Melanin to armor.
I see your comment:
it weighs me down.
Spine to sword.
I read your silence:
it weighs me down.
Heart to stone.
to carry on.
There’s a joke in the poetry world that, if you feel the need to explain your poem at length, you should just sit down and write a better poem. I think thoughts like that are the reason I find it so easy to qualify myself as a blogger and so difficult to dub myself a poet.
I feel the need to explain everything at length.
Writing poetry doesn’t come easy to me. Full paragraphs pop into my mind when I think about writing.
This poem started there, too.
“Melanin poppin'” is an expression used to indicate a pride in darker skin tone, black skin specifically. It’s not a phrase I use, usually, but there’s something that happens to me when I see low-level racism fill my social media thread.
My melanin pops.
I can feel it–snapping in my skin, solidifying, armoring me. It’s a thousand bangsnaps hitting the cement on the Fourth of July, little sparks of gunfire detonating alongside the sounds of America.
It’s a party trick I inherited, one that served a purpose at some point in my ancestry, but I don’t care for it. I don’t want to be weighed down by all that. I don’t want to be armored.
If you’re gonna stab me, I want to feel it.
I want you to feel it.
I want you to know that– for a meme, for a joke, for an advertisement, or as a sign of support to your not-intending-to-be-racist friend– you drew blood from me. You turned my ancestry into little snaps of light you can walk all over when you’re done with the show. There’s no residue, no blood, on your hands, so you don’t even wash them when you walk away from the conversation. It soils the footprints of this country, but the celebration in the sky doesn’t even notice.
Metaphors and poetry aside, it hurts.
In this day and age, where you can’t thumb-scroll a half mile without running into a discussion too deep for the internet– it’s almost impossible to avoid. Someone, somewhere, is saying something racist right now.
And someone, somewhere, is cosigning it:
- so long as it doesn’t get too racist
- so long as the racist is actually a nice person who has simply chosen a path of ignorance by accident probably
- so long as the racism is born from a personal experience
- so long as we all remember that it wasn’t intended to hurt someone’s feelings and that if someone’s feelings are hurt they’re probably reading too much into it.
The outrageous examples are easy enough to move past. Outrageous racism is something people who wear my skin color are taught at an early age, for our own safety of mind and body. It’s something we self-learn at an early age, because children see everything.
I was educated in a soft way, graced with gentle learnings because my skin is not the most dangerous color to wear here.
But I still struggle with low-level racism, and the silence of friends in the face of it. I don’t know why they hit “like” on a racist joke. Would you want me to repeat it to Mamasaur? I don’t know why they defend a racist advertisement. Is a corporation more important than your friends? I don’t know why they use every word available to avoid saying something is racist, like saying the word makes racism true.
Racism is true, whether you step to or not.
I worry that I don’t present as brown enough. That, maybe, everyone simply forgets that my skin is often the darkest in a room. That, maybe, this is how everyone talks, all the time, when melanin levels are low.
I wish I could explain how physically I feel the hurt. I wish I could show you how my face moves away from the screen, how my spine stiffens, how I scroll past name after name of endorsement, and how my heart scratches those names off the list of people I can trust. My world shrinks in the worst way possible– a t-shirt in hot water, my arms fit through the sleeves somehow but my belly is exposed. My belly is exposed so my body protects me, my skin turning to armor, flipping over to the ancient side with a thousand tiny explosions.
My melanin is poppin’, but not in the good way. My brown is heavy, but my brown is safe.
There seems to be a thousand articles on how to be a good ally and I know my friends want to be that. When an Uber driver refuses to pick me up, when a clerk refuses to sell to my kind, when dating profiles say no curry-skinned girls, when the world pushes me out– my friends always say they wish they were there to help me hold my ground.
But my ground isn’t really just my ground. It’s littered with the shadows of explosions past– so much popped melanin that you can feel the bumps and imprints under your feet if you’re paying attention… but it’s hard to pay attention.
There’s so much commotion in the sky, and I get it. I love the show, too.
I carry explosions of color and light in my skin every day. It lives on the backside of my skin cells, a built-in shield, a gift from my ancestors. I call it my heritage, my inheritance, my brown. I call it my melanin. I call it my American skin.
And when someone hates it just because it is different– even if that hatred is housed in a meme or wearing a joke– I call that racism, and I call it out.
I wish my allies did, too.