Letter to my Black mother who wants me to forgive the world when I saw it try to kill her
You was one of them n*ggas who didn’t want to admit that they were treating you so badly for no other reason than your being Black and woman
By Kejhonti Neloms
I can never forget the time when your car broke down in the parking lot of those shitty Flaget Apartments across the street from the old folks’ home. It was the West End. It was summer. It was 8AM. I think it was Sprint that fired you. Maybe it was Nextel. I don’t know. I can’t remember those insignificant details.
But I do remember that you came into the house, defeated, when you were supposed to be at work. They had a zero tolerance policy, so you knew you were going to be fired from that FourteenSevedyFyeNour job. You must have been 30 or so. I remember sitting with you. I knew we would be OK. But for maybe 20 minutes, you didn’t know if we were going to be OK. The rent was always due.
This innocent country sat us down in a ghetto for no reason other than that we are Black. They don’t know, because they were not there. I was there. I seent all of it. I felt all of it.
I seent you embarrass the fuck out of my “learned” white teachers. I seent you cuss out these Mexican women in Spanish cuz they was talking shit and thought you couldn’t understand. You’re a polyglot. You’re extremely popular. You’re extremely charismatic. I seent you know more than your supervisors. I seent you outsmart government agencies, bill collectors, men, me, uncles, doctors. I seent you accurately predict who was going to be pregnant and who was finna die. I seent you talk with the dead. I am a witness.
I’ve seen weaker people rewarded for less. This phenomenon—misogynoir—has left an indelible mark on me. How are you the smartest person I know and we’re still facing such poverty? I was living with cognitive dissonance for my entire childhood. The rent was always due. I don’t know if you knew this, but we don’t live in a meritocracy. Issa whole lie. I don’t think that you hid this truth from me; I really think that you simply didn’t know.
You was one of them niggas who didn’t want to admit that they were treating you so badly for no other reason than your being Black and woman. I saw you try to reposition, conceal, omit, obfuscate and flat out lie about this truth. You never wanted me to be bitter, and you wanted me to have hope. I am laughing when I say, “I’m sorry Momma, but you failed in this regard.” I am extremely bitter, and I have no hope.
Neither one of us wanted to look too closely at the tenuous threads of our existence. The stock of our lives depended on forgetfulness. The stock of your life depended on forgiveness. I see that now, and maybe I am still too young, but I do not forgive, and I am going to remember. I am going to remember all of it, knowing that it will destroy me and everything that I hold dear.
I know that no one ever wants to see their child destroy themselves. Not with all of the work that you put into me. I’m an only child, so I was there for all of it. Every lesson, every mistake, every gift, every curse, I was there. We were extremely close. One time you told me that you hate me and I just openly laughed at you because the shit was hilarious—unfathomable. One time I told you that I hate you (probably in the same week) and you just looked at me like I had “lost my goddamn mind.”
You’re the type to smile when you should be freaking the fuck out. You’re the type to freak out when you should be smiling. Even though I am a Pisces and you are a Scorpio, I never could understand those curious volley’s of emotion. I didn’t know why we ate so much damn tuna casserole. It’s a pernicious timeline: I loved that tuna casserole until I began to hate myself. I loved that tuna casserole until I started to hate us. Maybe I was 14 when I decided that I had had enough of me. You must have been 34 or so.
We used to wrestle all of the time because I ain’t never had no daddy and you wanted to make sure that I was a strong man. I’m strong now, and everyone knows it. I’m strong enough to say that I’m not a man and I’m strong enough to say that I never want to be one.
That’s not all the way true I guess. I like being a man sometimes. Maybe “like” is too strong of a word. I find it useful to be a man. Even when I’m useless, I’m deferred to for use because of manhood. It is because I am a light skin, tall nigga with a beard, broad shoulders and long legs. I don’t know anything about a lot of stuff, but this world treats me as if my lightskint man opinion matters—sometimes. I’m a code switching ass nigga. I’m a smarter-than-yo-white-ass ass nigga. I’m an I-already-read-that-white-book ass nigga. I’m a destroy-your-favorite-white-professor-in-public ass nigga. Sometimes, I wear glasses when I read.
I’ve learned to tell people what to do. You taught me this. When there is a problem at a restaurant, I will pull the manager aside and I will tell them what to do. When we are in handcuffs, I will tell Twan what to do. When my sister is unsure, I will deepen my voice. When awkward-Black-girl-in-class has a question and she is rightfully worried that she will not be heard, I will ask the question. When they forget her side order, and that rabid white woman starts 21 questioning her about whether she really ordered Collard Greens, I will pull up, tell my sister to sit down, and I will embarrass the fuck out of that white woman in less than 3 sentences. We will eat for free.
I have learned to be the final step. I have learned to be the race card.
How ironic that such ‘masculinity’ emits from a faggot who never wanted any part of this masculine bullshit. I’ll pay your rent. I’ll fight your abuser. I’ll kill him. I’ll throw a brick through your landlord’s window. I will send that e-mail. I’ll buy your drink. I’ll watch your back. I’ll watch your front. I’ll teach you. I’ll write down your words. I’ll write down your name. I won’t forget. I’ll pull up.
We was family friends with the nigga who was nine years your senior when he first sexually assaulted you. You must have been 7 or so. I grew up with his kids. You introduced him to me: Uncle Peaches. His real name was probably Terrance or some shit, but Black people have a way with names. No one ever called him his real name unless they were trying to hurt him. I saw you forgive Terrance and I saw you forget.
Maybe you didn’t forget. I don’t know. What I do know is that I haven’t forgiven him and I fucking refuse to. He’s an old man now, but I don’t know any old men who really deserve peace, and I don’t think old age automatically absolves someone of their sins. If the ghosts of perdition still haunt me, I see no reason why he doesn’t deserve to get his ass beat one last good time for touching you.
Adulthood is recognizing that our parents are traumatized adults, too. It’s easier to speak in cliches at this point: Parents are humans, too. Y’all go through ups and downs. Y’all dissapoint. Y’all crazy as fuck. Y’all win, and lose and win and lose. Sometimes y’all break from reality. Sometimes y’all are just flat out wrong. All of this to say, I see you, I love you. Thank you.
Kejhonti Neloms is a queer student/teacher. He has dreams of starting a community center for black queer kids.