I am not an invasive species that you can squash under your boot like a bug, that you can strip from the brush like a perennial vine consuming your crops, a stain you can eradicate from your white picket-fence neighborhood. If God made man on the sixth day, breathed the breath of life into the dirt and rose His image and likeness from the dust, then why do you treat me as if I were the slithering serpent come to tempt you? Why do you crush my head when all I did was bow?
Today, I learned that another Black man was murdered in the street by police.
I am gobsmacked. I am disgusted. I am enraged. Words cannot properly express the kaleidoscope of emotions I am feeling right now.
When will the violence stop? How many more people have to die before they learn that excessive use of force is not necessary? Why can’t they see that they are not at war with foreign invaders?
These are their own people!
Law enforcement does not equal execution!
I haven’t watched the video. I’ve read enough to know what happened, and still I am in a state of confusion and shock.
I’ve stopped watching the news to protect my mental sanity, and ever since Philando Castile, I have avoided watching videos of police killings, because that one tore me to shreds. I had nightmares—his little girl’s voice trying to calm her wailing mother echoing in my head. I don’t want this to become so commonplace that videos and bodycam footage are released every week like our favorite primetime crime dramas, desensitizing us to the brutality these poor victims suffered.
This isn’t right. I don’t care what wrong he was suspected of doing (and based on reports, those dirty cops lied about that). What happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to our constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment?
What happened to Tyre Nichols wasn’t just cruel and unusual. It was of the devil: pure evil. And the fact that the officers who committed this crime were Black just proves that the system of policing in America is corrupt at a fundamental level. They are thugs, criminals. They jumped that man like it was a gang initiation.
I hope they are punished to the fullest extent of the law and more, so they know how it feels, because that’s what they deserve.
I have no pity for them. None. Ask God for mercy, because you won’t get it from me. Pigs.
Two splitting pops crack the air, pierce my thoughts, and rattle me out of my waking nightmare just in time to hear my roommate ask a second time, “If you could go back in time, would you stop 9/11 from happening?”
Of all the people sitting at this rinky-dink card table, he asks me.
“I was born here in the US, just like you.”
“Jesus, Samir, don’t make it political.”
“Why do I get the terrorist question?”
“I’m literally going down the list.” He taps his phone, and the Google search result for drinking game ideas lights up. “I could’ve asked anybody.”
“Then ask anybody.”
“Fine.” He turns to Sarah. “Well?”
She twists her mouth and shrugs. “I don’t know. I’d probably let it happen.”
Everyone but me takes a shot. I blank on what the rules are, but it doesn’t matter. Apart from the very real risk of getting caught underaged drinking on campus, consumption of alcohol is forbidden in my religion. And Rick, my roommate, knows this.
“Care to explain?” I ask her.
“Now you want to participate.”
“I can’t ask her a question?”
“I couldn’t ask you a question.”
“It’s okay, I’ll answer,” Sarah says, playing mediator. She and Rick have been going out since the beginning of the semester. Being the neutral party between our constant bickering is familiar territory for her by now.
“I guess,” she starts, “so much of American life and psyche today has been shaped by 9/11. Even if I could change it, what would I be coming back to? A completely different world. Unrecognizable.”
“But safer, no?” I interject.
“Debatable. Who’s to say it won’t result in another 9/11 somewhere else, and then that one’s catastrophically worse? Maybe they get the White House that time. Maybe they hijack Airforce One.”
“So, I’m guessing you would try to prevent it then?” Will asks me. He lives in the dorm three doors down. A classmate of mine and Rick’s in Poli Sci and Business Economics.
“Of course you would.” Rick rolls his eyes. “Look, we don’t need no Muslim savior. Just tell your people to stop blowing shit up.”
“Rick!” Sarah shrieks.
“Uncalled for, bro.” Will chimes in.
“I have no interest in saving people like you anyway,” I say to Rick. People with the same ethnocentric judgement in their eyes, the same hateful speech, the same misplaced patriotism that only honors countrymen with the same shade of white skin.
“Don’t need it,” he says.
I pretend not to hear him. “I would only go back to change one thing.”
“And what’s that?” asks Masha, the quiet one with kind eyes, the only reason I’m here at this table when I should be studying for finals. She’s a Psychology major. An understanding soul. Even the most vicious of humans she desires to study, to comprehend how their minds work and what drives them to commit the sins they do.
There’s a recurring dream I wish she’d interpret for me and hopefully make it stop.
“Islamophobia,” I say. “It’s a disease in this country, and it killed my parents.”
It’s so quiet you can hear a pen drop. Rick doesn’t speak, I imagine, only because Sarah has her knee shove into his balls under the table. Successful buzzkill delivered, I excuse myself and make my way from the common area down the hall to my dorm, room 22. I twist the knob and pause, readying myself for what waits for me on the other side. The rerun of my parents’ murder that has plagued me since childhood. Every night it runs, like a flickering black and white film projection from my brain. The man with the shaggy ponytail, the American flag patched on the front of his leather jacket. My father finding a hidden inner strength, despite being skin and bones, to shield me behind him and keep me in place under the barrage of bullets, no matter how much I pushed and tugged. Even as my image ages with me from a scrawny, frightened eleven-year-old to the 6’5 200-pound athlete that I am today, the result is still the same. I can’t jump in front of them, I can’t protect them, I can’t save them.
I crack the door open and hear the first lines of that familiar script. “Go back to your own country!”
A tap on my shoulder brings me back to reality. I pull the door shut and turn.
“Hi.” I’m greeted by Masha’s warm welcoming eyes. “I think the Basement Cafe is still open in the library. Wanna grab a coffee?”
She offers her arm, and I loop mine in hers. “By the way, I’ve been having this dream.”
Pick any Twilight Zone episode about time travel and haunting dreams. Pick any episode that covers the topics of hate, war, and racism. The above story pulls elements from all of them. The original series was full of social and political commentary, exposing some of the worst parts of humanity, often in the most horrifying and spine-chilling ways.
Even as he stabs her,
she wants to kiss him,
plant her purple lips on
the slick skin of his crown.
Even as he plunges the serrated
end of the flag pole deeper
into her chest, pins her to the
eastern wall of the first baptist church—
rebuilt in brick to withstand future bombings—
twists it, widens the gap in her heart,
she reaches out for him, carresses his
chiseled chin, his blue eyes cool as steel.
Maybe his fear of miscegenation
will make him angry enough
to put an end to her silent love song.
“The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.” Proverbs 13:9
Jesus tells me I am the light of this world;
so let my light shine.
There’s a glow outside my dorm room window.
I dare not go to it—
won’t be a moth to the flame.
The spirit of fear consumes me.
I cower in a corner, wedged between bed—
sheets damp with sweat—
and wall—cool to the touch.
I hear their voices rising — “White Lives Matter” —
demons behind them chanting, White is Power.
These are not lights of salvation;
theses torches seek to light crosses in front lawns,
to set ablaze nooses that string up bodies,
bodies broken like my Christ’s, and I pray—
God, why have you forsaken us?
Sealed us in a world so consumed with sin and hate
that even at high twelve noon all I see is darkness;
my own hand, extended in front of my eyes, becomes invisible.
A lake of fire flows outside my window.
Skin white as alabaster turns blacker than my own.
Hearts hardened like stone.
There’s no pumping of blood, no echo of life.
A flat beat, a solid stomp, a marching in unison,
like the rigid motions of a rusted metal machine,
like the recurring lashes of the whip.
In my corner I hide, like a lamp doused by shade.
Tested by fire, my works amount to nothing
and my world will be encased in a blackness more
cursed than the skin I wish to shed to the knocking
at my door. The devil and his angels wait for me,
beckoning with their false light
too dim to pass the crack in the threshold.
Today is the day I decide whose shame I will bear;
if I will pick up my cross and
deny my life for light’s sake.
Planted on the top floor where all can see,
I lift my covering off my Head and release
a brightness so incorruptible it expels the darkness
from my door, my window, my campus, my town—
miles away. Blinding like sun reflected
in glass, even from space. Let it shine, I hear my Jesus whisper, Let is shine.
Some words I strung together in response to the horrific scenes coming out of Charlottesville, VA this week.
Black comes in many shades but one— Too white I am— Skin like alabaster, hair ruffles in the breeze like petals of daffodils— Curly in places, frizzy in places—
Not enough to stay my father after three months, not enough to inherit the love of his people— Meek complexion reminds them of my mother, and grandmother, my great-grandmother, how they perched on pedestals, played ignorant to their husbands’ rompings in the quarters, abused the bastard children and sent them away.
My first love loved me for my resemblance to the white women he coveted, warned me I’m no better with his fists. Black like him underneath. With every blow, he brought my blackness to the surface— Blue bruises the size of grapefruits blot my arms, purple boot prints tread across my chest and stomach, red rashes spread from the fingers wrapped around my neck, cutting off air, black eyes, from every punch, swell shut, immersing me in darkness.
When I die, let the priest open my casket— Naked, let the world see the discolored calluses, a melanin absorbed through cruelty. Let no one ever say I wasn’t black— I was every black woman, brutalized and discarded just the same.
This actually happened to me back in college while I was walking home from the bus stop. I spent the rest of that afternoon wondering if I looked so scary that my neighbor (whom I’m sure had seen me before) would suspect me of potentially purse snatching. Was my afro too big that day? My jeans too loose? The music from my earbuds too loud? My face too mean?