African. American.: A Poem

by Liza Wemakor

There is something peculiar about you.
You do not carry yourself quite like an American, 
but you are certainly not African.
The sun has not taken to your skin.

You do not glow.
You mumble when you speak.
You keep cold distances.
Dear girl, what are you?
Oh, I know.
You are African. American.
Neither here nor there.
Neither Accra nor New York. You are
a muddled mix of your parents and peers.
You are fried plantain and French fries.
You are tomato soup with crackers and peanut soup with fufu.
Dear girl, who are you?
Oh, I know.
You cannot claim one identity, so you are
No One, trying to fill yourself with
bits of Everyone, but
in every group you are an
intruder, interloping in worlds that are
equally indifferent to you.
Whether you are
with Africans or with African-Americans,
there is a cultural
gap fostered by your juggling of fragile facades. You are
up in the air,
undefined, ungrounded, tumbling--
your fragments caught and heaved up again
and again before they break.
You juggle well, but there are
inside jokes you do not understand. You have mastered
Fake smiles and affirmations.
You have filled your cultural
gaps with flimsy putty.
As No One, you are
everyone’s token-servant,
bending beneath expectations, for you are
worthless if you do not
belong somewhere.
When one group tires of you,
as they all do,
you run to another,
in their favorite mask.
You grovel.
There is a nauseating pleasantry in every word you speak.
You poor African. American. You do not have enough history in this land to have earned
the hyphen between “African” and “American”.
Though you are treated like the descendent of a slave,
none of your ancestors bled into the soil of the American South.
You poor, disoriented, disconnected, dear girl.
There is always a period or a space or a
gap between the many names you call yourself.
You do not speak your mother’s tongue, but you understand it.
When you desperately explain this to your American friends,
they smile with disappointment. You are
not as exotic as they hoped.
When you explain this to your African relatives, they smile with pity. You are
just as American as they feared.

Photo: Shutterstock

Liza Wemakor is a rising sophomore at Dartmouth College and a proud alumnus of Booker T. Washington High School (Atlanta, GA). She intends to study English with an emphasis in creative writing.