I Find the Earring that Broke Loose from My Ear the Night a White Woman Told Me the World Would Save Her

I remember:

that earring made me feel so free, so full of beauty—the kind that you might notice. Beauty that could make my shoulders glow. I remember her face, alight with a devious curiosity in the porchlight of the house party—that party in that city which slathered a film over its racism with clean streets and yard signs proclaiming inclusion. That city in that American state which legally excluded Black residents in 1844, which entered the union, big, proud, and white. Does it matter that this woman was not evil, did not send bombs to kill children in a far-off country, did not buy or sell a single slave? Picking up the earring, unwearable until I find another hook on which to hang it from my ear, I remember, again, the words and their cool sting. I’m a white woman, people protect us. Does it matter what I said to invite these words? Does it matter that I did not invite these words? Does it matter that she thought this was a joke, a sign that she was on the “right side,” a way to pass a moment under the porchlight? I’ve been thinking about intention lately, how I'm always asked to consider how good a person is, what they meant versus what they said. I think about the man who called me colored at a hotel in 2019. I think about the n-word out of a white person’s mouth. About erasure. I wonder about the road to hell, which, they say, is paved in these same intentions—good. George Zimmerman intended to protect his sidewalk from Trayvon’s body, invasively alive. George Washington intended to protect America from Britain’s oppression—nevermind those oppressed Black bodies. Yes, I am weaving a rope between George Zimmerman and George Washington. Yes, I am saying it. My country tis of thee, sweet land of white supremacy. When she said it, my face could barely twist into anything but fatigue. I am tired over and over again of being told I am not human enough to matter. The white poet rages against me on Facebook. Maybe he imagines my blood against his ivory tower. Maybe he imagines the many bricks my foremothers and fathers built—LucillePhyllisGwendolynPaulLawrenceLangstonSoniaMayaNikki—tumbling at the flick of his well-educated thumb.  Is even my degree a different color, relegated to the back of a bus, a book? The business of poetry so thick with privilege, so smothered in the rust of its old gates—how can you breathe among all that rot? On the news, the man they call president tells us to go back from where we came. I think of all the lost ones thrown over boats, the ones locked away in cages, the ones here, sitting as American as the day is long and still called wrong. The earring says I once was lost when I find it, tells me it can be repaired. It is an earring of the struggle. It wants that ear it once called home, it wants to touch my brown skin and reflect it in its orbiting gold. I look for my pliers, my jewelry kit. The work is always the thing that makes us whole again.

Copyright © 2021 by Ashley M. Jones. From REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press, 2021). Used with permission of the author.