Category Archives: Letters

To MC

I got your email. Wrong cousin reaching out. And I can’t answer.

“Do you think people change?” I ask our cousin.
“Yes,” he replies.
“Do you think HE has?” I press.

Sometimes when it’s cold, I curl up and flashback to crawling on your floor.
I roll over and see your feet stomping down at my head.

“If you touch my things, I will slap you!” You told me.
“If you slap me, I will kill you,” I responded.

“How are you smiling while you tell me about this?” a friend asked. “You have a huge smile on your face while you talk about killing your cousin! It’s scary.”
“I didn’t even realize it,” I said. “I’m not happy about it. I think my body just reacts to ridiculousness with mirth. I was in a domestically violent situation. That’s ridiculous. I don’t think my body can think about that without reacting like it’s a joke.”

My biggest regret is not smashing your bottle of cologne on the floor. Sometimes I think about you wearing it, using it to get girls, and I feel scared and a little sick.

“He never apologized for it?” our cousin asked.
“He apologized the next day,” I said. “But he always does. And he always does it again. He reminds me of an abusive boyfriend who regrets his actions when he sees you bleeding, but still beats you up next week.”
“You know, I’ve heard that about him!” he said.
“And you’re still cool with this man?”

The best part of all of that was being able to leave. Having the resources and connections, and STRENGTH of will to get myself the fuck out of an abusive situation. And a year later, after the second rape, I left the country. This time, I’d been the one locking myself in a small living space in the cold. Still curled up on my side. That part doesn’t change.

“Leaving isn’t enough. You must stay gone.” Thank you, “Frida”.

We aren’t okay. We were, and you destroyed that. I can’t forgive you for it. Not out of hate, or spite, because I feel neither of those things for you. All that I feel, when I happen to think about you, is fear and sadness.

You were the first human long con I was aware of.

“maybe i’m being selfish again asking only for what i want. i’d like you to tell me what you want.”

What I want is for the past two years never to have happened. I want to be rape free, con free. I want to have a cousin I’m cool with, and only one dead. I want South Africa to be a haven, and Congo a conflict-free possibility.

That’s not how things work, though. You can’t erase the past; you can only learn from it and move forward. I can’t go back to an abuser. They always blame you for the abuse if you go back to it, and they never think about the intense emotional burden the abuser hurls onto you, even from across oceans.

What I want is for you to change. To listen to others. To control your anger. To reflect on yourself, your thoughts, your actions. To take responsibility for your life, your failures and successes. I don’t think you do any of that. I don’t think anyone makes you.

Your friends enable you. They don’t care if you’re a monster; they don’t care about what’s happening to your soul. I do.

I think the best care I can give to myself, and to you by extension, is not attempting to see you or speak to you. Maybe that way I can heal. Maybe that way you can finally be sparked into growth.

This is your sign.

Letter #2 (Trigger)

How have you been, Armani?

Time is so relative. In five weeks I will be with my cousins again in South Africa. I know that it’s close, but it honestly seems so far. Impossible. There are multiple points a day when I think I will not make it to them.

Here is where you come in. It has simultaneously been a painfully long and surprisingly short month since you forced yourself into my last safe space. When I say this, I am not talking about my body. It was terrible enduring you inside my body, of course. There was a reason I pushed you out of me multiple times, only to pass out and find you inside of me again. What I am talking about, though, is my mind.

I cannot control my mind anymore, and you are taking up too much space.

I have spent thirty days living flashbacks. Even now, as I type out my words, I do not fully see the screen in front of me. Instead, I see your dreads, and your torso coming down onto mine. I see your sheets, and hear your whispers. I can feel you, and I don’t want to. This is something you don’t think about. When you hear about other people who have been raped, you think about it as a one-time thing. You don’t realize that their minds will replay the experience for them over and over again. By now, Armani, you have raped me about twenty times a day, and the repetition is not doing anything to help me. I’m still not used to your invasions.

*Pause to be a social person. I have a job to do; I have schedules to create; I have new volunteers walking in whom I have to lead and make comfortable in this other country. So while you may hover in my mind, I am not allowed to reflect right now.*

There are good and bad things about how busy I am. Sometimes, I get so distracted that you go away for a little bit. Then, I’ll have a second where things settle, and you come pounding back into my head. I have anxiety now, thank you. I’m supposed to be stepping up, and taking charge of people, but I feel about as powerful and capable as a hypoallergenic feather.

“Kill yourself,” my friend told me jokingly, after I’d teased him.
“I consider it every day, but I haven’t don’t it yet,” I told him.

I’m not actually writing to you anymore, Armani. I don’t think I ever want to speak to you again. But I do need to write. I do need to get out my thoughts. I have friends, now in other parts of the world, to whom I can speak, but I cannot inject them into my mind when you are most troubling me. I need to be able to pretend that you are somehow receiving the negative energy I attempt to direct toward you.

My period was supposed to come on Monday. It didn’t. Finally, blood appeared later on Friday. Never have I been so happy to endure cramps. What were you doing this week? Were you having fun, as I considered the ethics of aborting a rape baby?

I saw my girls yesterday, for the second time. We went back into the school. Seeing them was probably one of the most lovely experiences I’ve had in a long time. It’s such a wonderful thing to be loved, as much as you love someone else. That’s what it’s like with the girls. As soon as they saw me, they began to shout, “Teacha Khalilah!” They rushed to hug me, and sang songs using my name. All of my girls grabbed my hands, and we became a mess of smiles and laughter and jubilant shouts. For the rest of the day, whenever we passed each other, they would call out to me and wave.
I saw Ava, now in kindergarten. Did you watch “A Path Appears”? She’s in it, from a couple years ago. I remember seeing Ava in Margaret’s Safe Place last summer, but I never knew why she was living there until I watched the documentary. Her grandfather raped her, before she was in preschool. And now she goes to KSG, and she can wave happily at me as she goes about her business. How do you do it, Ava? How are you able to continue living, to be alive and present, when all I want to do is crumble? Why are you able to keep it together while I, four times your age, am barely holding on?

I have the capacity to survive this. But I do not think that I can ever live in the same way, or to the same extent that I did before. Which is laughable, seeing as how the extent to which I was living before this happened was already limited. I hate you, Armani. I don’t have any better conclusions.

Midnight October Love Letters

I miss you.

I miss having you in my bed, wrapped up in my arms and legs as much as I am wrapped in yours. I miss being able to feel your hands on my opposite shoulders, as they have made their way all around my back. Your arms are long. I remember you demonstrating this two falls ago. And now, even if I wanted to roll away from you, I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t, though.

I’m sorry that I didn’t kiss you. I was scared. I still am. Thank you for not pressing it.

Thank you for staying the next morning. Thank you for sitting by me, in the chair that makes me sneeze, and watching Bob’s Burgers. You’re the first one to do that. You’re the first one I would’ve wanted to do that, and I didn’t even need to ask.

I don’t know what will happen when I go back. I see all these different versions in my head of things I want to happen, some with you, some with you later. But I know that I want you back in my room of lights. I want to be nestled with you, I want to watch Sunny with you. I want to be able to cry in front of you, snot pouring from my nose, and not have to worry about being unattractive. I want to talk and be listened to, to be appreciated for my simple skin and words.

I love you.

I’m not sure how, but I know that I do. I’ve half thought it over the last year, and I know it now. I love you. And it sucks, because I’m not sure what can come of it, or what I want to come of it. But I love you. I’m not in love with you, but I love you. And I worry about you.

I miss being angry at you, being so frustrated that I don’t even understand how we could have ever interacted with each other. Sometimes, you’re insufferable. But I suffer through you, and you suffer through me, and we sit down together, and when we stand back up, we’re friends again. I don’t know how we do that. But we do.

Ton pied es mon pied, and your successes will be treasured and rejoiced by me. Let me into your life as much as you dare. I understand what I’ve done in the past, and I understand your fear. I understand why you wouldn’t trust me. I do not say that you should; I do not ask you to. It’s just something that I know you have to do, eventually. We’re XXXX and Khalilah. That’s what you said, once, and that’s what we still are. We’re XXXX and Khalilah, and I miss you, XXXX. I miss you.

And I love you.

To My “Color-Blind” White Friends who Want to Use the N-Word

Hey guys,

I’d like to start off by making perfectly clear that I am NOT (repeat, not) calling you racist. If you were to use the word against someone, then yeah, that’d be racist. What you’re doing, trying to use it in order to seem cool and “with it” is not racist in my book. Stupid? Sure. Ignorant? Oh, absolutely. But not racist. So now that I’ve cleared that up, could you all maybe stop yelling that I’m racist/being a reverse racist/being a hypocritic racist for asking you not to use a word whose implications you obviously don’t understand, and for pointing out that you have white privilege? Cool.

I’d also like to take a second to point out that all of you yelling at me, asking me questions and then shouting over my answers, insinuating that I’m making everything up, accusing me of trying to make you feel guilty, and then claiming that I’m being oversensitive is a little too ironic for my liking. Even more so when you consider that I have not once raised my voice and have only spoken calmly. I’m well aware of the fact that the second I actually go off on the lot of you I’ll be the angry black person, or the irrational woman of color, and any hope I have of getting you to actually listen to me will be lost. You, on the other hand can default into the rational category regardless of what you’re doing, so long as you have each other for support. Of course what you’re doing isn’t overreacting! After all, I got upset at one word: “nigga”, and asked you not to use it again. You got upset at two words: “white privilege”, and started to shout.

Why is it that a word blatantly used to perpetuate racism is seen as more socially acceptable than the words referring to a racist system? Is it because the word “nigga” can never be used against you, but the privilege you have works for you, and calling you out for having it requires you to deal with some type of responsibility?

“Stop trying to make us feel guilty! I’m not privileged! I have never benefited from my race.” Here’s the beautiful thing about privilege: most people don’t see it unless they don’t have it. This means that if you grow up with consistent treatment, doing consistent activities, everything about your life will be normal to you and it won’t occur to you to think about why the consistencies keep happening. “That’s just the way things are” = Coward’s way out. Why are things that way?
I’m not going to make a list of things your privilege grants you, because no one has time for that, and enough white people have already started that job for you. If you want, read this article, written by a white woman, as well as this one.

“Yeah, well black people have power, too. The president is black!” Listen. Listenlistenlisten.
A black president is in no way indicative of a post-race society. In fact, that we see him as a black president indicates how racially charged our society still is. He has a qualifier in front of his title! None of the other presidents were known as white presidents, because they didn’t have to be. They were normal. But our president is black, which is abnormal, so of course we must bring attention to that, and not be surprised when major news networks accidentally refer to him as Mr. Obama instead of his actual title. By the way, Obama is not even completely black. We see him as black because America apparently still operates under the one-drop mindset (definitely not post-race), and it’s good to have a black role model in what is arguably a position of power. Still, how exactly are POC benefiting more than white people from Obama’s presidency?
Oh, and if you really think that having a black man in office justifies your use of the n-word, you need to overhaul your thinking processes. You wanna say “nigga”? Why don’t you call Obama and ask him if that’s okay?

“But they say it in hip hop, so it is okay.” That is not how things work. You were upset enough when I tried to explain private prisons and couldn’t “condense” enough for you, so I’ll leave it at this. As my sociology class showed me (heyy Robyn Autry!), things that are produced with the purpose of being authentic just, aren’t. And while I (almost) appreciate your playing me the song “Sucka Nigga” by A Tribe Called Quest, you need to understand: it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Have you actually listened to the lyrics? Or do you just like the song because when you sing along, you get to say “nigga” over fifty times? It’s about a black man who understands why many black people don’t like the use of the word while many others have adopted it, partially as a term of endearment within the black community. Rap Genius actually refers to this as “flipping the word on its racist roots”. However, this is what black people are doing. White people are mentioned in the song using the word in one context. Please re-listen.

“Well, it’s just slang. It’s not fair if everybody else gets to say it and we can’t. Why shouldn’t I get to say it, just because some people are sensitive about it?” First of all, what?
Now moving on: are you really so important and special (and sensitive) that you can’t let people of color — and in this case, specifically black people — have just one thing to themselves? This is white girls getting offended by #blackgirlsrock all over again, except maybe worse.

Black people reclaimed the n-word, as your song points out, to change its meaning. At some point and in some places, the motivating idea of empowerment behind the reclamation got lost in translation. It’s here, I believe, that white people began to see the word as something cool to say again. Non-black privilege (because other POC do this, too) allows you to disconnect the hateful and somewhat recently hopeful pasts connected with “nigga/er”, and see it as something that has no meaning.
Or maybe it’s just more cultural appropriation (oh, I’m sorry, I meant your stylistic choices). You wanna twerk? You wanna wear dashikis, and Native American headdresses, and force slang words that should be said simply, naturally, smoothly, out of your mouth in chipped bursts like they’re on display? There’s doing something to do it, and there’s doing something simply because. There’s doing something because you don’t want to be left out, and doing something because you understand. Simple cultural appropriation is annoying at best. You’re in “unacceptable” territory.

(As a side note, I want to emphasize that I don’t only have a problem with white people using this word. I actually wish that no one used it at all, including black people, because I think there’s been a disconnect within the black community as to why the word was re-appropriated in the first place. Still, I can accept that I’ll have to deal with that. When it comes to non-black POC, however, what are you doing? I know that there are other derogatory names for your races, so why don’t you go re-appropriate those and use them amongst yourselves? If that idea offends you or seems ridiculous, is it a stretch to suggest that some reflection is in order?)

I think now would be a good time to reiterate that I don’t think you’re bad people. Having privilege doesn’t make you bad. I have privilege as a light-skinned person. I know you don’t believe that colorism is a thing, or that people bleach their skin/use skin lighteners in many parts of the world, but it is, and they do. Abusing your privilege, or being deliberately ignorant of it, is what makes you guilty.

Sorry if I’m annoying you. I know it makes our friendship awkward. Honestly though, using what is arguably one of America’s worst racial slurs, especially coming from your lips, and then not expecting to talk about race? That’s white privilege. It bothers you to hear about an oppression that you could indirectly (or directly) be contributing to? Try actually being oppressed by it.

If you really believe the word is so meaningless, I’d suggest not fighting so hard for the right (which you DON’T have) to say it.

To the Old Man in Rite Aid who Told Me To Smile

Dear Man,

First of all, I’m sorry for calling you old, only because that makes it seem as if you were some dirty old man, which you weren’t. I’d like to think that you had the kindest intentions when you came up to me, but the fact remains that you were older than my father, and you really shouldn’t have walked up at all. This is the only apology you will receive from me.

It used to be that when I went out alone, I would put on the meanest face possible, just so people wouldn’t talk to me. Then I got sucked into the world of retail, where you have to look somewhat approachable at all times, and most of the meanness melted away out of habit. When you caught me on line at Rite Aid that day, I wasn’t thinking about my face at all, because I was caught up in trying to separate my thoughts. One thought floated out from the rest: it’s good that I’m around strangers, because I don’t care about these people, and I don’t have to worry about what they’ll think if I absentmindedly start acting unhappy.
It was at this moment that I noticed your slow approach. I figured you would pass by me, and then when you opened your mouth, I got ready to tell you that Yes, the line formed behind me.

“Smile,” you said. (What? I thought)
It was the first time this had happened to me. How do you like that, Man? You were my first. I’d heard about the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign, and taken part in enough discussions about the liberties men take on the street to make me never want to walk outside again, but this was my first “smile”. It wasn’t until you actually told me to rearrange my face in a way that would be more pleasing to you, that it really hit me how outrageous that command is.
“You’re too beautiful to look unhappy,” you informed me. (What? I thought, and then a confusion of Who’s, How’s, and Why’s)
That was just, there was so much to go off of that one comment. First of all, I was aware of the fact that you believed you had complimented me. Of course! You called me beautiful. Unsolicited, in line at a Rite Aid, where I was minding my own business, you came over and let me know that you found me attractive, and this was obviously supposed to make my day. Never mind the fact that you just twisted your “compliment” into a way to completely invalidate my feelings.
Where do people get the idea that attractive people must be happy? Does no one realize how wrong that is, or are we all too shallow? I remember reading an article about a girl who was bullied so much that she jumped off of a bridge. The article showed a picture of a smiling, blonde, and yes, attractive, young woman. What did people comment about? Not about how awful bullying is, or how there need to be more supportive groups to prevent suicide, or anything that could have led in any way to some type of resolution. Almost all of the comments were along the lines of “She was so beautiful. Why did she have to die?” or, “This is so sad. She was so pretty.” Would it have been any less sad if she hadn’t been attractive? Her beauty didn’t keep the bullies away. I wonder if she tried to tell people about her problems, but was waved off because she was “too beautiful to be unhappy”?
I was also simultaneously aware that if I didn’t say thank you or appear pleased and gracious in some way, I would seem rude. That’s what society instills into girls. “Don’t ask for it, and don’t encourage anyone, but if you don’t take everything guys yell at you with a smile and a thank you, and if you don’t acquiesce to whatever they want, you’re a rude bitch!” There was no winning, and I didn’t feel like being particularly polite, so I smiled warmly into your eyes and simply said, “Ohhh..” Man, did you even recognize that as my pathetic attempt at shutting you down?
“It could be worse. You could be dating me.”
Apparently, you’d missed my rudeness. You were suggesting that I would ever be in a situation in which we were dating.
I don’t like absolutes, and I’m not judging girls who get involved with men five times their age, but that is not my style. This comment was so ridiculous, if I could have processed it entirely, I probably would have laughed. Or not.
I was already realizing that Not Only were you injecting unsolicited opinions into my life, Not Only were you de-legitimizing my feelings, but now you were Also making the assumption that any emotional turmoil in my life will have to do with whomever I date. It’s not like I could have complex issues going on that don’t involve my vagina. I was just a pretty face to you, and ornaments don’t have real feelings.

********************
I was crying in the hallway, a couple weeks after Edward had jumped in front of his train. My friend was comforting me. By all appearances, we were skipping class, and before long a security guard came up to us.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. I was fine ignoring him, but she seemed uncomfortable with the situation.
“Is it boy trouble?” he prodded.
That made me look up. He honestly thought that I would skip class to cry in the hallway about a boy? He genuinely believed that my life was so shallow, so predictably teenager-ish that that was the situation at hand? Offense made me almost forget the reason we were out in the first place.

No” I spat at him, with all the contempt I had the energy to muster. He looked extremely taken aback.

**********************

“My name’s ____” you said with a laugh, and I was grateful, because I really didn’t know how to respond to your previous comment.
“Nice to meet you,” I quietly lied, knowing that I would not give you any name in return.
“You have a nice day,” you said.
“Thanks, you too,” I responded, as the cashier was finally ready for me. Asshole.
The worst part is that I know you didn’t have malicious intentions. You genuinely thought that what you were saying to me was okay. I’m sure that there are people who will say that I overreacted to the situation, even though outwardly I simply let it happen. The thing is, I know that my feelings are valid. I find it so stupid that guys can do or say pretty much whatever they want to girls, and if the girls let their offense be known the guys turn around and say that the girls are wrong. How can you really stand there and believe that what you said wasn’t offensive, if multiple people are offended? Are you really so wrapped up in male privilege that self-reflection doesn’t exist in your world? I guess so. And is it really so wrong for females not to fall over in appreciation of your attention? Apparently, because now I feel guilty, and sorry for you, that I called you a name in my head.

Whatever, though. You may not be an bad person in real life, but that was a bad move.

To the White Boy Who Attempted to Colonize My Vagina

Dear White Boy,

Once I came across a tumblr post that read something to the effect of “this white boy lookin at me like he wanna colonize my vagina.” I can’t remember who posted it or if there was any real context behind it, but it’s stuck with me ever since. I was especially reminded of it when I had my unfortunate encounter with you.

Everything about it was wrong. Your timing, your approach. Your race. I met you at a cocktail party in a friend’s room. You claimed to already know me from a class we’d had one year earlier, but for me, it was the first time being aware of your person, outside of that vague kid who spoke once or twice over the course of a semester. It could’ve been the start of a friendship, because that’s what I think about when I first meet people. Friendship. Did I mention I’m asexual?

It didn’t seem like you were interested in friendship when you were messaging me at 3am, telling me to come to your room. The key word here is telling, not asking. Oh, White Boy. Where was my agency? Are you so used to getting what you want when you want it that you don’t even realize you are ordering others? I suppose that was your form of an acceptable request. It didn’t offend or annoy me; it interested me, and I talked back with you. Your commands, your rapport, it was all different from what I was used to, and for a moment I almost enjoyed it, even though I knew that I would never actually go to your room.

I didn’t trust you, White Boy. It was clear that I interested you physically, but I did not trust that interest. I do not want to be someone’s exotic experience. When the Europeans colonized Asia, the men were intensely attracted to the native women. And why wouldn’t they have been? They had never seen such features, never been aware of other sexual possibilities outside of their own women who paled in comparison. And so in order to preserve European supremacy, it was established that men could take concubines, or generally go after the women they saw as sexual objects, but white women were known to be the only women you could wife. White women, pure women, were held to a high standard of moral righteousness. They became the backbone of greatness, the ones needed for progression and positivity. Women of color, conversely, were only good for sexual distraction.
Those ideas may have been created centuries ago, but they are still very much embodied today. You can tell by the issues feminists find salient. When white pop stars dance suggestively, half nude, singing sexually charged lyrics, people take notice. It seems that half the population rushes to condemn them as whores without morals, while the other half rushes to defend them for being sexually empowered. Yet who is talking about the wall of women of color behind the white pop star, dancing just as if not more suggestively yet without any real agency of their own? The women of color who have been shipped in to authenticate the white pop star’s actions in the first place. No one pays attention to them, whether to condemn or defend, because their actions are not seen as anything other than what society would expect of them.

What did you expect of me, White Boy? Was I supposed to sexually satisfy you? Even after I told you, 36 hours after meeting you, that I was asexual, you still wanted me to send you “…ahem…” sexual photos of myself. How in the world could you think I would want to do that? I couldn’t get anything out of the situation, other than the worry that pictures of myself would be exposed all over the online world. It would be purely for your benefit, and White Boy, I did not care about giving you any benefits.

Why am I calling you White Boy? Part of it is to preserve your identity. I know your name; no one else needs to, and you’ll probably be thankful for that. More of it has to do with the way I saw you the entire time. I do not look at my friends, or anyone I’ve known extensively, in terms of their race but when it comes to new people, especially guys who are expressing some sort of interest in me, I am hyper-aware of race. How can I not be, as a light-skinned girl? I know my privilege, and the potential hidden politics behind actions. To the white boys who will see me as black, I do not believe I can truly be attractive without them knowing my personality. To the black guys who will see me as closer to white, I am not trying to get into a mess of colorism, which again is more likely to happen if we are more attracted to each other’s bodies than our persons. To everyone else, I do not know what to expect. You are a white boy, and 36 hours after knowing you and seeing your attempts to get with me, you remained a white boy.

When you realized you would get nothing from me, conversation stopped. No more texts, no messaging, and I’ve seen you in passing but once since. I have heard, however, from an actual friend who was in our class, that you have a girlfriend. A white girlfriend.
White Boy! I feel a sick sort of satisfaction, knowing that I was right about you, and right not to trust you. Imagine if I had been to your room, or sent you pictures, while you were attached to someone else. Did you think that you could dip your dick into the campus’s SOC community because the perceived chances of you getting caught were small? Are you stupid?

You allosexual people need to realize and appreciate the blessing you have been given, being able to completely connect emotionally and physically with others. It’s not something to waste with cheating and physical selfishness. And White Boy, you need to recognize that the women of color around you are more than mere sexual objects. We do not exist to be used and flung about at your “whim.” My vagina is not open for you to colonize.