by Jaweerya

At fifteen,
I walk into a store with my mother
who wears a blush colored scarf,
and I cling by her side
as she asks the cashier
which aisle carries the paper plates.
When your mother speaks
broken English
you learn to become protective
and memorize the exact places and times
to glue her words together
so they become whole.

When the cashier-
a white, middle aged woman
asked,
“Are you from I-ran?”
I shook my head to say no
which started an avalanche of questions,
“9/11 was just so tragic, but I heard your people celebrated?
How could they?”
“Isn’t Osama just a terrible person?”
“Wait, so you’re really not from I-ran?”
Until my face became the color
of my mother’s scarf,
and finally I said “yes, it’s all terrible. I’m sorry”
and stumbled out the doors.

Today, my 21 year old self wants to travel back
and snatch the sound particles
that created the word “sorry,”
before it can ever reach
the woman’s ears,
ask her why I never heard a white
man apologize-
for colonizing my mother’s land,
parting with arms full of museum keepsakes,
and gifting us complexes
that stench of bleaching creams.
For more than 200 brutal years of
hanging limp Black bodies
off of tree branches.
For tearing children like Emmett Till and
Trayvon Martin
from their mothers soft embraces,
because their only crime was in their skin.
I never caught a white man’s voice stutter or shake
for the Iraq War, and the cracking
open of the ground
so the one million scattered skeletons
could finally rest.
For funding Israel 8 million dollars a day to bulldoze
breathing bodies and flesh,
and to uproot entire family trees.
Never saw a white man avert his eyes down in the slightest shame
for lying to the people of Pakistan
that the vaccinations were for polio,
when in truth,
the needles were extracting DNA.
For the screams that seeped through Guantanamo’s prison cracks,
but never made it to lawyers’ ears.
For driving out the indigenous of America
to barren reservations,
and then erasing their property rights.

White privilege is being able to place
a blanket over every crime.
every inflicted pain.
White privilege is not having one person’s
actions be representative of everyone else’s.
White privilege is not having to say sorry.
There are not enough words,
stories, or poetry
to fill the crevices of our gaping wounds.
The double standard is crippling,
my people need crutches
just to stand and proclaim our faith,
we have bent over so low in shame,
you can almost hear our spines
snapping,
and our children have learned to say
“we are not radicals,”
before learning to say
“we are Muslim”.
How many times must we condemn
what we are not?
How many generations must grow
with accusations strapped to their ankles?
How long before fear stops
smothering us,
before we stop drowning
in our anxieties,
before paranoia
removes its hands from our windpipe?
How long before our lungs
can finally breathe?
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