By Quraysh Ali Lansana

for zack. for mark.


the red undertones that inform my melanin
were birthed in the black mountain foothills
near the tennessee-mississippi border.

my great grandfather albert found freedom
just before the trail of tears migration
and hooked up with an ornery black
woman in westpoint, muddy waters’ neighbor.

ms. cora mae, never one to hold anything
long but money, sent him to his horse
upon the news—she had things to do—my grandma
would join the family business in a while.

ms. cora mae carried three daughters and two sons
into post-reconstruction mississippi, sown
from different seeds. the women, their doors
always open, were sexy to kill for. the men
loyal enough to do the job—cooking shine and running

            when the klan came calling the guns were loaded.
my father and uncles, all under ms. cora mae’s command
led rebellion against attack on their cottage industry, left
red cotton to feed brittle soil, then scattered in four directions.

after three draft dodging years in miami, daddy ended
up in oklahoma, where his sisters somehow landed
and his mama joined them after california.


i am an okie. grew up on cherokee
as did zack, my first best friend,
who lived two blocks away and wore
the street in his skin. we liked basketball,
cars, and never watched westerns.
zack disappeared in high school after one year
in warpaint riding a spotted mare at pre-game.
he was gone before i had the chance
to tell him what i already knew.

grandma never claimed native and hated
anyone darker than a grocery bag. this is where
i begin, on cherokee, trying to find zack
to talk about this mascot issue.


the beantown honkies
the johnson city jarheads
the washington senators
the oaktown wannabees
the cushing crackers
the tulsa rednecks
the old baltimore bigots
the chicago police department
the white city afrikaaners
the cook county overseers
the heritage foundation
the riverside peckerwoods
the german shepherds


How politically correct can we get? To me, the folks who make these decisions need to get out more often. I think they insult those people by telling them, ‘No. No. You’re not smart enough to understand this. You should be feeling really horrible about it.’ It’s ridiculous.

                        Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida *

*St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, August 10, 2005


ms. brooks urged me to return to school
from the nervous backseat of my mustang
in 1994. but what triggered the movement
was an enid, oklahoma drunken conversation
in a honky tonk with friends from high school,
all white and pseudo-liberal. we deliberated
level playing fields & jesse jackson
while the sad child of hank williams warbled
something loud about loneliness. just as twelve
years prior, i was cultural diversity at the table
and no longer comfortable. one man, maybe
my closest oklahomey in the bar, assured me
the residuals of chattel slavery no longer existed,
while leaning against the door of a 100-year-old
family business. i enrolled in african american
studies two months later. he will not remember
this exchange any more than he will recall the night
i was informed my blackness was a liability
in his pursuit of teenage pussy. history will tell on you.

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