The Way I Was Made

CA Winner of the NEA Big Read Poetry Competition

The Way I Was Made
Written As Performed Live. Copyright.

I am 1 in 4.

Not 1 in 4 to rebel against my parents and dye my hair a crazy color.

Or 1 in 4 to be eaten by a shark

I am 1 in 4 under the age of 18 to be raised without a father.

I am also a woman. An African American. And a Mexican American.

Basically I am a tool. A worker. And cheap labor.

These three things prohibit me from moving. I do not belong here.This line is closed to you.You are not allowed inside. Know your place.Try next time.

So, what a time it is to be alive as different sides of the world string up their signs and claim what is the best for the world.Leaving people like me to our whirlwind of thoughts, not knowing if we should even try to speak up. It's hard to belong in a world that does not want you, and even harder when it convinces you that you are nothing more than a statistic.

Being black is the: I didn't mean to say it like that.

I’ve always wanted a black friend. You're pretty for a black girl. You're taking things to heart

And the you can't take a damn joke.

Being human is not knowing how decipher pain.

The n word flows from lips that have never stung with cuts of inhumanity.These people say the word as If they have fought all their lives just to be heard.These people say the word as if they have looked at their skin and spit on it.They say it like they have hated themselves for being born.

As a child the silly games we played on the playground held greater meaning.

I was always running away, thump thump thump, hide and run

Hide and run when they caught me they shot me with their fake plastic guns and yelled “You’re Dead.”Cops and robbers or sharks and minnows do not fill me up with the same excitement anymoreI think of these childish games and realize I was the one always running.Faster and faster, too weak to keep going but knowing if I stop I'm done for.Faster and faster, the teenage African American boy runs on the streets of his neighborhood.Faster and faster, I fall to the floor as the children point their fingers down at me and laugh.Faster and faster just keep running, the boy falls to the floor and unlike me has a gun pointed to his head.My hearts beats louder and louder as one of them kicks me in the stomach while the boy’s heart stops.

Everything around me seems to bleed black; at a young age I started to wonder if I bled the same.

Wondering if I bleached my skin the girls at school would finally accept me instead of shredding my self confidence until I was nothing but the dismembered figure in a game of hangman.

I once had a teacher that asked me what my family and I called each other.

Were we black? Colored? Labeled as one of the many colors of the rainbow? Why did it have to be so complicated?

The words left her small pale lips, brutally choking me on the guillotine.

My classmates watching me as I took my last breath.

Finally, falling into the oblivion I had been seeking my entire life as I hang for the entertainment of others.I put on a show, I smile as I watch people tarnish my culture and claim it as theirs.I laugh when they make jokes about my ancestors who fought just to be called people.

And sometimes I make the same jokes too.

Falling down this web of lies, wet with tears, and I can hear myself screaming inside.Please don't try to stop me I am on a roll.Maybe I should speak a little clearer,Put more emphasis in my words,But even then my words would still go unheard.Because in this society my words mean nothing.

I am on the wrong side of the spectrum but on the right side of history.Yet it could take years until I stop being an accident bleeding out on the concrete.

My little sister doesn't like to wear her hair down, Says the kids at school say it's nappy and rough so she wears it up, Decorates it with a bow or two and changes herself to reach their views, She cries in a shopping cart at walmart because she says she doesn't feel pretty

I console her and tell her what she needs to hear and I wonder if she can tell that my voice is shaking.That I just cannot form the correct words with the correct punctuations that my tongue feels heavy with lies.As I watch history unfold itself in front of me.

I empty myself in front of her, searching through the clutter for a bandaid to heal the wounds deeper than flesh.The same wounds that have left scars on myself, carved insecurities and false prodigies.That have made me unrecognizable when I look in the mirror. Oh my god nothing has changed.So, how could I say that things get better.

That it won't hurt so much in the morning.

Ignore them, you matter, I love you, I tell her but In my head I pray to god to help her.The loneliness that was created inside me claws up to my chest, creeping towards my lips.There's no pain when it comes to loneliness there is only emptiness.

Not belonging in a world you thought was yours is the the worst punishment.

It’s carrying a key that opens no doors.

Your trapped within the realms of discrimination and bigotry.

Until you discover words are the best therapy.

You're going to be okay, I tell her and wonder if I’ll ever be.

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Kenya Burton
Kenya Burton
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Kenya Burton

I am a poet from California, hoping to help those that cannot use their voices for themseleves.

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