Wrapped up in Racism and Discrimination

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”

-Zora Neale Hurston

Trigger Warning: Racism, Verbal Abuse/ Harassment

On Friday April 21, 2017, I experienced an event that made me reframe myself as an black attendee of a predominantly white institution. I had to redefine myself, because on this day at approximately 1:30 pm I parked in the Hearnes Center Parking Lot and I was verbally harassed on the basis of my blackness and my expression of my culture. I was wearing my headscarf  as I usually do, but it was ignorantly mistaken for a religious scarf. I was assigned to park in the Hearnes Center at the beginning of the semester and that is where my permit applies. All semester I have felt relatively safe parking here, but after the incident of being called out of my name and antagonized I haven’t felt the same. On this particular day, the Hearnes Center had been the location of pedestrian parking for families and individuals attending the Futures Farmers of America event held in the athletics building. The following incident, therefore,  was not involving attendees of the University of Missouri, rather common folk visiting the University, a residence of the Columbia community I suppose.

I’ve been at this University for 3 years and I’ve never experienced racism so blatantly. I was gathering my things out of the backseat of my car and I overhear 2 white men with slight accents. I hear their country accent from 2 cars away and turn to see them peering through their tinted windows slightly rolled down. I feel them staring at my appearance and suddenly a terrible feeling develops in my stomach.

I had my hair wrapped in a beautiful bright blue head scarf. The edges of my hair were smoothed and laid down and I had felt very confident about my appearance before I left the house, but what they say to me next, formed me into a spectacle to them because they try to engage me, “What are you Jewish with that piece of cloth on your head?” They laugh to themselves. I don’t respond. I keep my eyes down. I have work on campus at the student center and I’m supposed to be catching the next bus.

They talk to each other about me “What is she–a sand nigger!” The two burst into laughter making a show of me for passengers in the back of the van.

“These niggers are terrorist!” I hear one of them say.

Urban Dictionary defines “sand n*ggers” : a person of Middle Eastern descent due to the various desert regions there. Usually meant in a disparaging and demeaning way.

This racial slur is derogatory for multiple reasons that I honestly shouldn’t even have to explain.

I closed the door to my car and walked behind the van the two men were in.

I took out my phone and photographed their license plate. There were younger voices coming from the back of the van that giggled while I was being  antagonized. But while I stood there, phone in hand, a hush fell over the van and the people were intimidated by my boldness.

Obviously I had been misidentified as muslim, jewish, and then middle eastern. I’m black and obviously black but they got it wrong. If they wanted to say anything derogatory nigg*r would have been just fine. It’s almost as if the two men couldn’t help but show their hate for multiple minorities through using a token element of my cultural identity–the head scarf– as an entry way to tear me down. I’ve written a blog post on desforpres.wordpress.com about headscarf previously. It can be found here *Wrapped Life: Why I Wear Headscarves * if you’re wondering my reasons for wearing a head scarf, although my motives do not impact the harmfulness of these people’s actions.

I’ve been deeply saddened by the islamophobic and anti-black words said to me and the most unsettling fact is that I’m not even muslim, but because of the ignorance and lack of cultural awareness these white men attributed my headwear as exclusive to only Middle Eastern women. Mind you, the head scarf I was wearing didn’t look anything comparable to a hijab, a burka, or gele. It was tied into a low bun, instead. The word “sand nigger” both erased  my identity as a black woman by making me into a foreigner; while also making a spectacle of my blackness through the usage of the word “nigger”.

These people obviously had little to no cultural awareness and they lacked knowledge of my intellect and underestimated my ability because I did some research and the license plate literally says Fayette School District Car 3. So whoever thought that was okay to try to demean me in the presence of children, within the context of a school sponsored trip picked on the wrong ni…

While I didn’t report this to the police because of a deep sense of distrust that I have because of prior and reoccurring racially motivated incidents on my campus, I did take action by reporting this event to a great majority of my peers as well as by filing a report with the Title IX Office under Civil Rights with the University. My aim is to inform and educate at this point.

Racism is not new, but the revamped cousin of racism is xenophobia based on foreign-ness. Black people speak english, eat American food, were born here, yet because of our skin color will never be able to assimilate to White America. However, foreigners can in some ways blend in by shedding their distinct cultural customs and capitalize off their greater proximity to whiteness than blacks have. As a black woman who experienced hate speech freshly a few days ago, I considered trying to assimilate by stopping my donning of my scarves, even if they were truly beautiful. All of my friends I talked to, told me not to change on account of someone else’s ignorance, and I agree. I shouldn’t change. I shouldn’t assimilate. I should continue on and wear my headscarves even more proudly as a symbol of my heritage and my pride in my identity.

While I’d like to sulk about this recent event, I’m oddly calm because I know that this event serves as an opportunity to shape me into a stronger and redefined woman. As a black woman, I’ve made it my part-time hustle to transact pain into something more beautiful than the dirt and grime of the inspiring incident. You can expect me to cope through writing a poem about this. You can expect me to continue to stand in solidarity with foreigners, immigrants, as well as Muslims and Jews who are undergoing persecution on account of their spiritual identities.

I pray that because I didn’t respond, because I bridled my tongue my actions speak louder than the message I preach with my keyboard, that Love always wins. The racism I encountered on the 21st of April cannot break me and can only solidify the strength and power with in me. I win and the haters lose. I am fabulous and not defined by those who not only cannot beat me, but who cannot join me. They were small town farmers who likely aren’t educated on social issues or even current events. These individuals didn’t even know what a hijab was, so how can I attach anything they say to my spirit? How can I let them weigh me down? How are they relevant to me? An educated soon to be graduating Senior at the University Majoring in English? Where do these common folk compare to me?

I was very troubled at the time of the incident simply because of the pure ignorance and hate. I was angry because I knew that the expectation was for me to walk away. I regret the fact that oppressed individuals always are tasked to not act, but really all this could be avoided if racists just minded their business. But in retrospect, walking away was my only valid option because these ignorant people literally aren’t worth my time and energy. I couldn’t let negativity drain me. I won because I saved my energy and conserved my energy to do something more positive and constructive than physical violence. Physical violence is destructive but educating and exposure are constructive.

I plan to share this story with as many people as possible to raise awareness about islamophobia, anti-blackness, and anti-semitism at large, but especially, where they find themselves on the University of Missouri’s campus.

Understand that racism still exists and is alive and well, but only because black people still exist. Black people are still here, after years of dehumanization, colonization, ethnic cleansing, gentrification, the war on drugs, the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration. We Still Lit even after these violences that have and still do threaten our lives. So while I was called a nigger because of my appearance, I was only antagonized because I’m a ni**a that’s still here, and I’m sure those two white individuals could NOT stand the thought of me not even acknowledging their presence. They couldn’t stand the thought of me, an educated black woman, attending a higher educational institution. Living good and eating better.

They probably were just bitter that I have access to knowledge and hosts of resources , more than they do.

Or maybe they were just upset that I had the nerve to be black and embrace it at the same time by covering my hair and proudly expressing the african tradition of headdress.

 

They can’t kill us.

Not even with their words.

I think I did the right thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Noodle that Needed Softening

You are the boiling brass pot of water

She is the noodle that needed to soften

You went easy on me, but after I let down no walls

You had to try harder and that’s why intimacy scares her because it always pushes her farther

Than her feet are willing to carry such weight

and the anxiety traps one in more often

And while I wield the power to unlock the gate

I feel locked inside my emotions

I fear that if I pour all this passion into your cupped hand the majority of me will splash right onto the marble floors

Not to mention the spill feeling like a casual accident but will you at least try to hold onto me?

Will you try to hold onto me by my sides not my lid

after you’ve done such slick and slippery work of grasping my layers and biting back at my bruised places

can you see past the image of this secure strong woman

who is only so resolutely withstanding breakage because she disallows the smallest tinge of fragile care

can you see through the transparence of strength  in exchange for her vulnerabilities in need of repair

that which breaks resets to passion anew through her honest and forgiving prayer

She is not so strong as to not flood cities when outpoured

For the same strength that drives men away

Was a love they at first adored

The same strength that drives out fear

was an intimidation rest assured

While she is the noodle that needed to soften

She would like to say that she possesses the kind of softness that you do not feel with your hands

her wispy softness comes in whispered conversation

in footsteps treading lightly to sneak out of broken homes

in woodpecker taps on  doors left ajar just to warn the inhabitant of your entrance

in the thunder barely audible

sourced at a storm whose rain you never want to feel drip down your face the way tears do

her softness is the tear that has ever violently ripped down your cheek, but never made a sound,

you never made a sound, in the same kind of hard, quite fortitude we all love to feign

Except she doesn’t pretend, at least not anymore,

because all the tears were dress rehearsals till she finally learned her lines

In the act, she concluded her pain was divine

And she doesn’t have to play unaffected when pain is applied

She made pain her stronghold

And overcoming, her hobby in her free time

 

 

 

 

I have no sexual shame. And I will not apologize for it!

Arms Akimbo

The girls I see that seem to have it all together

Are the same girls that have one frail, naïve hand on their hip

In an akimbo position that I know so well

With the other hand swinging back and forth as they speak

Private conversation pulling me in like a pendulum

So carefree momentarily that I am captivated when I try to keep up with many long limbs with my squinty eyes

And how fast they speak

“She was like and he was like” they repeat during one of those paramount stories

That seem only trivial to those who pass by

It is music to my ears, melodiously intrinsic

What is often not understood is often not well liked

But these same girls are little versions of me

Walking silhouettes of what they dream to be

And when they look in the mirror, they see

A hollow shell waiting to be filled with something

Anything at all

So they seem to have it all together but I tapped each one of them and I heard an echo

Much like the echo I hear when I tap a sweet ripe watermelon at the fresh market

And what a struggle life will be for them

If they continue to walk around hallow

What a perilous task it is to be themselves

So as I see these girls’ arms akimbo

Some hands on the right hip

Some hands on the left I smile

I hope that they will discover what gives them a sure satisfaction

That sweet contentment of the moment, this very moment

Far Far before I did

I hope that they will discover what it means to be beautiful

How to formulate a confident styling grace

How to make a beautiful face that does not harshly scrutinize

With eyes that do not glint in confusion at him

With lips that do not curl up at her

Far Far before I did

Wrapped Life: Why I Wear Headscarves

Warm and tightly stitched, soft to the touch, the fabric hangs high over my head as the strength in my arms supports its flimsy structure. I lift the scarf stretching it lengthwise and positioning the center on my forehead leaving my baby hairs exposed. My 9 month old locs are now tucked under the colorful and beautifully textured material. Unless you’ve seen me prior to meeting me in my headscarf you don’t know what my hair looks like under its protective layer. What kinks and coils you may find under such a piece of art and artifact, the world may never know.

Under this wrap doesn’t just lay the history of Aunt Jemimas and countless creole cooks of the south and nursing nannies of the North. I don the “hard working black woman who protects her hair from dirt and grime” wrap. I don the “my hair ain’t been done or fixed up in a minute” wrap. I don the “natural hair is tons of work” head wrap. Under this wrap lies the secret of what my crown looks like. The curves of my coils and the spirit of my outer beauty is concealed behind the tapestry wrapped around the physical holder of my brain and my thoughts. When I cover my hair, I wrap away the beauty and the struggle.

Without getting too deep I find it comforting taking on this covert disguise. I find it comforting to have individuals look at my face and not develop an idea of who I am based on my locs, which have so much energy and vibrancy, my locs which do not smell, my tangled strands which I nurture like a well rooted plant. I massage a combination of organic oils into my roots for strength, thickness, and overall wellness. I take the best care of my hair in the best way I know how, for my hair is magic. Is it any wonder I every now and then must cover it, and hide it away and close it off from scrutiny and too much attention. Must my hair always be a topic of conversation? A heavily integrated discourse regarding black culture?

A head wrap is not just a fashion statement. A head wrap is a political statement which removes me from the mouth of those who have so much commentary on what the standard of beauty is and what it should be. I express my inner beauty by wearing my headscarf. I hide my outer beauty through covering my organically formed locs.

Wrapped life till I die.

 

-Des4Pres

 

The Poison of Wanting and Waiting

Last night I told him I’d be back before the stems dried up

Before the roots ride up into the concrete side walks

Before the love bites are bandaged and tied up

Before havoc could be met with flame and fiery language

Before I opened my legs for him, and ten minutes later open my broad mouth to cuss him the fuck out

I told him I’d be back

I told him I’d give him another chance but not at romance

But he wanted friendship and to see “where it goes”

I guess he was hoping to eventually develop some type of weak paper thin love

And since I wanted to be just and only friend, that just wasn’t a enough

My brand of friendship came with repentance  and admittance of mistakes made

before any conversation

Or surrender of my time of day

He came at me hard mostly intending to be close to me, pretending to yearn to set down at my feet

I told him the truth of his ugliness and his ears began to bleed

My words cut into his flesh

My thorns mesh into his fingers as he tried to hold onto me

My beauty was not worth his struggle

So he let go

The red rose of my cheek,

The red rose of my lips was not worth his struggle

So he let go

I stood squared shouldered, gun in my holster

He was contacted by my eyes,

His heart contracted as he sighed in relaxation at the sweet sounds of my bullshit

Another chance meant he’d have to change

Another chance meant he’d have to get used to placing his fingers in his mouth and sucking away the bloody pain of being wrong and swallow the disgusting denial of fault

Another chance meant he’d have to say I’m sorry

Another chance meant he’d have to acknowledge that I don’t look best when laying on my back

And I don’t feel most pleasant when he’s on top of me

Another chance meant he must do better

And another chance is not what he wanted

He wanted another me

A different me who he could step on

A different me who wouldn’t make him uncomfortable, or draw attention to the ways he failed me and himself

Yet I couldn’t just tell him that another chance was not only improbable,

It was also impossible.

But I lied to him and told him I’d be back

Before I captured the sun in my smile again

I’d be back before my blood pressure rose from the stress of entertaining a lover who loves you know more like how oil loves water

I’d be back before I lost another pants size

I’d be back before my phone’s battery died on 15%

I told him I’d be back because I thought I’d give him a taste of the poison of wanting something so bad and waiting on it

I told him I’d be back

And he’s still waiting but I am not to return.

The Normal Emotional Happenings of a Girl with a Conscience: a poem

 

july 26, 2016

are these the normal emotional happenings of a girl with a conscience?

of the hundreds if not thousands of people i have helped and encouraged it feel utterly meaningless if i have stepped on the one

the one has gone anything but unnoticed

the one carries a weight, a mass despite what planet I may find myself on

the one matters

the one of course is the exception (i’d like to think)

but the one still orbits around my head          at night              or when i’m doing the dishes

or when i’m in the shower trying to cleanse myself of the filth       from     a day      when i could not stop thinking

about the one?

is this normal?

for guilt to swallow me whole         for disappointment to digest me in acidity

no matter the activity

i am trying to perform to distract me

to stop me from thinking about the one.

the one i hurt,

the one i loved with my whole heart                            except how did i love the one?

love wouldn’t do that

love wouldn’t’ do what i did to the one who loved me so much

who made me laugh til my belly ached

the one whose smile had a small      space in the front in the form of a gap           but whose heart had made so        much room for me

are these thoughts normal?
are these the normal emotional happenings of a girl with a conscience?

to be hurt by hurting someone

to know that i am my brother and sister’s keeper              but what is next when you fail?

i try to move on but i am the kind of person    who thinks all things can be fixed

that nothing cannot be restored or put together

in my world even glass can be unbroken    all holes can be patched     that indefinite lost thing can be found

even a vase      or    a smashed face          can undergo reconstructive surgery

but i am living in the world not my own    i know how this goes

trust is like the mirror that has shattered

and history is that record which cannot be undone,

erased,

edited or

changed

history as it lies can only can be accepted

this all could make sense if i weren’t the girl with the conscience

if i could pretend i don’t care about the one

or how the one is doing

or how the one feels about me

or how the one feels about one’s self because of me

i have affected the one and i know that but i hope the one does not hate me

in the same ways i have hated me

i hope the one does not ruminate about my mistakes the way i have

the one is much stronger than me

was more mature than me

and while that along with my fragility and immaturity is no excuse

it does explain how i can become an assailant of abuse

it explains how someone who is usually a good friend acts out of character

and for infinities becomes             the person she wouldn’t want to be

or be friends with either

what keeps me above water,

what keeps me from fading into darkness

what keeps me from praying curses over myself

is that i am not the first to fail someone

that maybe the one has or will fail someone too

that such an experience will give the one a bit of mercy for me

authentic forgiveness for my soul

now i know god feels when we constantly say we                                                                                love him but then go right back to our wickedness

he must feel so betrayed

the one has god within so in part when i hurt the one

i have hurt my father in heaven

even if me and the one cannot ever be friends

the lord has mercy for me

that the lord is constantly calling for a relationship with him no matter how many times i  fail

his love endures forever

his love covers a multitude of sins

the one is not god

and i don’t expect such divine qualities from the one

i  don’t expect limitless chances and infinite         forgiveness

but the small   tortured    part    of me   would ask for it any way

i don’t expect reconciliation but i long for it

for longing

desire

and riddance of shame are all shares of the emotional happening of a girl with a conscience