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Respectability has known me Since I knew my father He’d always told us Our bodies were things to hide Things only loose women gave away Women who represented the worst Our color had to give

And then one day in Martin Luther King Jr. Library Dressed in brown corduroys, a long-sleeve blue shirt And a twelve-year-old’s body I was followed into the welcoming stacks By a man as old as my daddy And he grabbed at my arms enviously Reaching out for me Despite the shield Of moral hierarchies encased around my body

Respectability continued to follow me through high school Planting hasty judgements on my lips And hateful glares behind my eyes When people who looked like me But had not what I had Would pass me on our streets, pants just a little bit lower than my father approved Language just a little bit looser, a lot more colorful

And then for five years— When my father deserted us— We found our way Among the women with loud, shrieking voices Men with no jobs, brimming with kindness Kids with no homes, who leaned on my mother When we had but each other For warmth And not the moral codes of Those afforded some semblance of Black middle-class privilege In response to “Blackbottom” by Toi Dericotte

Artwork by Damien Shen

© Ama Akoto (2018)

#blacklivesmatter #blackness #privilege #respectabilitypolitics

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