I hear the question every time I leave my house; I step onto a sidewalk and walk: one foot in front of the other, my hips unhinged, dropping in diagonal directions to the beat of whatever diva coos in my ear; I walk deliberately and with an awareness that each time I move, I do so to the rhythm of: Who… do… you… think… you… are?
I answer with my body: more than big, gargantuan, and soft, unmistakable. It should be unruly but I swing all my pounds gracefully, demanding space, commanding attention. I will not cower. I will not apologize.
I strut down city streets because I am not supposed to, because I can. I have paid the price; the ticket is in my pocket. I feel your brother’s eyes on my chest. I have felt eyes on my chest since I was a boy standing in midwestern high school hallways; I have felt the hands connected to those eyes of greedy sweaty pimple faced white boys who didn’t take “No!” as an answer. I fought the hands that reached past my “NO!” and grabbed my chest to preview what Friday night with their girlfriends would feel like. “Who do you think you are?”
I, the tank with a little sugar, slink down the avenue. I am searching for sweet potatoes. The big ones are the sweetest, their flesh the deepest orange. I, the tank with a little sugar, slink down the avenue for potatoes to boil in water and mash with butter and sugar and milk and spices. Sunday is soon and there will be pie. We took the pie with us to Angleterre; we left the pumpkin in Amérique. I slink toward the shucking of corn, toward buttered dough made soft by brown hands, toward a salty smoked bone placed in the freezer, toward ham fanned on a plate, toward tough greens made soft. I slink toward Sunday. I slink away from bruschetta and small bites, away from thinly sliced fish, away from fish that can swim out of its roll, away from crepes with Nutella. I slink away from Friday. I slink about this town gathering my mind. I slink South. I, the tank with a little sugar, slink to the buzzing of that hot question: “Who do you think you are?”
The question stabs me everyday when you, yes you, look at me. I close my eyes and see myself: A figure, large and black. My edges dissolve into the soft black shadows that ziggs and zaggs through the city, limitless. Those parts of me forever trailing away from me, forever infinite. But my core, that stands out against the brilliant white of the city. A city that glitters all around me, sounding like coins fighting each other as they cut through the air, falling but never reaching a floor. This American city that does not hunger for me. If it devoured me, it would vomit me up. But, I bite it, lick it, kiss it, tear at its flesh and swallow, and call it love.
“Who do you think you are?” I answer:
I am a “We.” “‘Who we be’?” We be screamers, dancers, singers, and dreamers. “‘Who we be’?” The children of the first hym and hir. The South’s forgotten ones. “‘Who we be’?” No one named Tom; we know no Jemimiah. We have no uncle named Ben. “‘Who we be’?” Sugar made hard, candy laced with testosterone. Who are you? Hungry little ones craving something sweet. “‘Who we be’?” Jawbreakers. Who are you? Little boy lost and little girl scared; children who ate the lady’s house and blamed her for wanting justice. Who are you? Just Jacks and Jills dropping the pail because you were busy trying to kiss. “‘Who we be’?” Stars fucking, knowing that “this nut might kill us,” still; we engage in that “revolutionary act.” We be not shadows but suns. All that heat you feel be us twerkin’. We be young. We be gifted. We be the song that bird sings.
“‘Who we be’?” The originators of you.
Who are you? Imitators of us.
I switch all through the fucking city––––– the whole fucking city.
*For my fellow black queer brothers and sisters. We stomp all over this town they call America.
(Contains references to Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, Jill Scott, and my Mother and Grandmother’s kitchens.)