Today I'm feeling overwhelming grief, outrage, and pessimism. The grief is a response to the recent murder of a black teenager in Florida; the outrage and pessimism respond as much to the long, bitter history of racism in the U.S. as to this specific case. The poem below, originally written in July of 2009, puts the current moment in a larger context. It was first published in 2011 in my poetry collection the new black, but I've added here a new stanza in memory of Trayvon Martin (1995-2012).
racial profiling: the idea that there’s no legitimate reason for driving while black.
take sean bell: he got 50 bullets pumped into his car for driving while black.
homeownership is also improper behavior, in cambridge and beyond.
ask henry louis gates—arrested in his own home for thriving while black.
seemed like the obamas’ celebratory fist-bump might derail his campaign.
now they know they should avoid things like high-fiving while black.
inner-city hoops are, of course, appropriate—unlike swimming in the suburbs.
the creative steps day camp kids were booted from a pool for diving while black.
even b-ball can fall out of bounds, if the finals pit you against a whiter team.
the rutgers women’s players were slammed on the air for striving while black.
post-katrina new orleans is open to anyone with the money to rebuild—
except the 9th ward, which they’re discouraged from reviving while black.
like so many young men, trayvon martin was given a real mission impossible:
to buy candy at the corner store without getting caught surviving while black.
it’s all about belonging: even now, who belongs where is often based on who
belonged to whom. i sometimes wonder how i get away with living while black.