Pretty

Comes

In

All shades.


Vanilla ice cream,

Creamed coffee,

Creamy peanut butter,

Caramel,

Honey,

Cinnamon,

Pecan,

Milk chocolate,

Dark chocolate,

Molasses.


Delicious hues,

Sweet hues,

Tempting and

Watering mouths.


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

And super-charged

Among females


Still performing

Plastic comb tests

Checking for kinks in hair,

Still performing

Brown paper bag tests

In their minds.


“Light girls are stuck up.”

“Dark girls are envious and mean.”


Divisive notions

Grown out of polluted soil,

Near-European grade:


“In absence of whiteness,

Go for brightness.

You’ll get the goods with lightness,

For lightness is right-ness.”


Who decides


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.


Brothers ignore

Some sisters,

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.)


Iola


Pages of the Living Way

Newspaper, which reached readers

Every week, was how the public

Saw eloquent words and meet


Her, Iola


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


Her, Iola


The White conductor disapproved,

Did his damndest to remove

Consign to a smoky, crowded

“Coloured Only” car, disregard for


Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


Contested the egregious matter in court

Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, her opponents

The judge awarded $500 in damages

Soon to be lost, company appeal against

Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


New York City, Northern refuge

Safe enough to continue the deluge:

Reports on Southern horrors acquired

From talks with victims’ relations, fleshed out by

Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


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

Her, Iola


“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

Her, Iola.


(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.