Social Justice Poetry

A Tribute to Richard Collins III | A Social Justice Poem by Marcelius Braxton

Why is it that we must justify our humanity to you—even in death?
No, not death, murder.
Isn’t it bad enough to be stabbed by a white supremacist who hates me for my melanin?
Does it matter if I served my country or served in the penitentiary?
Not when I was just minding my business, waiting for an Uber to take me home after a long night.
But it matters for some—And I wonder why.
Can’t it be enough that I’m a person?
Or must I be exceptional to not deserve to be butchered in the street?

And the worst thing? The trickle-down effect.
No, I’m not talking Reaganomics, but he did play his role in the stigma
That a black man is dangerous—that one drug equals criminal
While the other equals treatment.
Why must someone be white to get sympathy?
I digress, for now.

The pain trickles down, for little black boys and little black girls.
And let us be honest, it’s not just the little ones.
We are strong; we are built strong, with the resolve of our ancestors,
Who took beatings,
And inhumanity.
Yet, still they showed us that black is so powerful, so beautiful, and so unique.

And, in the irony and contradiction that is truly encompassed in the American Dream,
Teenage white kids, whose ancestors lynched us,
Beat us in the street,
And poured milkshakes over our heads,
Now imitate our walk and our talk,
And they want to be us…without really wanting to be us.

But in the end, how strong can we (do we) always have to be?

Self-doubt trickles down,
And even within our refuge of pride and self-worth,
There is bound to be a crack or two.
And the doubt of whether we deserve to live or exist seeps in
Because the whole world is telling us that our existence
Is conditional.
We talk to white kids about their mental health.
We tell them they deserve a second (and third and fourth and fifth) chance at life
Because they are so ingrained with this belief that the world is theirs for the taking.
Meanwhile, black boys and girls toil over whether they are even meant for the world.

Could it be that we are destroying these little boys and girls
Before the stabbings, the police shootings,
The choking,
And the traffic stops that result in our deaths?

Could it be that the problem is a society that tells little black boys and little black girls
That they are completely meaningless—
Unless they are perfect?

I’ll consult the court system that gives slaps on the wrist to the affluent lighter shades
While the darker shades serve long sentences
For the same offense.

So, in our desperation,
We acquiesce.
And we preempt you
By telling you that we aren’t criminals, thugs, or drug dealers.
We tell you that we serve our country and that we graduated from school.

But does my degree make me worthy?
Am I safe if I show you my non-existent criminal record
Or even my law degree?

Or could I still be murdered in the street,
And have naysayers reply with suspicion?

Even in death, we are America’s suspect.

And, by the way, just so you know,
I am not a thug.

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