The Color of Racism

Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
The Color of Racism
             for Z.S.
  
 Winters, 
 my nephew drives a snowplow
 in a small Colorado town
 as white as the snow 
 he drives into high
 compressed banks.
  
 His skin is the color 
 of hickory bark 
 with the cinnamon glow 
 of youth his brief 
 twenty-three years affords.
  
 He’s shy but quick 
 to laugh, and when he does
 he tilts his chin down,
 looks up at you
 with his umber pupils
 from a doe-eyed angle.
  
 When I think of him
 so far away, commencing 
 his adult life in this 
 America,
 my heart contracts 
 with ache.
  
 Other seasons, he drives 
 the county pick-up,
 weeds and snips 
 courthouse shrubbery 
 into symmetrical shapes.
 Justice is not so
 manicured.
  
 My nephew’s skin 
 is the color of dew
 in midnight moonlight,
 a jewel on this earth
 living so far from those
 who love him.
  
 My nephew is a member
 of the brotherhood
 of all men,
 as we all are,
 with our varying
 degrees of melanin,
 but the same number
 of cytes to make
 precious brown pigment.
  
 & Some of us excel
 in pigment, my nephew’s
 skin rich, beautiful, 
 mine less so.

 Maybe you stood in line
 behind my nephew
 at Walmart,
 you just buying a gallon 
 of milk, his skin 
 the color of polite,
 said, go on ahead of me. 
  
 My nephew loves
 video games
 and pizza and burritos.
  
 Perhaps you know 
 a young man like him,
 or are the mother of 
 someone much like him, 
 or grandfather of, or teacher.
  
 Maybe my nephew has plowed
 your roadway, 
 or someone like him has,
 so the streets are safe 
 for you to pass.
  
 Maybe he mowed the grass
 in your neighborhood park
 so you could lie out 
 on sunny spring & summer days
 with your picnic and book,
 or play frisbee with friends,
 or toss a ball to your dog.
  
 My nephew loves dogs.
  
 If he’s been working hard,
 his skin glints
 as if lacquered with gold
 and if you’re lucky enough
 to behold it, my nephew’s
 contagious smile 
 will lighten your burdens
 for a while, 
 despite his dark skin.
  
 So when you ask me why
 I’m outraged 
 ask yourself why
 to white policemen 
 & 
 to white supremacists
 & 
 to whites who say they
 don’t see color,
 my nephew’s skin
 is the color of fear,
 the color of hatred,
 the color of oppression,
 the color of lynching
 in broad, bright daylight.

13 thoughts to “The Color of Racism”

  1. Oh my, Lana–I had to read this more than once. such love and ache combined come through–my we all appreciate individuals all around us, understand the humanity in each person, and respect him or her.
    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Thank you for this gift of written word. I pray your heartache will subside. – a friend of your nephew

  3. Beautiful and heartbreaking. I’m determined to do whatever I can (which at the age of 74 and with physical limitations, isn’t a lot) to bring about change and to spread the word, which I do every day. My hope is that people’s stories like this one can help.

  4. Lana, this is so moving, the power of go on ahead, brighten your day, the streets are safe, all of it… made me cry. Thank you so much.

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