Highlighting Past and Present OAR Contributors–Topic: Race & Racism Part 2

By: Hannah Lewis

This is part two of a four part series in which contributors from our 2019/2020 issues are interviewed on the topic of their published work– in the case of this series, the topics discussed will deal with race and racism. The United States is in the midst of a great awakening and it is imperative that we take the time to educate ourselves on what’s going on, why this is happening and how we can help; that starts with uplifting the voices of BIPOC wherever possible and listening to their stories and struggles about life in America. Today we’re highlighting Ifeoluwa Bada, whose piece “I Did Not Ask” can be read in our 2019 Vol. 4 issue. An updated version can be read here: I DID NOT ASK

1) What do you hope readers take away from your piece?
  My piece attempts to capture the lottery of birth. Nobody asks to be born, yet here we all are. We are the consequence of someone else’s decision. Some got the winning tickets. Others get killed. I wanted to convey this simultaneous similarity and division between two races: white and black. Similar in that they did not choose their privilege or their adversity, but they must live with it, different in what they must overcome.  

I highlight the differences by shifting between the two perspectives: white on the left, and black on the right. Additionally, the white side has capital letters – a sense of power and dominion, whereas the black perspective is non-capitalized and italicized, a bold declaration of their otherness to the piece.

I highlight the similarities through their pleas. The white speaker offers a silent begging (white guilt), he cries that he did not ask for his straight nose. No matter what he does he reflects his ancestors doing. He did not ask for privilege. Likewise, his black counterpart, offers a more pointed if not angry plea, he did not ask to bend over in submission, or to be considered as a token. No matter what he does he reflects a quota, his actions demanding affirmation by law. He did not ask for discrimination.

Initially, the poem can be read from the left and the middle, and the right side can be excluded, to reveal only the white perspective; or from the middle and the right side and the left side can be excluded, for the black perspective; however, as the reader continues the poem, they notice that in order to understand the whole piece, they must read the content from both perspectives. Towards the end of the piece, each speaker considers both sides (much like the readers should). The white speaker wonders what it is like to see the police as the enemy, as injustice. Where justice colors are blood red and bruise blue. Where fear fuels rage. Similarly, the black speaker considers what the police should truly convey: protection and honor. Where the source of anger is guilt. In that reflection, there is the palpable awareness of difference.

At the end, each speaker is aware of this division. They know their place. The white speaker knows he resembles those who murdered innocent black men, and the black speaker knows he resembles those who were murdered. There’s an understanding that the differences exist. The ending is a solemn one. Both can’t breathe under the weight of this revelation.

Read this way, the white perspective, combined with that of the black perspective is as follows:

“I did not ask to be born white, eyes shut, caul crown, naked. I did not ask for my father’s nose. A sharp L. Straight. My feet carve prints the shape of my father. I wonder what it is like to be fired first, hired last. To carry fear as rage. To see those flickering lights as injustice. Where bruise-blue is protection and blood-red is honor and black is just a shadow. What do my hands betray? Do they not resemble George Zimmerman, Daniel Pantelo, Derek Chauvin? I am not black. One a color. The other, a sentence, and I can’t breathe.

Read this way, the black perspective, combined with that of the white perspective is as follows:

“I did not ask to be born black, eyes shut, keloid scars, naked. I did not ask for my father’s back. A sharp r. Bent. My feet carve prints the shape of a quota. I wonder what it is like to be hired first, fired last. To carry guilt as rage. To see those flickering lights as justice. Where bruise-blue is protection and blood-red is honor and black is just a shadow. What do my hands betray? Do they not resemble trayvon martin, eric garner, george floyd? I am not white. One a color. The other, a sentence, and I can’t breathe.

2) How do you feel about the current situation happening in the US (BLM)      I would like to say I am angry. I am sad. I have been both these things, but mostly, I am cynical and apathetic. I think that is a testament to how ubiquitous racism is in this country. That the murder of a black man at the hands of a white man brings more apathy than rage is telling. When I heard about it, my reaction was: “there goes another one”. My brother’s reaction was: “at least it wasn’t a kid this time”. To be so desensitized to the rampant abuse, subtle racism, and blatant discrimination is despicable. I felt guilty in my reactions. I feel angry at those who shared my apathy. I feel sad that this isn’t the last death we’ll see. There is gratitude that this was caught on camera, but I am still cynical in that I know others will still say (and I work with others that DO say) “well what about the other side” or “we only saw one piece” or “the guy had priors.”

There is no other side to standing on someone’s neck for 8 minutes.

There is no other side to standing on someone’s neck for 8 minutes.

There is no other side to standing on someone’s neck for 8 minutes.

I strongly advocate seeing things from two perspectives, as my piece conveys, but I also want others to be aware and accept that those differences exist. There is no such thing as color-blind. There is color. There is discrimination. There is privilege. Accept this and do better. Until that can be done with the honest intention to improve, without guilt and without rage, nothing will change.

 3) If there is one thing you could tell Americans in regards to BLM, what would it be?  Black lives matter too. The movement is not an opposition to the lives of everyone else.  I say this to those who spout All Lives Matter. They do, ours just seem to matter less to some people. When someone says black lives matter, they are not stating we matter more, or that you matter less. We are simply asking not to be shot. As a black woman, I’ve imagined my father’s death at the hands of a white man, a cop. I have imagined my brother’s death at the hands of a white man. My boyfriend’s death. My future son’s death. I have picked out the words I will say at their funeral. I want to convey this is not something unique to me. Ask another person of color. Go ask if they’ve imagined the same would happen to their family. Then ask yourself, have you wondered the same? If the answer is no, there is your privilege. Your life always mattered; we’re just asking for the same treatment.

4) What is your personal experience in being a POC & an artist? Do you feel there is a difference in the treatment of POC in the arts?  Personally, I have not been aware of any differences. I am a Nigerian immigrant, and most times I am more aware of this difference in culture and otherness spurred by my citizenship status, than I am about racial discrimination.

 5) Tell me about yourself and your personal journey as an artist/writer? I was born in Nigeria, and I moved to America when I was 8. I did not know I was black until I came to America. Coming from somewhere where everyone was black, to being one of the few black kids was a revelation, to say the least. I picked up writing in high school and minored in it at the University of Texas at Austin. I was fortunate to receive the Roy Crane Award for Literary Arts for my work, Bruised Hair, where I submitted three pieces centered on race and immigration. Since graduating, I haven’t written much save a few pieces on Instagram, especially after George Floyd’s murder. If I am being honest, I am scared I’ve lost my juice (ahah at the ripe age of 23!).  I would like to continue writing again. Currently, I’m toying with a story that deals with the police as an institution and the privileges they hold. No words written…yet. Yet. Until then, I’m building the courage to get on Medium.   

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