Nigger: An Open Letter to the White Moderate

Good evening. I pen this missive with a kind, calming smile pasted to my acceptably brown face.
Dear Friend, I am not angry. I hope this finds you and yours well. This is the result of
My contemplation and you deserve notice
Of that which I have found.
Last week you called yourself
Blacker than me.
The setting: any place in America. The subject: music.
I expressed interest in Generic Pop Group.
You expressed interest in Mainstream Hip Hop Artist.
Result: you proclaimed yourself blacker than me.
You: I’m blacker than you are!
In the moment I confess I was silent.
Your audacity intrigued me, dear friend.
In the moment I felt the familiar heat of doubt,
followed by the icy cold of righteous anger and
The stinging heat of the noose.
Yes, friend, I was angry.
In death they say
you see your life flash before you.
In death–death of myself as a
“Safe Black Friend”–I saw mine, the weight
Of nooses around my neck:
I saw my acceptability for my
safe language
and my passing into your space
as long as I was above–more than–
your White neutral friends.
I saw myself answering your
many questions and enduring your
Exaggerated neck rolls and your silence
in the face of the aggression
of our White peers.
I saw myself smiling weakly
at your blackccent and overlooking your never ending questions
(no, I don’t know anyone who does that,
yes, this is my hair,
no I can’t teach you to twerk).
All of this in death I saw.
When I came through you were a thing, a foreign creature
That I could not behold.
It is true. I cannot look at you,
dear moderate.
Even while the noose lingers,
I set my eyes apart from you.
I cannot stomach your insistence on
Being “one of us,”
your obsession with
our bodies and your well-meaning passive aggressive complaints about the state our homes.
Your hostile complaints about Us as They
*they don’t take care of their kids!
*they are the real racists!
*they keep racism alive by talking about it!

I cannot abide your
silencing and demanding voice when
that Awful White Guy With Whom
You Disagree said (insert thing that hurt
your feelings), your sending me after him with your coded “Racist!”
Yes, you use it ironically, moderate.
According to you the use of the word “nigger” is much worse than the action of Nigger performed against Black bodies:
my continued denied employment or
my son’s continued need to prove
the worth of his existence
Or my daughter’s continued absence
From any narrative, the violence
Continually enacted upon her
(I imagine you reading this, moderate, rolling your eyes, claiming: she’s just angry…
thugs like him perpetuate the stereotype…)
You are usually silent when we are killed, moderate. Or, you want to wait. For the facts. Why, moderate?
Why does my skin create
discomfort within you?
Why do you get to speak to what issues
Will be important, moderate?
Why do you beckon to me
To put down my cause
And take up yours?
Why must I wait for you to care?
Why do you offer your support with strings,
Why do you threaten me with it
When I displease you?
You claim you are one of us.
You claim to stand beside us.
Come then, moderate.
They will arrive soon with hoses
And taunts
And violence.
To them you will be a Nigger.
The actions will sting more
Than the word ever could.
Didn’t you know–the power is not in
My “hurt feelings!”
The power of Nigger is the
system behind the word!
You probably can’t see it from
Your vantage.
You will though.
When you come.
They may kill you, moderate.
They may deny you patronage
And heritage.
If you are one of us, come.
I leave you, moderate, with this:
If you are to be one of us, be one of us.
But know, dear moderate–
to be black is to be
in danger
of being
a Nigger.
To be a nigger
You have to endure
All manner of abuses
And people like you
Demanding we smile pretty
Lest you withdraw your malleable
To be a nigger
you have to be able
to endure the noose.

anxiety, or, a letter to my disorder

I thought you’d be smoking a cigarette this time
And that every time you took a drag
Your face would light with the embers
And you would blow the smoke over your shoulders
And you would sneer at me and blow me a tobacco stained kiss
And you would laugh, “I missed you.”

I’ve wondered about you. I shouldn’t.
I’ve wondered about you the way I wonder about an open wound; I attempt to ignore it when others are around. But I stare at it and wonder what kind of scar it will leave.

So you left abruptly. The windows were thrown wide, a summer rain sweeping through the house, the wind scattering the pellets in wide open mouthed gusts.
I was busy picking up the pieces of the wreckage when I realized I didn’t know where you were.

I looked for you, too. In the place–you know the one–that you usually lie. Casually, your body splayed, dirt caked on your feet. Ruining everything. You weren’t there.

I became comfortable. I spoke about you and I didn’t bother lowering my voice. I spoke about you in the past, a nuisance that I’d rid myself of.
How long have you watched me? Watched me undress and unwind?
Watched me become comfortable with my body, with my breasts which are lower than they used to be, lower than most; with my tangled matted hair that won’t submit to the ribbon or the brush; to the deep ombré skin specked with wavy lines and purple scars? Watched me pull at the padding around my belly and lift my leg at the junction of my thigh and frown a bit and sigh. Watched me see these parts separately and then all together and then like them?

I didn’t look for you, and I should have. I should have felt your shadow hovering over me. When my heart leapt and I pounced on it and it became my prey and I was useless to my mind and powerless to stop it–I should have known. Your stench is everywhere.

Your shadow is cast over my existence; every part of me is chained to you and what you will do to the things I love.

Your touch turns what I love to ash.
I thought of ash, when finally I considered you. What you would look like. What kind of recurrence you would make.
And then I forgot about you. A burning Georgia sun blistered my back, and I didn’t consider you. I closed my eyes and let the wind take me away and I didn’t feel you.

Now you are here and you’ve brought me to my knees. I mentioned you–I should have–and they did as you wanted.
They thought they knew you. They told me to ignore you. You would go away if I ignored you.
An old boyfriend that I shouldn’t call.
But you have everything. You know everything.
You have covered me in ash and soot and you’ve made a mess of me again. I wish I could end you.
Hold you under water and watch the life flee from you.
But you hold my life in your hands, between your fingers, pulling deep drags from it, breathing the excess over your shoulders.
Here I am again. You are here also.

sweet brown

Don’t you dare cry out.

Come here.
Stand there. Just there.
Speak to me. Your tone
It ignites something within me.
I hate you.
Stay there.
Stay where I have placed you.
I will leave you
And destitute.
I will rape your mother
And murder your son
Don’t you dare cry out.

I will take the tears
That stream your face unending
As your consent.
Why do you cry for me
But you don’t look at your brother
If you whisper that you have
You claim that I forced both of you,
I will leave.
I will take with me my brother
We do not get along–we hate one another,
But we cast aside our differences
When it comes to our hatred
Of you.

Stay there. Right there.
Feel the line that you walk
Know that I am above you
And beneath
I am your weight
And your anchor.
Your existence
And your worthiness
Must first meet my approval.
I hate you.
My god hates you, too.
Feel the despair
Of being nothing
Of your life measured in
And the comfort that you brought
One of my brothers.
Know that if another
Kills you
I will rejoice in your absence
If I do not, know that I will not miss you.

Die for the first time
When you cradle him in your arms
When you realize that beautiful
Brown boy, the one you felt
In your lower back,
The one who stopped you breathing
With his beauty and existence,
The one whose words spoke you
Into being,
That beautiful brown boy
Will be laid low, grounded because
I hate you
And I have taught my brothers to hate you,
That beautiful brown boy
Will be lynched and burned and
Lynched again,
And they will show an image that is not
And they will not care
And he will be dead
And in death they will destroy him;
Die again when his killer
Calls him a monster
And says he was afraid of your
Beautiful brown boy
And he goes home
And sleeps in his bed,
And you go to the house
And your heart is empty;
Die for the final time
When a beautiful brown boy
Turned brown man
Steps on you on his way
To the top
And distances himself from you
And his words declare
You the least of all beings
And hear my words
From his lips–
Don’t you dare cry out.

Stay here.
No one else will have you
You are the mule of the world
And their God hates you
And there is nowhere in the world for you

Here. Right here.
Against my brown breast
My fiercely beating heart beneath
Here is where you will rest
And flourish
And soothe your aching bones.
Here. Right here.
Beneath my brown hands
My steady, kneading hands
Gripping yours
You will strengthen
And continue.

Rest awhile.
Be angry.
Rage, even.

Let not one tear fall for them.
They will come, but they will be
For you.
Do not bow your head
Do not let them carry your resting
And waking hours away
From you.
You will feel the anguish
In your bones.
Feel it
In the place where your soul resides
Feel it
But don’t you dare cry out.