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(Influenced by Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric)

1. You step into the hallway, and there you are, walking towards the water fountain. Someone comes this way. A girl walks your way, but she makes sure to conveniently scoot over two full steps before she makes any contact with you.
Close call.
By the way, she’s white.

2. You’re filling up your water bottle at the water fountain, and another girl steps behind you, waiting.
I’m waiting, she’s thinking, I’m waiting, she’s thinking, MOVE.
Without even an excuse me, she proceeds to roll her eyes and takes a few steps back—don’t make any eye contact! Don’t look!
Maybe he will leave soon,
Maybe he will go away,
Wait until he leaves,
Maybe he will leave,
Maybe it will go away.
Without speaking—because you don’t want to be that Typical Angry Black Person—you continue walking.
You already have your water.
Phew. It went away.
Then you take another glimpse of that girl, just to be sure.
Definitely white.

3. Career services have just opened their walk-in hours. A white male steps in minutes later, but when the white secretary comes to assist you, she instead calls for your white counterpart.
Oh, that’s odd.
Maybe she didn’t see you.
Oh, her mistake.
Maybe she didn’t see you.
She may see you now.
Oh, she didn’t see you.
And that is only after the receptionist intervenes.
Who is a person of color, by the way.

At least someone acknowledged you.

4. What have you got to worry about? They don’t understand. They don’t understand your anger. They don’t understand your frustration. They don’t understand you. They tell you to ignore it. Disregard it. Pretend it doesn’t even exist.
No big deal.
And so you do.
Because now, you have nothing to worry about.
You are no one to no one.
What have you got to worry about?

5. It’s the slavery unit in your literature class, and, just like all of your high school classes, the professor only acknowledges you during the discussion about race.
The only time you are ever acknowledged.

6. You are in the common room trying to study, when a student, unbeknownst to you, enters the room to Skype with a friend. No big deal. Then, without your acknowledgement, “NIGGA” is blurted out.
No big deal.
Naw he didn’t,
you are thinking.
No big deal.
So then you politely exit the room.
Because you don’t want any confrontation.
Nope. No. Big. Deal.

7. The word “nigger” is written on the poorly painted, thin-crusted windowsill, and before you have time to think, you remember that you have to pee.

8. Two white men have just finished using the restroom. One of them accidentally bumps into you. Sorry, I didn’t see you there, he says.

Sorry, I didn’t see you.

9. You don’t want to be late to class, so you sprint your way there.
But wait!
Because you know the police wait for you outside, you slow down and pull up your pants and take off your hood.
They’re staring.

10. They’re staring.
They’re staring.
They’re staring.
They’re staring.


11. Your college experience today.

And everyday.

12. Your classmates argue about white privilege. And only then do you realize you’re not privileged enough to be discussing this matter.

13. One of your friends converses with her friend on the elevator. And that whole time, her friend never looks your way.
Not even a glance.
Oh well.
No acknowledgement there.

14. After you voice your opinion in class, the professor acknowledges you:
How eloquently he speaks.
Because that’s what really matters.

At least he acknowledged you.

15. Someone you know wonders: Do you play basketball?

16. Yes, I do, you think.
I do speak eloquently, thank you very much.
You keep that thought to yourself.

17. No, I don’t, you respond.

18. Someone asks you if you’re from Tanzania after you’ve told them about volunteering there.

19. There is a 33.3% chance you will be enrolled in prison. And you know the 90% of you are enrolled there because of drugs alone.
But you don’t worry.
Because you know there are 3% of you enrolled at your own college.

20. While your friends blast their country music loudly, they tell you to turn down your rap music.
Turn Down For What? you think.

21. Oh, right, too ghetto.
Oh, yeah, too ratchet.
My bad.

22. Just like when you rap the lyrics to your favorite Jay-Z track.

23. A group of white students with snapbacks struts your way. They “spit” Soulja Boy lyrics at you, because you obviously know all the words.

24. Someone asks you where you’re from.
Chicago, you tell them.
Oh, Chiraq, they say.
No, Chicago.

25. Sorry, you can’t work here.

26. You don’t have the proper credentials they are looking for.

27. Did you remember to speak properly?

28. Dress appropriately?

29. Shake hands correctly?

30. Maybe not.
But that’s okay, because you aren’t the right “fit,” anyway.

31. And how can you fit in when you are only in the 3%?

32. Guess you can’t.
You are no one to no one.

33. So you decide it’s time to take action.
Now it’s time to do something.
Now it’s time to act.

Your friend asks you to work on a film set as an extra.
Because that’s all you are to him.


36. Apparently her son didn’t get into your school because of stupid affirmative action.
Stupid, right?

37. Nor could he work at the same firm as you.

38. But you don’t let that get to you.

39. You’re too firm for that.


41. Affirmative! You agree to cover someone’s shift at desk, when all of a sudden you hear a group of students wondering why there is no organization for white students.

42. Maybe you should’ve stayed home today.

43. Maybe you should’ve blasted your rap music anyway.

44. Maybe you should’ve transferred schools.

45. Action affirmed.

46. But you don’t worry.

47. Because you know tomorrow will be a better day.

48. So they say.
So they think.
So they want you to think.

49. And all of this happens in just one day!

So you come to your consensus that this is what you pay over $50,000 for.

At least, in the real world, racism is free of charge.

But, seriously,

50. No.




  1. M.E. on

    I really loved the poem,entitle “I AM EMERSON”,the writer clearly has been EXPOSED to all those encounters,I could FEEL it in all his words,,the MILD anger,the frustrations,the emotions,YET he carried on day in an day out,untill one day…he had ENOUGH….it’s so SAD…but YES this is a TRUE story..and YES…there is,and will always be RACISM in America,and especially @ EMERSON..(I know because this was written by my grandson).and YES I am VERY VERY PROUD of him,and to remind him he is LOVED,and to STAND STRONG…….

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