Underemployed while being a Black American

Working as a cashier

while being black

teaches you a few things,

but none so important as this:

people assume you've done nothing

with your life because of the job you have.

My saving grace is my wit.

But before I can speak, I

must be spoken to.

I must be acknowledged as an equal.

 

Without my Heidegger,

Milton, Ellison, Aristotle,

Flaubert, Faulkner, and Morrison,

I would have no shield,

being merely a black body thought

to have no brain, and thus 

a lesser soul. 

 

No customer with any real money in their pocket,

of any color or creed, 

gives the benefit of the doubt that 

someone like me might be cultured,

might have a sensitivity to matters

of a higher aesthetic,

might be someone a little bit more complicated,

without those books either being in my hands,

or constantly near the register. 

And so a lesson I learned quite early as a child

aids me well in presenting my humanity

to the masses that I must accommodate: 

To be an intellectual, 

I must carry the articles of an intellectual,

and then and only then 

can I astound, as nappy hair

and dark black skin,

almond eyes, and full lips,

rightfully become 

 the opulent embodiment

of a fervent autodidactism 

and unconquerable will. 

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