Part 1: United States of America: 1619
Four centuries ago
Twenty of us were stolen
Dragged to Jamestown
Sold for some amount
Tobacco, cotton, crops galore
They needed more
A beginning that repeats
And never ceased
Melanin mushed on boats
Covered in our own
Feces and micturition
Even Spain had their ambition
Whips and cries pouring
Everyone knows the story
Four centuries ago
Part 2: Libya: 2017
A few weeks ago
We were trending
Like chocolate bars, we were sold
Midnight melanin and bones on Libya’s coast
Our blue skin plea coated
Human rights demoted
Migrating from harmful homes
Just to be owned
Our bodies as currency
Celebrities tweet awareness
But still there’s lamented fairness
A few weeks ago
Part 3: United States of America: 2018
Another one of us stolen
Instead of bodies, lives
Dreads and afros
getting shot in backroads
Fingertips reaching for justice
Fingertips pulling the trigger
All vs black
Cases never cracked
Social media arguing over who matters
A badge so little
But we shake with our Arizonas and Skittles
Trayvon, Sandra, Philando, we can’t remember all our names
Even when kneeling, they don’t see the pain
Part 4: United States of America: Today
It’s all subliminal
Instead of “niggers”, it’s criminals
40 percent of the prisons
Persuaded pleas to say you did it
5 fifths snatched back
They give each other wrist slaps
In the 1600s we grew the crops
Now JCPenny tops
Cocaine vs crack
Meaning white vs. black
Transmuting into prison cages
Our melanin behind bars
Presidents hitting ‘restart’
How could we be so far
yet so close
To four centuries ago?
In My Neighborhood
They don’t deliver pizza. CEO’s fear something would happen to drivers. We’re on the news a lot. Tragedies to the white folk across the tracks. Sad sighs to the black folk. Their grass is greener, literally. Cut and patchless, full of yellow and white flowers. Ours has empty bags of cheap chips floating in a murky sea of green grass that’s barely there. The police watches Phil’s purple house because that’s where he drinks purp while whelping weed. He lives next to a playground where teens have blunts and Febreeze in their book bags. They’re probably working on a warrant so they can take his plants. They sit in these old Toyotas to keep their cover. We all know who they are. My friends and I walk past them. We feel them staring at us. We don’t stare back. The wrong look can get you killed. Not just by cops. Wearing a wrong color requires no eye contact. Head down. If you look at the ground long enough, you’re bound to see a bullet. It may have blood on it. It may not. I just keep walking til I make it home. I keep walking til I make it somewhere.
How to Fit In
Know all the rap songs
When “niggah” surfaces in a lyric
Blue and green eyes will beg for your permission
Blonde haired heads will wonder if you’re offended
You can’t be
You like fried chicken and watermelon but like it a little more
Have a recipe prepared for when they ask you how to make it
And an answer on if collard greens and cornbread are as good
As they’ve heard from their other black friends
Who are probably doing the same thing as you
Never take an invitation to a pool party
Insert a joke about fear of getting your weave wet
Or not being able to swim
They don’t need to know that you can
Pools parties will only make you darker
You’re dark enough
Ignore their mentions of your body
They truly mean it when they say
“You have nice lips.”
Their sunscreen jokes are a form of jealousy
Deep down, they want to be you
Don’t make any slavery jokes
The guilt will overbear them into avoidance
You don’t need that
You’re a chestnut dot in their porcelain world
You’ll never be able to fit in
So just fit what they assume you to be
Don’t be depressed
And a Christian
Because suicide is a sin.
Stay in this hell
or bleed to a worse one.
I told my mom I was miserable.
She implied my ingratitude.
My face unplugged.
Go pray, she said.
I prayed for an hour
20 minutes - fidgeting fingers and a
flashing cursor for a brain.
40 minutes - thoughts tumbling into the
doubt of God's ears.
I quit as if up were a gift.
My classmate caught me peering at her scars
Yeah I cut myself. So what?
Because it makes me feel better
I gave her a synthetic smile.
White people be crazy.
I prayed again today
30 minutes - 30 balloons popping in the sky.
My knees hurt like the back of throats.
I go to the bathroom to weep.
My mom's eyebrow razor is by the sink.
Tears and blood blend on my thighs.
I hope the blood is helium.
And the tears a wind
to push the prayers
Black? White? Both?
I’m not sure who made the spectrum of
That started light
And ended in shadows.
I looked to both sides
And then put myself in the middle.
The Little Bear of the world.
Not too dark.
Not too light.
I told my white friend
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find my shade of makeup.
It’s sad how they have limited options for dark skinned people.
Her words snatched me
And dragged me to the silhouette side.
When I was 18 years old,
My co-worker picked her bleached afro
Then asked me what I was.
You look mixed.
As in light skinned?
What was it?
Couldn’t have been my hair
It had to be my skin.
Was I beautiful?
Because your mom.
And a high head knocked down.
No, she just bleaches her skin.
Then continued her attendance
To her blonde kinks.
My sophomore year of high school
I joined band.
During the summer
We’d be outside for hours marching.
By fall, I changed.
My pictures didn’t look the same.
I was ugly.
I lost weight,
Mommy bought me new clothes,
And my makeup was complimented daily.
I quit band
And a few months later
I looked in the mirror
I wasn’t ugly anymore.
I thought my cousin CheChe was the prettiest in the family.
She had good hair
That grew fast and curly.
She never seemed to get ashy.
My classmate didn’t believe she was any kin to me.
She white, how she yo cousin?
Another classmate corrected the other
She not white. She a redbone.
I stare at the girls on the posters.
They’re the antonym of my complexion.
Then I study the five shades of melanin swiped on my arm.
I buy the middle one.
Choya Randolph: "I’m an M.F.A. student at Adelphi University, set to graduate May 2018. I’m an adjunct professor at Adelphi University and have a B.A. in Mass Communications. My work has been published by Her Campus, The Crow’s Nest, NNB News and elsewhere. I’m a proud Floridian who lives happily on Long Island in New York."