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Involuntary Endurance

This week, Spokane Public Radio allowed me to share poems covering the modern Black experience. The first poem I chose to read was my poem "Involuntary Endurance," from my latest book Surviving Home due out this year.

I chose to read this poem this week because as Black people we are often forced to endure things. We had to endure slavery. We were forced to endure 400 years of oppression. We endure the deaths of other Blacks at the hands of police. We just endure.

I share stories of my father with you often. Here's something I don't think I ever told you about my father:

My parents' bedroom was connected to mine by a walk-through closet. Because of this, I often heard my parent's nighttime conversations. One night, I heard my father tell my mother that he was often sexually abused by two white women that employed his mother. He said that he was not able to tell anyone because if he had, he would have been killed for having sexual relations with white women, so he had to endure it even though he hated it.

My mother once told me a story of a white man who lived on a road she was forced to use when she walked home from school. She said that girls were afraid to walk down this road alone because the man was known for raping Black girls. She said that girls often walked together to prevent this man from attacking them. She said one day she and her friends were walking down the road together, and the man ran out of his home and chased after them. She said one girl was caught and raped.

This man was allowed to do this because he was white and the girls he raped were Black. No one was going to doing anything to help these girls, so they had to learn to adapt and endure.

One day I told my husband this story, and he asked me if I ever wondered if my mother was the one who was caught since she had polio and was not able to run as quickly as her friends. Before my husband asked me that question, I never wondered, but now I do.

My poem of endurance has to do with being raised by my mother to live with the many abuses we faced as children, but this goes beyond the abuses by my father. It has to do with those who abused him, and so on and so forth.

Being Black is a constant fight. It is the marches and protests. It is standing up for yourself. It is living everyday. It is staying the path when someone drives past you and shouts, "Go home Nigger," as you are walking down the street. It is being grateful that they did not do worse. It is standing at the airport in quiet (or not so quiet) dignity when security conducts its "random" search of your private belongings for the 100th time. It is keeping it together when the police pull you over. It is not resorting to violence when a white woman calls you a Nigger for taking the last loaf of bread at the grocery store. It is keeping your cool when a white person calls you a racist for saying that Black lives matter.

When I was a kid and I thought of endurance, I thought of sports activities. I thought of Rocky running up the stairs in film one, or I thought about Chariots of Fire, or the Dodgers winning the World Series. Now, I think of endurance as a wholly Black experience. I think of endurance as survival.


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