You knew that there would be a time when I’d have to write this. At least that part of me you know, you had been pushing this part of me away towards the end, the one that needed to speak to express the unpopular. You didn’t like that part of me, but at least you’re familiar with it. We could say that that is where we started to see the end coming, but that would be a lie and too easy. I don’t brush over the hurt anymore. We could go back to the time when you silenced me for saying that Dylan Roof was motivated by race (you said that it was just “people hurting people”), we could even talk about all the times you said I “didn’t sound black.” But I think we could both pinpoint the moment when we really broke up—we just didn’t want to admit it yet—that would take another ten years.
It started with Facebook. I know, typical. But it’s true. It started with a Facebook post from your ex to me. The ex with the nose like mine and the kinky curly hair he fashioned into a cropped cut by his ears. It started with the guy with skin like mine. “Why won’t she talk to me anymore?” he asked. How do you answer a question like that? How do tell someone the reason they’ve been cut off and ignored is because they look exactly like you? When I asked you what I should say, you told me that your parents had threatened to cut you off and that it just makes life easier. “Imani, you should date him.” To be fair, this is where I am completely at fault, I should have said something I should have stuck up for that guy. But I needed friends. High school is hard, but harder still when you have no one and you’re one of the twelve black kids out of over a thousand. I needed to survive. Being “woke” meant being alone. But something in me had begun to pry loose.
I can’t say that you weren’t there for me during some really difficult times, because you were. I’d never negate that, but in this skin, I had to grow up in a different way than you did. We may have talked about being in one another’s weddings, but I wondered where I would find love in a world that condemned my body as wrong. We talked about having kids, but I wondered if courts would try to take my child away because of my disability. We talked about our children going to school with one another and I saw my future child being body-slammed by school security for rolling their eyes. We talked about the mischief they’d get into, but I knew that I’d have to give my child a different reprimand entirely. You talked about maybe having to bail your kid out, and I pictured myself standing in the morgue being told my child had twitched.
Make no mistake, you may have grown up alongside me but you and I did not grow up together. As the named Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown encased my reality you held my head steady and tried to convince me that the earthquake I felt beneath my feet wasn’t a chasm in the bedrock of what we were. As face after face, that looked like me and your ex bled out in streets across the country you said nothing. You tried to keep me focused on you and as my world shifted, you kept me placated with useless platitudes and conversations about nothing (conversations about how, ironically, pit bulls are profiled by the police and killed). And when you could no longer hold my gaze steady on you, you put your hands over your ears and failed to listen, but then again, why would you when you don’t see race? (Unless you’re called out about racist remarks and suddenly remember your indigenous ancestry)
Politics were the tip of the iceberg. You stayed silent, as you always do—to stay comfortable above being in any way challenged, and that’s when your uselessness tipped its hand. I could accept that you had different politics from me, we’d never seen eye to eye in that realm, but this was different and you knew it: this was literally life and death. He made fun of people like me and you didn’t know. Useless. He threatened to take away the healthcare that I rely upon and you didn’t know. Useless. He admitted to sexually assaulting women and you were on the fence. Useless. He further criminalized the brown skin I wear and I was overreacting? Useless. And now that he’s made good on the threats that you tried to tell me not to worry about, you’re still fucking silent? Useless. People I know will lose their lives and you will have not done anything. Inaction in the face of someone else’s subjugation does not inherently make you good, it makes you useless, and I no longer have room in my life for people that prioritize their comfort above my life and above the lives of the people around you. I reject my token status. I reject superficial friendships that confuse longevity for depth. I’m no longer the awkward high school kid that is constantly giving up pieces of herself to fit in. I know where I belong: alongside those fighting to stay alive in an increasingly crueler world—not comforting myself with uselessness.