Vanilla ice cream,
Creamy peanut butter,
I could never
Understand why racism
Continues to exist
With multi-culturalism in the midst.
Careful, conscious societal maneuvers
From prejudice to justice.
But I understand
Far less colourism,
That sickening division
Among members of the same race
Along the lines of complexion.
Who has melanin?
How much melanin?
And who looks beautiful?
The division is large
Plastic comb tests
Checking for kinks in hair,
Brown paper bag tests
In their minds.
“Light girls are stuck up.”
“Dark girls are envious and mean.”
Grown out of polluted soil,
“In absence of whiteness,
Go for brightness.
You’ll get the goods with lightness,
For lightness is right-ness.”
Who is pretty enough?
Who is Black enough?
What verdict does the bedroom mirror
Give the longer one stares into it?
Sisters lashing out
At each other,
Not once knowing
They’re all royalty.
Not once knowing
The queens they’re missing out on—
Nature has a way
Of passing out
In equal shares
Beauty, brought to the surface
As distinct physical traits, female to female
Hair, eyes, noses, lips, skin—
Apparently, nature likes variety
As I do.
What catches my eye,
Appeals to my eye.
Pretty comes in all shades of black.
(Inspired by the autobiographical essay A Colorist In Recovery by
Stephanie J. Gates and the documentary Light Girls.)
Pages of the Living Way
Newspaper, which reached readers
Every week, was how the public
Saw eloquent words and meet
Told many of her harrowing tale
Of injustice turned resistance:
Boarded a steam train for work, Nashville bound,
First class seat taken, comfy ride for
The White conductor disapproved,
Did his damndest to remove
Consign to a smoky, crowded
“Coloured Only” car, disregard for
Promptly answered him with her teeth,
Fastened onto pale hand, bitten deep,
White passengers cheered as she was dragged out—
This episode wasn’t over for
Contested the egregious matter in court
Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, her opponents
The judge awarded $500 in damages
Soon to be lost, company appeal against
It was the sudden shooting of three
Successful Black grocers, all good friends, because
Southern White businessmen despised competition,
That brought this schoolteacher to her typewriter, motivation for
Shone truth’s light on ghastly wrongs
Between the Evening Star & Free Speech
Until hatred’s fire was set to her printing press
Added stress on the journalistic princess, Memphis off-limits to
New York City, Northern refuge
Safe enough to continue the deluge:
Reports on Southern horrors acquired
From talks with victims’ relations, fleshed out by
The record of the South continued to go red
From any hick town producing Nubian dead
From shotgun shells, bullets, fire and rope
Enclosed around the necks of humanity, counted by
That never failed to chill the soul
Commonly used method of control
When Blacks came up, supremacy cut them down—
Allegations of rape of White women found false by
Chicago, England, Wales, Scotland—wherever she did a speech
On the crime of lynching—Preach, lady, preach—
America isn’t the land of the free
If you’re not free to be Black, the gist from
“Separate but equal”—official falsehood
Separate and substandard facilities—never good
Signs at public places turned away dark faces—
The basis for a fight for equality, which began with
(For Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.)
Dee Allen is an African-Italian performance poet based in Oakland, California. He has been active in creative writing and spoken word since the early 1990’s. He is the author of 7 books — Boneyard, Unwritten Law, Stormwater, Skeletal Black (all from POOR Press ), Elohi Unitsi (Conviction 2 Change Publishing), and, coming in February 2022, Rusty Gallows: Passages Against Hate (Vagabond Books) and Plans (Nomadic Press). He has 41 anthology appearances under his figurative belt so far.