the Composition
for Honours Class,
Howard University,

  Authors & Artists


Faces & Voices 4
Faces & Voices 5

Gaining Control
Joi Brown
Lansdale, Pennsylvania - Biology/Pre-Med

       When you are in the minority you tend to see the world more universally. Deep in your heart, your soul screams your own cultural woes and sings your insights. Yet, your ears are clogged with the bellows of some culture foreign to you. You, therefore juggle between what is natural to you and what is natural to everyone else. The suburban migration of the “talented tenth” has borne a generation of young blacks overburdened with the battle to be accepted, not by assimilation but by appreciation. Most fail to achieve either, but survive by listening to everyone and upsetting no one.
       I, too have endured such mental anguish for almost thirteen years. Now at eighteen, I believe my parents’ biggest mistake was allowing me to know that there was something different; teaching me my culture and history, celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa, corn-rowing my hair, and most of all, introducing me to a few Caucasians who did not classify me by the kinkiness of my hair or the thickness of my lips, but rather by the sincerity of my heart.
       Yet, I bid my time with the cunning tactics of an undercover spy. I smiled and nodded, and spoke and kept quiet when necessary. Never did I dare to speak out against any of the ignorance or pettiness that was sometimes directed at me. But, holding my tongue was both emotionally and mentally exhausting. I could feel a part of me dying each day, like the organs of a suffocating man as the oxygen slowly leaves his body. Therefore, when Abraham, a Sudanean refugee, shyly shuffled into my English class that chilly October morning my soul was too inundated to remain silent any longer.
       The initial shock was followed, almost immediately, by the childish whispers of a classroom full of high school students. Some chuckles were audible, but for the most part the class just stared. How horrible of a greeting, I thought. My mind wondered, does he think all Americans are as rude as they are? Will he hate me for being apart of them? Am I a part of them? The latter ate at me the most.
       A few girls turned and stared at me as if to compare the newest specimen to their former and more familiar marker. My stomach churned and pulled me to say something, but what? I had no more standing with these people than Abraham, and I had known them most of my life. We called each other friend, but in all these years, we never developed a real friendship. There was no bond of understanding between us, nor was there a sympathetic linkage. Neither my tears, nor my words had ever touched these people. They had no comprehension of my inner self or how hard it has been to repress it. All they wanted was for me to fit myself into their rigid puzzle of life. To my peers, because I was black, I was just different and eternally separated from them. I had no personality, nor was I a part of them.
       When the boy in the seat in front of me turned, I dreaded to hear his voice. “He sure is black,” he giggled. “I bet if you turned the lights off, all you would see is his eyes and his teeth.” My faced burned with fury. Why does he think he can or should share such an ignorant comment with me? What have I become? An Oreo? An Uncle Tom? A sell out? How did I become so welcoming to such ignorance? As he waited for my usual humorous response, my soul started to cave in from guilt. My heart screamed for me to say something.
       Raising my hand, I asked the teacher for permission to address the class. I had no idea what I was going to say. How could I have planned for a battle like this one. All I could do was pray and stand my ground. Voice shaking, I started, “Abraham, welcome to English class. My fellow classmates are obviously intrigued by your appearance and background. Hopefully, you do not think they are rude, but rather ill-informed.” I could feel the sweat beading in my palms, and the muscles in my leg twitching, but I kept going until I felt that I was empty. Some people threw me a glare, but Abraham’s face seemed less scared than when he had walked in. My stomach settled. I had finally reconciled for years of inaction.
       I knew that tomorrow the status quo would prevail; their ignorance would remain unchanged because there was no reason for them to change. The jokes would continue. Yet, no one would begrudge me this incident as long as I did not begrudge him or her for it. Tomorrow, today would be just a shadow to my peers. But, today would forever remain engrained in my memories as the I gained control of myself, of my life, of my blackness.

© 2002 Howard University
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse, Prose & Art, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2002. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
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