My 368th Year of Oppression
In 1650, black people were stolen from our homes and ripped away from our families.
Despite being torn away from everything we knew
We began to shape a new culture for ourselves out the bones of our old one
And the scraps that white people fed us.
In 1996, my mother tried to put pink lotion in this half Irish fro.
My hair looked frozen in time
Unsure if it was nappy or not
But it held on to this product
Like my roots were reunited with something that also seemed so alien
And it took a whole bottle of Pantene and two weeks to get it out.
In 2000, I began to hate my name.
I wanted to be a Sarah or Jessica
But my mom wanted me to have a name that fit me:
A white girl name that's spelled weird
So that substitute teachers still can't read it
But it sounds “regular.”
In 1877, black people were in political limbo
Not quite slaves anymore
But still not quite citizens.
We held on to each other and our newly crafted traditions like a safety net.
In 2003, I began middle school.
I was still stuck in the middle
Looking for a safety net.
I decided to try basketball,
But it turns out I have asthma
And I was suffocating myself.
In 2008, I finally went to my first school dance.
I wasn't sure how to move my body
And although I could feel the beat in my soul
I stood frozen in time
Unsure if I was able to booty dance like the other colored girls.
I held onto the wall all night.
In 1965, white people decided we were allowed to participate in their culture.
They began by taking ours and trying to sell it back to us in the form of Black Panther t-shirts
And chains made of the gold that they stole from our motherland.
In 2011, I began to feel comfortable in my skin.
I realized I like rap music and began to take dance lessons.
Now when I feel down I throw on some Cardi B and remind myself I'm a bad bitch
And shake my booty like the colored girls in the Kenmore West gymnasium
But I still know every word to every System of a Down song
As if it were my mother tongue.
It's 2018 and too many times I have seen black people of all shades
Harassing each other over how to be black
Our people separated over arbitrary rules of identity.
White people on the top laugh as we become more and more divided
Because Deshawn talks too white
And Marquita doesn't like her hair in cornrows.
Our mixed brothers and sisters lost in a limbo of not being quite black enough
But not being white enough either.
368 years in and were still eating table scraps and shit.
We all know that green bean casserole is white people nonsense
But if you like that shit
Call it reparations and lick your plate clean
Because it’s 2018 and we are all being oppressed,
No matter which way we’re dressed.
Elli Orchid is a crusty 25 year old who spends most of her free time exploring the natural world. Her poetry is influenced by her struggles as a woman of color and is mainly focused on changing the dominant cultural narrative. She has been a featured poet at a number of events around Buffalo and her work has been published in My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry as well as the Ground and Sky quarterly chapbook. You can find her on the westside of Buffalo petting all of the neighborhood cats.