Constance…this is a great post, and should make you think. The link takes you to a performance…I am posting the poem here in transcript form, and the decisions about line breaks are mine…if it is good, credit to Andrea Gibson and if it is bad blame to me.
Give some thinking about privilege, cus chances are, all of us who have WordPress Blogs likely do indeed have some privilege as well…but I will let you figure out how that works!
This poem has two working titles. It might end up having five working titles.
The first one is “Privilege Is Never Having to Think About It.”
And the second one is “Touring with a Black Poet: For Sonya Renee.”
She steps out
of the hotel bathroom dressed to the nines —
stilettos sharp in her glossy, glossy,
elegant, tailored, boom glittering,
a bold burgundy neckline —
locks her shining eyes on the worn t-shirt
I haven’t changed in days and says,
“Are you going to wear that on stage?”
gloating in the cool of my gritty apathy,
the oh-so-thrift-store of my dirty grunge.
She says, “honey, do you have any idea
how much privilege it takes
to think it is cool to dress poor?
You wear that dirty shirt;
you are a radical saving the world.
I wear that dirty shirt,
and I am a broke junkie thief
getting followed around every store.”
That conversation happened years ago.
On the same tour where Sonya watched
me pay 75 bucks to have my hair
cut in a way that would make me look
like — quote — like
“I couldn’t afford a haircut.”
The same tour that began
the day after I was the feature performer
at a university’s women of color symposium.
No, I did not ask whether or not
featuring a woman of color instead.
Yes, I got paid. I’m pretty sure it was a good paycheck.
I’m pretty sure someone licked the paycheck
when Trayvon Martin’s gun range targets
got sold out in two days.
I know those things are not exactly the same
I know I wanted to burn
every noose white seam of our cotton flag
when Trayvon Martin’s mother
was on the witness stand
trying to convince a jury
of mostly white mothers that
she could actually recognize
the sound of her own son’s scream.
I know I wanted to
split the fucking sky
when I heard
the whip of the verdict
and Sonya had posted online,
“How many different ways
can this country tell me
I am worthless?”
I know it was right then
that I walked upstairs and started counting
the hoodies in my closet. I have fourteen hoodies
that tell me I will never be forced
to dress a wound as deep as my mother’s heart.
She will never be woken in her sleep
to peel my body off gated grass,
to beg God to sew the hole in my chest.
I know my family will never
have to hear justice, say it wasn’t
until I was lying in my casket
that I was wearing the right clothes.
I know a woman
who once knew a woman
who collected the metal collars
they used to lock around
the necks of black children
to chain them to the auction block.
I was told
she hung them
on the walls of her home
I remember when I used to believe
that was the entire definition of racism.
Believed there was no one
hanging in my wardrobe.
Believed my style
had nothing in common
with king Leopold’s.
Thought I am not
outfitting the Congo
in spilled blood.
I am just buttoning up my shirt here.
I am just rolling up my sleeves.
I am not unstitching the face of Emmett Till.
I am not unzippering the wail of his mother’s grief.
The laces of my shoes are just the laces of my shoes.
They could not tie a body to a tree.
I am not fashioning a noose here.
Sonya, do you hear me?
My compassion is not a costume.
My passivity is not hate.
My privilege is not genocide.
This is just how I cut my hair.
That was just how they cut the check.
This is just how I dress.
I don’t even think about
what I wear.