What It’s Like to Walk Under Shadows
written with Asiah Mae. Commissioned by Mayor John J. Tecklenburg for the removal of the Calhoun monument in Charleston, SC.
There is a shadow that no one talks about
We allow it to reside among us in our supermarkets
In our schools
At festivals where willing ignorant laughter topples over the chatter of my ancestors’ unsettled spirits.
It sits at the front of restaurants
Squinting at the faces in the back that prepare its plate
As if the cuisine it devours was not created from hands that were Blacker than the dark it casts.
It is this shadow that allows gentrifiers to lay claim to streets they were once afraid to walk down
To call death squads in fear of their neighbors who lived in their homes before they were born
It is this shadow that bursts into tears when met with critique
That holds on to trauma in the name of tradition
This shadow in broad daylight that makes me switch the tone of my voice
The cadence of my walk
The volume of my laughter
The enunciation of my words
This is the shadow
That forces me to use my poetry
The one thing I had left for me.
To inform of you it’s presence
Just for you to pretend
You don’t know it looms.
Even in the open air of an endless Lowcountry sun,
we live in a city of shadows. My Black footprints
are followed by a haunting. The never-ending silhouette
of supremacy. Some are subtle. And some are elevated so high
that I have been unable to rise above it, despite reaching
for my higher self. I have friends who have sunbathed under
dark symbolism. Sang spirited gospel hymns beneath the
shadow of a statue’s dead expression. Seen “truth, justice
and the constitution” tattooed in stone for the godfather
of a lost cause, a man who believed that slavery was a
“positive good.” We’ve partied at night below a ghost
of prejudice, only to look up and see that racism, when given a
spotlight, can cut through the night around us. Charleston
carries this weight. Being Black is not the burden it needs to
let go of.