introduction

for white boys who love my body but think my mind is immoral

You can’t keep running in and out of my life. – The Gap Band

I want to be angry. I want my rage to carry me like it hasn’t before — to break glass, and split stones with my hands. To let loose the little girl who always wanted to be a cannon. Then I remember that I am Black. Then I remember I am sick and I am a woman. Then I remember how I’ve crafted my silence into an identity I cannot accurately name. That I have relied upon my silence as an incomplete sewing kit.

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When white boys tell me that I am beautiful, they really mean they must sever my spine in order to hoist my body in the air for themselves. White boys cannot assess without theft. They’ve learned how to seize the world and not live in it.

Too many white boys have attempted to love me. They think if they can fuck me, I will understand some part of their tenderness. They think if they fuck me, I can become human like them. And I have let it happen. I have witnessed to my own death and written my own eulogy.

Here rests a woman who scared her way into heaven. Will god throw her away too?

When white boys tell me I am beautiful, they are saying I need to be tamed, that I am growing too freely. My freedom used to be called savage but modern parlance doesn’t like to allow such glaring insights into others’ feelings. Now we twist our words not realizing time can undo any bend. And white boys know they can’t safely time travel. Time traveling will reveal who they are, but I cannot be seduced by the present because I am Black and sick and a woman.

The days when I rest from stitching the torn parts of my body are the days when they call me immoral. White boys love to tell me exactly where I have fallen. They always notice when I have stopped working. When I tell them that they are cruel for noticing my movement but not my creation, they clap back and say I am mouthy. If only white boys knew how many words Black women swallow. If only they knew the lifetime’s worth of undetonated bombs that reside in our intestines. If only they knew “being Black and alive and a woman is a metaphysical dilemma” are words we can barely comprehend no less conquer. If only they considered how many times Black women have considered suicide because it’s impossible to live and choke through every moment lived.

I am choking and they have the audacity to say they love my body. Take your hands off my neck, white boy. Learn who you are and, maybe, you can help put air back into my lungs.

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I want to be angry. I want to throw the topple-the-universe tantrum I was always told not to throw because my mama said the white folks would stare. They’d stare and I’d be embarrassing us all. They’d stare and their eyes would beget all of the hatred we knew they sheltered. I want to be mad. I want to ask white boys, How dare you show up at my funeral and use the program as a fan? You haven’t earned that right. I want my body to detonate so that they can feel the fallout of 28 years of sacrifice.

My birthday is the 43rd anniversary of Hiroshima. England held all of my mothers in Its grip. I cannot willingly trust any power but my own.

I want to do it all but then remember I am Black and I am sick and I am a woman and I’ve got so much to sew together.

 

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20. Pretty For A [Insert Qualifier Here] Girl

i.

Once I read a paragraph of all of the ways in which the word black is used negatively. And I internalized it. Hadn’t even realized how well I’d internalized it because I didn’t even think of what the words meant; I just knew they were bad. And if those black words were bad, it stood to reason that being a black person wasn’t really the best thing. Being black and female fell really low on the list of desirable traits. So that was something important, I guess. It’s something to remember when things got hard, as an explanation almost.

ii.

I once had a crush on a boy who was pinky-red in the face. I didn’t know what caused it, and my friends made fun of his weirdly pigmented skin, and I lusted after him because he was so quiet and I wanted to share in his silence. This crush went on far longer than any crush really should and one of my friends, who happened to be a confidant of the red faced boy, told me that he didn’t find black girls attractive. I know how I would react now; how I would have chimed out a Jay-Z tune, you know, “on to the next one.” But I clearly remember still liking him, and trying hard to get his attention, and forgetting how he felt because then, I was so colorblind I could transcend race. And if I was able to rise above it, so could everyone else. But there’s no use in rising above a reality.

iii.

When the boy I fell in love with told me I was beautiful, I didn’t believe him. And when he said it again, I honestly believed he wanted to  hurt me.

iv.

When I was a little girl I draped long sleeved shirts over my head. I draped the shirts around my head so that the arms dangled down and I would lash my hair back and forth and spend an unusually long time standing in front of the mirror, smiling. My mom would tell me to stop. Tell me I wasn’t white and that my hair doesn’t do that. But what she said didn’t matter because I was the most beautiful girl in the world, with a shirt for hair and hair for beauty.

v.

Her: “Do you ever want to be someone else? You know, not black.”

Me: “I felt that way today. Do you feel that way now?”

Her: “Yeah, I’m just tired of being seen and not seen.”

Me: “Amen.”

Her: “Does this make sense?”

Me: “Sometimes I want to wake up and not see myself at all.”