When the Black Kids Go Missing
by Edwige Ghembesalu (United States)
Audio: "When the Black Kids Go Missing" read by Edwige Ghembesalu
They tell us to put our hands up. Then, they ask us why we moved. Sister, that is why they shoot. Because we move.
They tell us to work harder if we wish to succeed. Then, they protest because we’ve stolen their spots. We’ve ripped them from their roots and stuffed them deep in our pockets. Then, we ran. Brother, that is why they run behind us. Because we work.
They laugh at us when we hurt, when we bruise and when we bleed. Then, when they hurt, when they bleed and bruise, their fingers tremble as they ask for us. They want help they do not have to give. They seek comfort we cannot show as we have never received it ourselves. Mother, is this why you remind me we bleed the same, but we cannot cry the same?
I still have questions, buckets and trenches and sacs I carry on my back and let slither in my veins and helplessly carry in my hands.
I am scared.
One day, I may open my door and find wreckage at my feet, waiting for my weeping and sorrow. But so far, they’ve approached me in crumbs. They tread on the padded feet of a father’s son.
As a child, it came to me when I first arrived here, an immigrant in the U.S. My classmates asked me if I ate cheetahs back home. They formed triangles with their hands and talked of tiki huts and murderous tribes. I was desperate for friendship, and so I became that child. I ate cheetahs and lived in tiki huts and took part in a murderous tribe.
It knocked on my door once more when I turned 10. But this time, it left me an envelope. And in this envelope was a single word stamped on a sheet of paper.
This is when I began to notice how few Black students there were in my accelerated classes. This is when I realized there were two types of kids in the lunchroom. The Black ones at the left or the others at the right. This is when I realized I couldn’t seem to find any Black Barbies in the store, and the only princess who looked like me was a frog for half of the movie, slimy and green and short and chubby and living in the swamps. That must mean I’m slimy and green and short and chubby and living in the swamps. This is when I realized the store clerks followed me in the corner store because I looked like a small thief, not because they wanted to help me find my sour, Trolli gummy worms. This is when I realized why Black boys don’t wear hoodies, and Black girls who go missing are never found.
I was old enough to realize all of this when I was ten. But apparently, no matter the age, the rest of the world is not prepared to look at me.
I don’t even get knocks on the door anymore. We don’t even get knocks on the door anymore. They stretched us out early like roll-ups and told us to grow up. And then they shot Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Stephon Clark and Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor so we would pay attention in class. Like they don’t already have guns pointed at our heads to make sure we’re listening. Like we can choose to look away from our live-action documentary.
Like we can escape.
I say again; my back hurts, my hands are heavy, and my veins are filled with lead. I cannot lend you my eyes so you can see what I can see, but I can give you my words so you can play them on repeat. I can tell you my stories so you don’t choke on mere fiction.
I’m only asking you to listen before my sister’s name shows up on CNN and my brother’s body is found by the monkey bars at the park I used to go to as a child. We cannot bring about this change on our own.
I know my words are scattered and my thoughts run a mess. So, at least listen to my final plea.
Please, help us.