Dear Negro

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 5-part series of poems titled Red Summer.

Dear Negro,

We hear your concerns about your financial aid situation, and we understand how difficult it is for you to recount the abusive years of your childhood to assure us your father is not secretly supporting your education, but you must understand our position as well. You are lucky we are accepting your testimony at all. You know the word of the Negro is inherently untrustworthy, and barely lasts a year. You must understand how entertaining it is to watch you struggle to restate the dimensions of your wounds in different terms for us over and over again. You Negroes are so creative! Please attach your Negro trauma below your reply so that we may eat it and shit out money for your education. 

Dear Negro,

Your concerns about the poem shared in my class being racist are valid, of course. However, you have to acknowledge that your Negro mind is conditioned to see disenfranchisement everywhere, and that is not the truth. I will come to class tomorrow with thirty minutes worth of explanation on why you are wrong. When you feel humiliated, remember that Negroes do not possess the level of dignity needed to feel degraded. When you feel disrespected, remember that I, in my age and whiteness, am society and as such, determine what is racist and what is not. Remember you are not worthy of respect. When you feel enraged, remember that you do not have the authority to hold a grudge. Remember that I hold the keys to your poetic expression, and am the only white professor who believes you can be made useful, and besides, the author was an abolitionist! He wanted you Negroes to be able to dance and sing freely, so he tried to give your existence some value by attaching it to ours. Remember, Negro, that we hold the keys to value, and without us, your life means nothing. How many Negro poems have you written without us at the center?

Content warning: references to sexual assault and survivors

Dear Negro,

This movement is for all of us, remember? Never mind that you started it, never mind that you provided everything that’s worked, or that you have been indispensable at every turn. We’re friends right? We tried our best to get the reporters to pay attention, but no one wants a Negro on camera, and that makes this okay! You get it. Don’t be upset. I know you will primarily have to deal with the consequences of this, but don’t worry. When they show up to your parties and push you out of the privileged spaces, when they throw beer in your face, when they sing along to your songs and say your TRUE name, uncensored, when they take what little you have for themselves, we’ll be asleep. We’ll be gone. We hear you, and this is a conversation we’re always trying to have, and we’ll let you be there for that conversation one day. Just keep propping up our movements in the meantime. Stepping stones shouldn’t have names, so if you feel yours being erased, say nothing. We’ll sing your songs about liberation and throw up our fists, and just remember to shut up. This movement is about the climate, and you negroes are used to the heat anyway. This movement is about sexual assault survivors, and that can’t be you. It’d be so low of us to fuck a Negro.

Negro,

I know we look alike, but watch how I move. If I actually cared about you, I would have come knocking long before now, I would be here on the days when there are no pictures to be taken. Did you read my email? “During this situation, which is still ongoing, Public Safety requested Swarthmore Borough Police to provide support and ensure a calm resolution. We are grateful for their presence.” Please get the message. I do not care if you are in danger. I do not care if you are shot. Everything I wrote and did before was to get me to this moment, where I could forget that I am one of you. Come by my office and have a chat, if you like. Or better yet make an appointment. Sit across from me and look me in the eyes and beg me to take your hand, and when I do not, understand that I’m rather content sitting in this chair. I will hold your gaze and smile and tell you how much I care while shaking my head. Don’t come here again. You’re on your own. How dare you find kinship with me, how dare you come here looking to say we’re some kind of family! I won’t be dragged back down to Negro filth for some goddamn children. 

Content warning: racial slurs and references to violence

Hi all,

In your further correspondence, please address me by name, call me Nigger. Make that my name on the cygnet, Nigger Darkie 6% Buchanan. Nbuchan1@swarthmore.edu. Nigger Cultural Center. Nigger Studies Department. Call the sharples meal with watermelon and fried chicken what it is, we do! It’s Nigger Bar. We sit at the Nigger table, my friend group is all Nigger. After my Classic Nigger Autobiography class, I’ll use my Nigger legs to walk up the Nigger stairs to my Nigger apartment and sleep in my Nigger bed. I’ve attached my Nigger trauma below, and I’m actually writing another Nigger poem about you white people right now! Of course no one would want to fuck us, not unless they want my Big Nigger Cock. I completely understand your desire to become Un-Nigger, Madam President Valerie Smith! Unfortunately for you, you and I were born Niggers, and we’ll die Niggers. Maybe you can call the police again and they can give you a shot to roll the dice again, maybe you’ll come back as a roach, or a fly on a pile of shit, ANYTHING but being a Nigger, right? I so appreciate you allowing me to get this education and understand that no matter what I do say think or breathe, no matter what it says on my birth certificate, this is what my name is. This is what people see when they meet me for the first time, this is what they expect me to sign receipts with. Whatever we call ourselves (and don’t worry Val I don’t mean you) this is who we are. Thank you so much for making that clear, and apologies it took my Nigger brain so very long to understand it.

Warm regards,

Paul