Them (a poem)

 

Are you one of them?

“Them?” I ask. “Exactly who are referring to when you say them?”

“You know, them. Those Iraqians, Afghanians, those people from over there” she says with confidence.

The need to correct her dissolves as I become lost in my own thoughts.

A plethora of wise cracks,

Cliches,

Retorts,

Insults,

Form on the tip of my tongue.

I want to say:

I’m African-American.

I’m Jamaican.

I’m a convert to Islam.

This country,

My country,

Was built on the misery of my enslaved ancestors,

I want to say:

Even if I was Iraqi or Afghani

It still doesn’t make me one of them

I want to say:

Don’t you dare associate me with the them you and I both know you’re referring to

I want to ask:

Did you know none of the them you’re referring to were Iraqi or Afghani but Saudi?

And even if I was Saudi, it still doesn’t make me one of them.

And you,

With your blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin

Could I consider you one of them?

You know, the them that snatched my ancestors from their homelands,

Packed them on ships (below deck, like sardines),

Forced my ancestors to work from sun up to sun down,

Bred them like cattle,

Raped them,

Killed them,

And denied them their humanity.

Or could I consider you one of the them

Who lynched my ancestors,

Forced them to live in separate neighborhoods,

Drink out of separate water fountains,

Attend separate inferior schools?

And in 2008

In the face of history,

Trauma,

And loss

Have the nerve to tell us to simply “Get over it!”

Or “Move on!”

Or say “That was so long ago!” 

Americans’ historical memory is short

Collective amnesia abounds

I want to say:

Don’t talk to me about them!

When this soil you’re standing on is drenched in my ancestral blood

I want to ask her if she believes in collective guilt because if she does

I might want to spread some blame around

I might want to talk about the conditions of my neighborhood,

I might want to speak about health disparities,

Inadequate schools,

Gentrification,

Racism,

White privilege,

Inferiority complexes,

And conditioning.

I might want to sing Bob Marley’s “Crazy Baldheads” at the top of my lungs!

I could explain why a fire flickers,

Burns,

Simmers,

Then dies in my eyes.

But by the time I am able to string together a coherent sentence she’s gone

And I am left thinking about them

 

©2008 JAMuslimah

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3 responses to “Them (a poem)

  1. Eloquently and beautifully said.

    Peace and blessings to you,

    Ruqayyah

  2. Asalaamu alaikum.

    You know I totally feel you on this… sigh… sad that it’s still the same reaction as 5 years ago, 10 years ago, whatever. Willful ignorance and disassociation of their own responsibility. We’re supposed to forget, “get over”, pardon, not associate them with the past or their ancestors or people that share their shade of skin…

  3. thank God for poetry. it has spared a lot of them.

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