“This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. […] The dark, dark liver – love it, love it, and the beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart.” Toni Morrison, Beloved
Dear child of colour:
It has taken a long time for me to learn how to love you. You were born into a long line of hunger and secrets; to this day, you are still hungry, with your mouth full of silence and your stomach full of ghosts. I used to think it was impossible to love someone so hungry. You wanted so much, child of colour – a whole world that did not belong to you, a homeland stolen from you at birth. You wanted more food, more money, a house without rats and the strange smells of your parents’ foreign cooking. You wanted more than your share. You stared at the tiny, dust-caked television and dreamed of bluer eyes, whiter skin, blonder hair. You stared at the mirror and wanted a different life.
Child of colour, you were taught to swallow your wanting. Someone slapped you early on and told you to move on, get over it, life isn’t fair, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Someone told you that it wasn’t your place to ask questions, demand answers, ask for more, fight back. You learned that truth and desire were punished. Head down. Work harder. You learned to hide desire, your shameful hunger. What can’t be cured must be endured. You endured your ugliness. You endured your shame. You endured wanting – always wanting – the wrong bodies, the wrong genders. You took what pleasure you could in silence, always afraid of being caught. You took what love you could get in silence, no matter where it came from or what you had to do for it.
Queer child of colour in a Western land, you will always be a foreign body in a hostile organism. The school, the workplace, the dance floor, the university, the street, are designed to purge your presence from their veins. This white country will feast on your body if you let it, will swallow you whole and demand that you give thanks to its throat. Your protests are called insanity and your silence, complicity. Your compliance is mistaken for consent. Sometimes, even you forget the difference.
Child of colour, you are full of hatred and jealousy and rage. Your belly is swollen with all of the retorts you have swallowed over the years to thoughtless insults delivered daily by both cruel and well-meaning white people. Your teeth are clenched around words you will never say to your parents. Your nails dig blood from palms of clenched fists that call, impotent, for justice, for militancy. You have wanted a revolution since before you knew the word. You want a revolution, but have no idea how to get there. You have no name for the future that you want. You have no memory of the freedom that you dream of.
I am learning to love your wanting and your hatred and your secrets, child of colour. I love your queerness and your darkness and your memories of shame. I love the stories you haven’t told. I love the defiance that is your survival. I love your capacity for compassion, for sacrifice, which, like all of you, have endured. I love your skin, your carnal wanting. I used to think you were ugly, child of colour, but am starting to understand that beauty is so much more than what you cannot have. I want to wrap my desire and rage in words and wrap them around your hunger and fill that empty space. I want to love you through the mirror. I want to choose you – you – on the dance floor, want to find you in the hostile hallways of schools we defied all odds to get into, want to stand with you on the streets where we protested, begged, ran away, hid, bruised our knuckles, bled, sold sex. We are everywhere, child of colour. I see you.
Child of colour, I used to wonder if it was possible to love someone so hungry. I love you because you are hungry, and because I am. Our bodies come together to bleed colour into this white world, our wantings collide to make this place wider. There is a universe of stories in our intertwined mouths, a river of the homeland’s ghosts seeping from our flesh. Child of colour, I am singing your song.
Ryan Kai Cheng Thom is a child of many colours. They are grateful to The Daily for giving them this space, and to their readers. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.