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Poetry

Woke? Hell, when have we slept?

Before I understood what words like “racism” and “discrimination,” meant,
before phrases like “white supremacy” and “implicit bias”
lodged their definitions into my lexicon,
I knew there were people who didn’t like my appearance.
They detested how my well-oiled dark-skin
glistened in the sun, or,
I learned, they didn’t like the tight coils of my hair –
and not like how I didn’t like my hair because my sister’s magic touch was painful although my coif was well-manicured.

There was no love for my thick lips or thick thighs.
And not for the intelligent conversations in which I engaged, using the language they cherished better than they could.
Eyes widened in shock and awe because they had discovered three Black children shared the same parents.

They labeled me gifted as if intelligence was an anomaly in my kind.
They looked at me with curiosity and fear. With longing and dread. I noticed the descriptors. This was a “Black neighborhood,“she was a “Black author,” rap was “Black music.”  They said “well-spoken” and “articulate” but what they didn’t say was louder.

So you see, I’m not woke. 

Being Black in America means you don’t get to sleep. Even when you want to. 
You don’t get to breathe, or run, or live, or die with dignity. 

What you get is reminders, some subtle, some not, of your place.
You get to beg and plead for your humanity. 
You get to pretend to be OK while showing up to work or school, 
despite the heaviness of rage and hurt circulating below the surface.
Because you are your ancestor’s wildest dreams. 
You don’t stop. 
You can’t stop. 
You get exhaustion.
But you don’t get to sleep. 
Ever.

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