Tikkun Winter 2019 (34.1) - Page 80

He says his name is T.J. I don’t ask what it stands for. I don’t care. “I assume that what you were trying to do was say ‘good morning’ but somehow the right words failed you.” Before he has a chance to respond, I ask if he’s ever heard of poet, essayist, and activist June Jordan. His blank stare answers my question before he begins to shake his head from left to right. They’ve crowded around us now. It feels like a spectator sport. I imagine I’m in a boxing ring. Except I’m not feeling much like a champ. I feel as though I might suffocate. I feel small. I’m wearing sneakers and not my trademark stilettos. Spears of light pierce through clouds as the sky brightens and I feel a sliver of safety. Before I lose my nerve, I tell him that June Jordan wrote a piece about Mike Tyson called “Requiem for a Champ.” I read it in college. She writes about the horrific conditions of poverty and oppression under which Tyson learned the “rules” of interacting with a girl... of talking...to a girl. I tell him that June Jordan says “the choices available to us, dehumanize.” neighborhood nor anywhere in this world. I tell him I’m an incest survivor. I ask them all if they know what that is. Now, it’s really uncomfortable. A few lower their heads. One nods. “It means that my father’s semen was on my thigh when I was 10.” I say it slowly. I want them to hear it. I want them to feel the pain in my words. I tell him that his morning greeting almost f ***** up my day. Disrupted my spirit. That his words felt violent and hurtful and disrespectful and mostly made me sad. Something changes. The air is lighter and heavier at the same time. He looks like he might cry. He tells me again that his daughter is three. He calls her name. I tell him that I don’t need him to see me as his mother or sister or daughter. I need him to see me as human. He asks if he can give me a hug. I walk into his outstretched arms. I’m not sure if he understands the quote or the enormity of the moment. I leave him with June Jordan, whispering: “I can stop whatever violence starts with me.” I ask him where he grew up, if he was raised with a momma, sisters, aunties, or a grand- mother. I ask if he has brothers, uncles, a dad, or grandfather. I ask if he has daughters. He says his grandmother reared him. He says he grew up in the church and had a paper route. He says his little girl is three. I don’t do it all the time. Only when I feel safe. The other men are silent. A few have wandered away to stand on the periphery. Irrespective of status or profession or age or geography. I tell him I live blocks away and that I shouldn’t have to detour to feel safe. Not in my The struggle is real. The intersection of my identity as a Black woman. 80 W W W .T I K K U N . O R G And that shit’s relative. Safety, I mean. I’ve done it with construction workers at a city job site and college students in a grocery store near the frozen waffles and corporate execu- tives in a towering office complex. WINTER 2019