Anomoly: The Toll of Police Brutality Across the Diaspora

I hate ultimatums
but this decision is black and white:
It's between the Ivory Tower or the Collie block
& I can’t go back to the murders and suicides
of people, I never got to say good bye to

I won’t go back to driving 
Through Queens streets at 25 mph seeing
Pictures on every other street corner 
memorializing those who didn’t make it

I don’t miss the hour-long bus rides from my home,
Through the hood, to my high school neighborhood
Where there are gyms, grocery stores and clean sidewalks

My anxiety is correlated to the pressure placed on me
It’s clear the relationship is strong 
And I just can’t go back.

At this point I'm so unstable 
The movements in the dark shadows have me looking over my shoulder only to find nothing, 
The ache in my back never stops throbbing, 
My heart beats hard and fast in my head 
& this migraine hasn't gone away for 4 days 

I’ve been here before
You know, that feeling when you can still speak 
but it hurts to form words and ideas…
I just need silence before I break.
I don't want to end every semester 
One split end away from a nervous breakdown.

As if on cue, my life is sent into chaos
When the same "model police department,"
who walked besides Vandy students 
during protests in Midtown
found themselves on the Eastside, scared shitless. 
Even if they don’t have hate in their hearts, 
they’ve been taught brown skin signals guilt.

They can't even tell the difference
between stopping crime and destroying our community.
They relentlessly rain down bullets on black and brown bodies 
Because they don't see a human being, 
they just see skin

When the news story broke 
& I saw his name all over my timeline in the articles
I broke into fear 
Could this be a typo? 
Jocques Clemmons
Or Are they be talking about my father, 
Jacques Clement, 
Or my uncle, Jacques-Mary, 
Or my grandfather, Jacques Auguste,
Being murdered in his own neighborhood?

I was shaking as I walked into class 
With Jocques on my mind…
Flashbacks of statistics popped in my head, 
Of my damning urban studies readings, 
Of my teacher ignoring me when I’m the only one raising my hand
& I wonder who’s next 

I try to explain to my teacher 
Why “predictable outcomes for Black students”
Makes me feel invisible in this elite sea of white
But she calls me an “outlier” and moves on 

Today the Nashville council meeting 
Was rightfully decolonized by protestors.
Brown people mobilized in the name of Jocques 
& for the community to know:
they are not suffering alone

As I see a sea of brown hues protesting, I wonder:
Where were the women’s march protestors today?
If we’re lucky: writing hashtags and wearing safety pins.

How is it that the great equalizer doesn’t accommodate for difference? 
Can’t pull myself up by bootstraps if I don’t have shoes.
No matter who is President, or what law gets passed
my skin will be a glaring signal

Therefore, my existence is an act of defiance
& Black lives matter.
Because even if you thought 
he was just a thug or a statistic, 
He had a life, a family, a daily struggle, 
A favorite snack, dreams, fears, and memories.
& all the world cares about is if he was 
a statistic or an outlier. 


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Get Out: A Hair Horror

I saw women walk in and out
Of the doors of Felicia’s house for years.
Her house was older than ours
& there were vines that lined the wooden panels
on top of the walkway to the backyard,
It was quite an odd sight for Jamaica Ave
I swore that place had magic,
Women would walk in one way
And come out a little different, with a pep in their step

My mom finally let me come inside with her
One day in elementary school
“but you have to be quiet” she said
When I stepped inside Felicia’s house
Her kitchen was unlike any kitchen I’d ever seen

The sinks weren’t for dishes or food.
They were for Mizani and Just For Me.
Most of the time I played outside with the boys
Skating, racing and wrestling on the concrete.
I wanted to have a little taste of the women’s world
The moment this crossed my mind, I heard an inaudible whisper.

The next day was most dreaded day, wash day.
It’s not that I didn’t want to be clean,
There just had to be a better way, I thought
As my mom poured another bowl of water over my head

I covered my mouth and nose when I felt the
Soapy water stream down my temples, into my ears
My mom began combing through my coils
& She broke a comb in my coils
But that wasn’t all… something broke inside of her
She was done.

By Friday, I was at Felicia’s house
& The small indistinguishable whisper had grown quite annoying.
Felicia cloaked me in a black cape
Smeared petroleum jelly on my edges and scalp
And began coating my hair in opaque whiteness
It was cool at first then I felt a light stinging

Light stinging transformed
into intense agony in moments
But I did everything in my power to keep
my pain from escaping my body
but I failed and a whisper escaped like a small scream
I smiled as a tear fell from my eye.
Get Out!

The most painful infliction was the silence…
From Felicia,
From the other women in the salon,
From my mother.

I let out a silent “help” seep from my eyes
And my mother jumped to my rescue
Thank God, I thought.
“Felicia, it’s time,” she said
but Felicia said, “no, her hair is thick”
She couldn’t save me.

I got up and paced in pain
And felt a cool breeze coming from the open door
I looked outside and saw the boys playing outside
What did I do? I thought as I burst into tears

Felicia rushed me to the sink
And washed my coils, kinks and chemicals down the drain
When she was finished
She sat me in front of the mirror
I saw my mother’s confused eyes in the mirror

I studied the room and saw unbothered women
Waiting under dryers for their turn at the chair.
I looked outside
The sun had gone down
& novelas were playing from Felicia’s living room.
I finally glanced at the stranger in front of me
Ay Dios Mio shrilled at the top of the tv actress’ lungs

My hair lay limp, dead and wet
On my shoulders
“Do you like your hair?” Felicia said
No, No, N-No, No, No, No, No, I thought
But I breathed in, exhaled and smiled
“It’s lovely, thank you”


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Learned Behavior

I learned how to love you around the time I learned to tie my shoes,
When all that should’ve mattered was ice cream flavors & the Power Puff girls
That’s when I first started healing my mom’s broken heart
Pouring love into the cracks life made in her soul
& Wiping the tears my dad let fall from her eyes
Showing her how a woman should be treated
That’s how I learned to love you
On trips to the mall, telling my mom she looked beautiful
On the nights when she fell asleep on the couch and I tucked her in
On the days, she just needed to fuss I practiced patience and I listened
When she was wrong, I reminded her that everyone makes mistakes
& when she needed to hear it, I tried to mean it when I told her I was sorry
That’s how I learned to love
She taught me how to hold on to your heart
How to grip your soul, how to keep it safe from shattering
You never have to feel alone in this world, you have me
& I know I can love you right


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Teacher Torture

Normally I sit up front
But for this class
I sit all the way in the back,
In the corner.
It’s hard for me to see the screen
But it keeps me out of sight
& I have a good pulse of the room
In case the spirit catches me
And I decide to participate

This happens often
And lately, I notice my professor
Misunderstanding my answers,
Avoiding eye contact with me,
Praying someone else’s hand goes up
But no one’s hand is up
And no one can see my hand up in the corner
She sighs, “fine, Valencia”

All eyes turn to me,
& I thought I deserved a seat in the classroom
but the Brown decision is still a myth.
I’m not a threat
I’m a student
who just wanted to take a shot.
Statistics don’t intimidate me,
I’ve been fighting not to be one
my whole life…
But I guess she’s fighting harder
just to stand teaching me
I hear her sigh again
And wonder why she’s so tired of me

I’m getting more and more
Tired of this woman
Slide after slide
She guides members
Of the cohort through statistics
As painlessly as possible

But after hearing it for the third time
It’s finally starting to make sense
The gears are turning
And I power through the exercise
With my peers

The class reviews,
We get to a question and the class
Is quite stumped
After a few minutes of no response
My hand slowly creeps into the air
“Jasmine,” she says.
While looking right at me
Although Jasmine is also black,
She’s on the other side of the room
And her hand isn’t raised.

I sit quietly waiting for her
To realize
She’s confused the two
Black women in the class
And sit puzzled,
Wondering if this is reality

After an awkward silence
She is corrected by
Another student…
The tension in the air
Makes it hard to breathe
doesn’t apologize.
I guess she didn’t mean to
hurt me
but her intent doesn’t
invalidate her ignorance

She asks me to speak,
& like clockwork
the answers flow out of me
these words are the thoughts in my head,
the air in my lungs

Although it’s a guess,
I think I’m on the right track
But when I speak
You don’t hear me,
You don’t even know my name

After calling on other
She finds herself repeating
My syntax
I’ve zoned out of this session
But I hear
“Valencia was actually right”

and it snaps me out of my haze
and into a rage because
She doesn’t speak my language,
She doesn’t understand my mind

She turned my academic sanctuary
Into a torture chamber
Just by simply being in it


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