Stand Down: A Poem

by Zhyronn Carter 

From the womb, I was told

Don't speak your mind
Be careful
Wipe that look off of your face
Hush, chile!
Folks don't like that you know...
I learned to stand down

This followed me throughout high school
She called me a name
They made fun of my hair and dress
She tried to rub off my skin color
Don't get mad, they don't know any better
Please, just this once
Stand down

It continued through military training
We will talk to you and treat you as if you're less than human
We will disguise it as discipline
Don't worry, we will make you fit the mold…or else
It would be best if you just
Stand down

My chain of command knew my body was violated
That my space was invaded
They said that I put myself in that situation
The military can't afford another scandal
For the sake of appearance
Keep quiet and
Stand down

I've been sent to Afghanistan and Iraq
Defending my country while facing my enemies
Never once in that situation was I asked
To stand down…

But when it comes to terrorism in my own country
The killings, the brutality, the constant fear
I and my family have to stand down

Even when we stand down
That does not guarantee our safety
Our peace of mind
A chance to have our say

But does standing down mean backing down?
When are we allowed to stand up?
Rise up?
Allowed to address the injustices that go on today?

Like flies facing the swatter,
Every time we rise
We get knocked down
Whether by media or government
Even our own people
Contribute to the silence

And just like the fly, we will keep coming
We will not be silenced
And we will not stand down!

Photo: Shutterstock

Zhyronn Carter is from Edenton, North Carolina and is currently serving in the Armed Forces. She is married with three boys and a very cute beagle.