
My fingers are sticky and the house
smells like cinnamon, till my family drifts in releasing the scent through the open front door. Polite blather gives way to the deep roar
of a man’s laugh, he says,
“Santa’s not black.”
Eyes dart from me to the door,
me to the floor,
back to the door.
8 years old and
I stayed home from school on Monday
because anxiety rules my life and
twists my stomach. I rise above it on Wednesday, untwist it, and march back to my desk, impressed because everyone’s eyes focus
Actuality sets in when I sit down
and Connor asks me if I heard that the kids called me “Blackie” on the playground and
had to come in from recess.
I suppress my welling tears, he sneers,
and I laugh.
10 years old,
it’s summer again and Reno says he wants to play
football. With bare feet and lip gloss I eagerly cross
the road to the school, ring the bell,
and as I wait, I trace the names of crushes engraved
into the metal and ultimately settle ******* on his.
But today is different.
He approaches with a new game called “Slaves”
which doesn’t feel like much of a game when
only one gets a gun and you can’t outrun it. So I bite my lip as airsoft pellets sting my back, my legs.
Tears stain my childish face and I let him chase me
because I adore him, however,
I don’t think he likes me anymore.
12 years old and
A Jewish boy called me a ****** today. He is bold and unafraid of the repercussions,
I want to speak but I’ve got nothing to say.
Tongue pressing my teeth
I breath deep and ... my friend yells “****.”
I don’t know what it means but it seems like he does
as he runs from the room into the open arms of our principal. Detention for me,
She’s Jewish too.
13 years old and I
don’t know what it means when they call me *******. But I can only assume
it means I’m still not welcome here.
I catch a glimpse of my teary-eyed reflection in the lenses of my teacher’s sunglasses,
black and chewed-on by his dog.
He scratches his fair hair and tells me,
“Natural selection will take care of this,”
Miffed, I don’t know if he means me
14 years old and
it’s the first day of black history month.
For lunch my school is serving fried chicken
and watermelon, it’s either that or PB&J
so I grab a tray, drag my feet to a table
and I sit alone.
A hush washes over the room
and soon, a single piece of watermelon leads
a barrage of lunch in a food fight where
I am the only target. So
Broken-hearted, I pick up the mess and throw it in the trash. My pride and my new shirt,
on top of the pile.
I smile in the mirror as if that changes a thing, and
walk out of the bathroom and into the hot sting
that radiates from their gaze. I tell myself it’s
a phase, and in due time I’ll have a place where I am safe from them-
but Sharpies stain and the school budget doesn’t include paint so the words “Go home monkey” will remain
on my locker, covered in tape,
as a daily reminder for the rest of the year.
I didn’t mean to curse at Rachel’s mom
but she asked me if I’d spoken to my Uncle Tom today and
I lost my ever loving ****.
I excused myself to the porch where their dog tried to bite me, because she doesn’t like brown skin or loud mouths either. I‘m never going back.
With a baby in my stomach
and a lump in my throat I sit, arms crossed, across from my principle; He says that attendance is an integral part of my success this year, so it’s best for me to
postpone my diploma and stay at home.
I respond with “no thank you” and stare through him as
he walks me to the door.
Before it swings shut his whispers catch up and
I cringe as he swears to his secretary
that he can’t be expected to save us all.
“It’s a statistic.”
caught in between a woman and a child
I dangle in space, contemplating my place in
a world that’s hell-bent on hating me before recognizing
By now, I think, I know that it won’t stay dark forever, so I eagerly await the dawn, crouching in the corner
hopeful that I will one day be UNseen.
And I truly believe that I am a Warrior,
a force to be reckoned with.
Because I am grown now, well adjusted, unscathed, and
23 years old and
I still don’t know what it means to be left
unbothered. But I’m oddly familiar with what it’s like being followed through the store, questioned by a clerk,
and rushed out the door.
I don’t understand why, and I don’t care, to be fair, but
I can’t take it anymore.
I am 24 years old and
for the first time, in a long time, it is quiet.
Only under this cloak of silence
have I begun to pry loose the armor that grew over
my brown skin. The armor that cinched off my ears, covered my eyes, and protected me throughout the years. Beneath it, I’ve discovered gashes
cut through to my bones,
once-soft flesh now turned to soft-stone, and I am no warrior.
I am still a 6 year old girl who spent so much time crafting a shield to protect myself,
that I never had time to learn about myself.
Beneath my armor I am
I am breathless.
And I am Black.
It’s a long road to self-acceptance, but I’m walking it.