When your parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, all your teachers think they know your story. Which holidays you can & cannot participate in. Whether or not the adults in your home take part in the electoral process. How none of the members are allowed to drink wine, watch cable television or listen to Barry White. As for giving or receiving blood—they’d rather die themselves than help preserve human life. Most bewildering is your seeming detachment from social norms like bobbing for apples, Indian Chief face-painting & celebrating birthdays. Decline & everyone clutches their feathers. Circling their wagons around students like you who turn every holiday into a class spectacle. Never occurs to anyone that as a kid, if you are not allowed to accept such gifts, you don’t take them. Simply put. You try to tell people in advance, but no one listens. They can’t believe a child could practice such self-restraint. So, when one of your classmates passes around Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer treats—Ms. Ingram allows you to break the rules. But it is not her call. Like the flag you have refused to acknowledge is not a factor of discussion. Considering your parents sent your teachers a courtesy note explaining your reasons. Still, she wants to hear it from you. In your own language. Because you have been programmed, you repeat exactly what your parents taught you to say. Except you add, it is a piece of cloth & Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship pieces of cloth. That plainly said, you feel empowered. In control of the argument. An advocate for your rights. However, Ms. Ingram is offended. Highly. Her silence becomes a wall your words have built between you & her patriotism. From that Monday on you are marked as Ham. Blighted as Eve. & you understand your place when your teacher asks you to sit at the back of the room where no one can see you being a bad little American.
Allyson Horton is the author of Quick Fire, her first collection of poetry (Third World Press Foundation). She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Butler University. Her poems have appeared in It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip Hop, Brilliant Fire! a collection of literature on the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka and Black Panther: Paradigm Shift or Not? Her work has most recently been published in the literary journal African Voices. Currently, she teaches and resides in her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.