Street kids were chirping,
guns were out,
cops were playing in the streets…
It was a beautiful day in Harlem.
She introduced herself as Shurnell
Gum-popping, eye-rolling, weave-twirling hell
‘Why you talk so white?”
I could not answer.
My expression was the bastard child of Pissed Off and
Pity’s brief sexual encounter
Why do I talk so white?
Pissed Off said smack that b!
Let’s see if you talk that much sh
when your lip is split!
Also, when did African Americans hold a convention to
decide what black is?
And why did they not mention this to the rest of the Atlas?
Pity put her hand on my arm and told me to calm down.
Shurnell. You are of a displaced people.
You are what would have happened if Moses and his peeps
never left Egypt.
I mean, I had an anxiety attack just coming here for college
and I know my way back.
You are the black rose that will grow on top of the concrete
if that shit won’t crack!
You are a caged bird with clipped wings that still had the
courage to lift,
it’s a miracle you managed to live.
But have you bought into the American dream? Did you get a
Do you look back on Senegal and thank white Jesus you made
it out?
Have they sold you the American dream? Did it come at a
good price?
You don’t have to tell me what black people sound like
White people have spent centuries trying to fit me into
But black on black oppression just doesn’t come in my size
I reply, yes Shurnell. I sure as hell talk white.
Because I’m speaking a white language!
Best believe there wasn’t a single black person at the
meeting when the British made up
Or any of the so-called romance languages.
And if there was, they were probably serving sandwiches.
‘Cause we’re talking about the same people who called us
So every time. every time we speak English we talk white
Lakini afadhali mi’ naongea kiSwahili.
Mang’funa ne ‘s’Zuli ngiya s’khuluma
Ga ke rata, nkana ka bolela Sepedi
Na swona loku hi vulavula Xichangani na mhani, mi ngehi heti
Well, at least I still speak Swahili
And I can speak Zulu when I feel like it,
my Sepedi is as smooth as butter
and I can still speak Shangaan with mother.
But it’s not your fault! No, I blame the boats. I blame the
I blame the tide. I blame the sea for not picking a side!
I blame bribes! I blame slave-traders AND sellout chiefs alike!
But it seems like you blame me
For being born in a former British colony
I sound white?? As opposed to what? Sounding American?
What does it matter whose oppressor is better?
Racism oppresses us all, and you know it.
We are part of a system that requires us to be inferior to
make a profit.
And fighting each other makes us of it.
And so blackness fights blackness for a future that’s bright
Our end of the tunnel is so narrow, we fight each other to
reach the light.
A hip-hop-blasting car let out “nigga” five times before
reaching the corner.
A billboard advertising hair relaxer had the nerve to print the
slogan “Love your hair!”
Street kids were chirping,
a fight broke out,
cops were playing in the streets.
Did I mention, it was a beautiful day in Harlem.

-Maya Wegerif


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