A while ago I wrote a poem entitled, “Are You Okay?” and shared it with my boyfriend as it was a moment that we experienced together. After reading it, my boyfriend added his own contribution. His voice is written in the smallest font, as he is the one that the officers seemed to silence out. The largest font represents us speaking in unison.
We went out one evening for a picnic,
She surprised me with a picnic
But you already decided that it would be him that you would nitpick.
I was enchanted by summer’s darkness
We found ourselves interrupted by red and white lights
Yet you remained transfixed on the darkness
Of his skin.
You thought that my white skin made us akin.
And as they neared closer and began to shine bright
I felt as if those lights flashed along with my life.
You rolled over in your squad car
While we were simply admiring a night star.
Three of you came over grinning, approaching steadfast.
And three of you stepped out
Because how many officers did it take
To subdue the black man holding
The white woman’s hand?
“What seems to be going on here?” one of you asked.
“I got out late from work and my girlfriend decided to
Surprise me with a picnic,” he told you.
“What an odd time for a picnic,” the officer retorted.
At that moment, my chest became contorted.
But that wasn’t what you wanted to hear because you didn’t
Care about any picnic or anything of that kind
And you pulled out your flashlight to see
What you could find.
I realized a change in your tone
You were probably wondering to your self
“Why didn’t this boy just stay home?”
Once your flashlight shone
At him and revealed what you were unable to tell apart
In the darkness. Without vision, your eye
Cannot see what color separates him from I.
This woman must be in danger, he’s obviously
Hurting her with a sandwich
Yet in the light you were able to see
Darkness of his skin next to me,
In the light I was able to see
The darkness of your mind and your heart plagued by a black sea.
Yet only one of these dark things would cause
Harm, the effect of this cause.
“This is water I assume” you stated.
I replied “Yes it is”, but that wasn’t the answer
You wanted to hear because you didn’t care
If it was water, you could care less. I confess
That I was scared and feared for my life
That if I even inched to the right you’d pull
Out your cuffs and haul me away.
You see, I thought light was meant to be enlightening,
Instead officers, the light you were in enlightened me; you were the ones who were frightening.
You all walked over to examine our possessions, each one separate.
Some poorly made sandwiches, and chips for an evening date.
I remember thinking this idea was incredibly cute.
Yet as you searched our blanket laid out, I began to feel quite acute.
You picked up the water and said, “This is water right?”
He nodded his head yes, but you had to hear it from someone white.
Yes, officer the water is clear
And it is clear to me that colors are important to you all here.
After finding nothing, you seemed dissatisfied
Because you already had him classified.
Yet that’s the funny thing about nothing, there is not one thing.
But you wanted a particular something
(Yet nothing means none)
Because you had your mind on a particular someone.
So officers I apologize for being a black man,
Who abides by the law,
Who just got off of work and wanted a picnic with his
Girlfriend, who wanted to eat but got swept up in
This whirlwind, but as my mind began to run astray
You looked over to my beautiful girlfriend and had
The audacity to say
“Are you okay?”
You flashed your light directly at me
“Are you okay?” you asked, only me.
You implied as if I had a disease, as if she would catch
A black germ, as if I was some kind of black worm you
Couldn’t wait to shoot and kill.
As if he was guilty for being near me.
As if it was illegal for him to love me.
During this whole intervention
You may have thought you had a good intention,
But that bullet left me immobilized.
Because the possibility of me being in danger was a general lie, no sir, you generalized.
But as she replied “Yes
I’m okay” you still insisted that she wasn’t, that she’d
Be much safer in the presence of you and your fellow officers
Than some black monster, but unfortunately
The only monsters are in uniform with guns in their holsters
Staring at two innocent people on a picnic.
An image flashed before my eyes of you
Cuffing him because you could do
Because to you he was a doormat, and I would be your welcoming mat.
When in reality I would have to watch helplessly
Because you see officers, you could not be any less helpful.
I did not feel endangered until I knew that he
Was in danger, because of me.
Because it is dangerous for a black man
To be with a white woman.
“Are you okay?”
No, I am not okay.
Because this system is not okay.
Because society is not okay.
Because I am not okay
Living in a world in which this happens every day
On levels much more extreme than this,
In ways that people try to dismiss.
Now let me ask you officer, are you okay?