Respectability has known me
Since I knew my father
He’d always told us
Our bodies were things to hide
Things only loose women gave away
Women who represented the worst
Our color had to give

And then one day in Martin Luther King Jr. Library
Dressed in brown corduroys, a long-sleeve blue shirt
And a twelve-year-old’s body
I was followed into the welcoming stacks
By a man as old as my daddy
And he grabbed at my arms enviously
Reaching out for me
Despite the shield
Of moral hierarchies encased around my body

Respectability continued to follow me through high school
Planting hasty judgements on my lips
And hateful glares behind my eyes
When people who looked like me
But had not what I had
Would pass me on our streets, pants just a little bit lower than my father approved
Language just a little bit looser, a lot more colorful

And then for five years—
When my father deserted us—
We found our way
Among the women with loud, shrieking voices
Men with no jobs, brimming with kindness
Kids with no homes, who leaned on my mother
When we had but each other
For warmth
And not the moral codes of
Those afforded some semblance of Black middle-class privilege
In response to “Blackbottom” by Toi Dericotte


Artwork by Damien Shen

© Ama Akoto (2018)

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