Photo credits: Zarmeena Waseem
One of my favorite poets from Baltimore sent me a writing prompt last year that I never had a chance to get around to. The prompt asks: Is freedom truly free and what does July 4th represent to you? I didn’t know what would come out, but I consider “Penance Day” as the sequel to the previously published, “I Can’t Breathe.” While statues are coming down in the former capital of the confederacy, people are still disappearing, people are still bleeding, people are still hurting. I will keep writing for them.
People love using the phrase, “Freedom is not free.”
Today, we know that mostly,
Freedom is a farce.
Privacy is a farce.
Security is a farce.
And, racism is a business.
Is all collateral.
It is all
We are all collateral.
A casualty of consumer-culture and a case study for cronies who want to cook up more coin.
All we are is profit.
And racism is a business.
So will you believe him when he arrives,
a Black prophet?
A Black poet
Instead of spilling blood.
B/c his veins
are ripe with the genetic wisdom
of his ancestors.
So while you are calling
the angel of death
Where the tree grows.
The tree of life.
Will you believe him when he tells you?
Or will you dismiss him
America, aren’t we just
Believing in a democracy that doesn’t believe in us,
That uses us as pawns for more income.
B/c racism is a business.
In this business,
Why don’t you see what I see?
Why don’t you see sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, nephews, nieces?
Why don’t you see doctors, lawyers, engineers?
Why is all you see Black?
Why is all you see criminal?
Why is all you see animal?
Who lied to you?
Is this what happens when you pledge allegiance to an object rather than an ideal?
What does the flag even stand for if we have to kneel to get peoples’ attention?
If They have to die to get people’s attention?
When you send an innocent Black man in to the criminal “justice” system in this country, you have already lynched him.
When you send him to jail, you have revived the shackles he and his ancestors never should have had to wear.
You are digging at the scars of chains they never should have had to bear.
We are all mistaken.
We have all been complacent.
We are all complicit,
If we are not paying attention,
If we are not working to free
And still, how often is a Black man accused of crimes he didn’t commit?
How often do law enforcement, lawyers, and judges alike agree on “just cause”?
Or was it just ’cause?
We are so busy these days.
And isn’t that what most governments are relying on?
We all want the same things for our families:
Futures, smiles, life.
We are so distracted, so hungry, so underpaid, that
we don’t have time to dig deep.
We don’t have time to realize
a future void of chaos and violence.
Futures, smiles, life.
White America is so pro-life when it comes to babies,
but not when it comes to Black people.
I hope there is a national blackout on independence day.
We have nothing to celebrate.
We have oppression and genocide to navigate.
We have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep.
So stay woke and
Herd the sheep.
Teach them change,
We will all be in chains.
America are you listening to your rap sheet?
We are on trial
for crimes against humanity.
We have felonies
we need to stand for.
We have gross negligence
we need to pay for.
We are unfit to call ourselves
I hope there is a blackout
on July 4.
Until we are ALL free.
I hope there are no fireworks.
But a fire in our hearts,
To restore what is long overdue
on our Black and brutalized communities.
From the boats.
Everything in this country has been a cage for Black bodies.
For my Black brothers and sisters.
Confined to the cargo of a ship.
Or a plantation.
Confined to the north.
Confined to a certain part of town,
or a certain street.
Confined to a certain stereotype.
Confined to entertainer, performer, athlete.
Confined to service you.
No matter what they do
Confinement seems certain.
Forced to live
In neighborhoods that don’t even belong to them.
With historic names that don’t sound like theirs.
Liberty and justice
There is no liberty here, except for a statue.
There is no justice here, except for the immigrants who have been here long enough to forget they stole indigenous land and life.
For those people, all of these luxuries still exist somewhere,
In a bubble.
In a shelter.
In a vacuum.
But not in reality.
Every time you put a Black person in a box,
whether in your mind or on land,
you are contributing to the casual murder of the next Black person
whose name may
may not end up
on the news.
may not know.
And that’s the problem.
You don’t know them.
So you don’t see them.
But I do.
These are my friends.
These are my family.
These are my people.
is the only thing
we have left.
of what we used to call
There is a system here, thriving
on killing Black and Brown bodies,
Sending them either to prison or war;
I pray you think before you speak.
I pray you think before you act.
I pray you think before you believe
in an independence day
of their freedom.
Who are the real animals?
Who are the real criminals?
Who is truly beyond forgiveness and reform?
I pray our independence day
Becomes our penance day
I pray for a freedom