You’re twenty. Fresh-faced. Everyone else in this writing cohort is watching you, rubbernecking, wide-eyed, pale. They can smell the blood in the water. They know you are going to say something, you must say something. Silence is not an option.
The woman who submitted the piece is proud of it. Proud. Admittedly, her prose is clean, precise, purposeful. She has her MFA. She’s earned it. She uses it to write about people whose suffering she could never begin to comprehend. Her little scrap of prose chronicles the murder of a fictional anonymous boy in the nebulous, unspecified past. He is nameless, Black, and dead. Lynched. His murder is dissected in rapturous, gleefully somber detail. Gutted and deboned like a fish. Everyone is looking to you.
The writer’s white face is grainy through her webcam, but her hazel eyes twinkle clearly. She thinks she’s done it. Your ancestors speak through her. She’s prayed on it, she says. The silver cross glinting from her neck taunts you. She’s done research, lots of research, oodles of it. Her writing reflects this. The specific types of brass buttons on his overalls. The most popular knots tied by the sons of sons of Confederates. The Southern tree he swings from.
Why, you think. There is nothing else to think but why. You try to imagine this boy, crafted by this white woman whose kin wouldn’t blink at a black person reduced to a body. He has no features but the precise brass buttons on his trousers. The oak that barely bends under his boyish weight. The fibers of the rope. Him, faceless.
Everyone else has had their say. The writing is beautiful. What turns of phrase! How haunting, how horrible! Meanwhile, there is blood spilled in this piece. Meanwhile, your flesh is her history project. Meanwhile, you are left in the lurch while her praises are sung, literary buzzwords tossed around, and the birthright of your own history is being stripped from you.
In her story, this boy is innocent. He didn’t do any wrong but leave late at night to chop some firewood. In her story, he is meant to be every Negro killed unjustly. But he is not every Negro. To you, he is a singular man—your kin whose life began far before that first paragraph. It is not her story. The cohort thinks otherwise.
It’s your turn to provide feedback. This is your first professional writing group. They are hungry for your Black words out of your Black mouth. For your judgment. To say nothing is to be alienated for being a “bad sport”. To say something is to be quietly scorned. You are the youngest by far. You believe you have no power. You believe you have no choice.
You lie down. They gnash their teeth, bellies rumbling. You remove your clothes, baring your brown skin. You are young; you are fresh. They will take from you, but since you are compliant, they won’t consume enough to kill. If you give yourself willingly, you will live to see another day.
You open your mouth. The imagery is gorgeously written. The characters have clear voices. Her use of setting is beautifully juxtaposed against the horror of his . . . death. And you turn off your microphone. And the feast begins.
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