To My Mama Alwin Mana

I’m so tired of my regular indoor voice being heard as a scream; of being presumed to be arrogant, harsh, abrasive, or ungrateful for existing or, God forbid, advocating for myself; of being denied benefit of the doubt; of my attempts at stretching out wide and letting my bowed-down soul stand up being perceived as an offensive posture; of being humbled, belittled, “put in my place,” or knocked off an invisible pedestal, one I neither asked for nor do I desire, by the same ones who place me there. I don’t need help shrinking, I’m already as small as can be. I watch myself trying to keep my face neutral and non-threatening on Zoom. I try not to feel shame for being so fragile and anxious (after all, the times could not be more dire, unless they can). I’m wondering if it wouldn’t make sense to just be the arrogant bitch that I have been understood to be so that there is no longer any tension between performance and inner world. Might that be easier? I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like my complaint is being shut out from white worlds or craving “a seat a the table,” because that is absolutely not the thorn here. (These are absolutely not confessions of a Black girl climber; I’ll be damned). My soul has been bowing down for years at work, and at home now that the walls have collapsed between those places, and I feel more tired than I should considering I have barely lived, compared to what my mothers would have been seeing at their age anyway. Tired and ashamed, for being so–

Looping image of rapper Flo Milli striking poses behind a bright pink podium topped with pink mics. The words "Like that" float above her head in blue and "bitch" flashes in the foreground, also in blue.

There’s this voice I have previously referred to as an imp, that seems to have taken up near permanent residence by my side. Its main job is to remind me how terrible I am the minute I start to feel too comfortable, when I seem to be getting closer to living up to my middle name Dzifa, “my heart is at peace.” It has remained there, even as I have adored every moment of working with students this summer, and especially when I have had to speak up to people with more authority in academic spaces in ways that are daunting and tiring because I seem to have to do so often.

You are always the one with the problem *and* the solution.

Taking up too much space.

Presumptuous. Arrogant, even.

The voice is always there because it is me, but it feels more romantic and less frightening to…

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