My eyes were shut tight and I scratched at the skin on my hands and arms, begging God to change me. White was better; it was cleaner. I felt safer in white spaces; I thought I was understood. My small mind saw the distinction between the world in which I lived and the world that I wanted to live in. It saw the differences between the kids in my neighborhood and the kids in my Talented and Gifted classes at school. It heard the lilt in my classmates' laughter, and saw it in their walks.
They weren't weighed down by a thousand souls. I felt no concept of otherness in them, and I didn't want to be other-ed; I wanted to belong.
I clung to books for escape, but the heroes were all white. I imagined myself as them, wrote stories about them. I cried out to them, but chains muffled the sound. Outside of my fantasy, I was aware of my budding limitations.
At seven or eight, I felt the ceiling.
At seven or eight, I saw what I could not be.
At seven or eight, I clipped my dreams.
That night, clawing at my skin, I trusted in God.
The next morning I woke up and looked in the mirror. I saw the ruddy brown, the hardening caramel. Looking back, I see shadows of future worry lines, of Black History Month, of "This is who you are."
But who was I?
Now, crow's feet decorate its eyes; its hands are calloused, contorted. It walks on nimble toes, its heart is shriveled by dried up tears. It is difficult to love.
It is afraid. Trembling, it asks repeatedly "What do they think of me? How much can I say? What value do I have?"
It sees its reflection in broken liquor bottles, needles strewn about mildewed hallways, crack cocaine, disease. It sees it in "We just gotta do better!," black aspirations, the Black American Dream.
It fights to see reflections elsewhere: in the universalities of love, success and creativity. In the abandonment that comes with being separate, detached and whole.
At seven or eight, the self-loathing began.
Who am I now?