"For Amir — I am a Man" Transcript
[Instrumental music from “Citizens” by Jon Guerra plays briefly and then fades out]
Jonathan Walton: Hey everybody, this is Jonathan Walton. Just wanted to let you know that we will have some information about season two of Shake the Dust coming soon. But we also wanted you to know that we are going to start occasionally dropping some other types of audio into this feed. We’re not sure how often, but we do want to expand what we’re doing here a little bit, and make some audio versions of some of the writing we put on KTFPress.com. So this is a poem I wrote recently called “For Amir – I am a Man.” That’s Amir Locke. And the title references the signs that were held up by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s, specifically 1968, when MLK was killed.
For Amir — I am a Man
I am not a machine. I am a man.
I am not a tool. I am a man.
I am not a beast, threat, or thug. I am a man.
My value is not determined by my usefulness to you. I am a man.
I am not a means of production, a product for your pleasure or enjoyment, some barbarian in need of civilizing, monkey in need of humanizing, or pre-criminal that needs policing and supervising. I am a man.
I am not a reason for you to cross the street, pray for your kids when they leave or move your family when I move in. I am a man.
I do not have a smaller brain nor am I predisposed, predetermined, or predestined for submission and service to you. I am a man.
My highest purpose is not enslavement, assimilation, or performance and mastery of whatever language, culture, or way of being in the world you have determined to be the best. I am a man.
I am not meant to be dispossessed, subdued, renamed, molded, and remade into the constantly changing image of acceptance. Nor should I be punished for lack of acquiescence to your ever adapting superior status quo. I am a man.
I am not a reason for you to be afraid, but a reason for you to rejoice.
I am not a n**ger — no more than any other man, woman, or person of color is an s, r, c, b, f or other word with which you’ve decided to label us.
Like Baldwin said, I am not a n**ger but if you need me to be one, that says more about you than it does about me because I am a man.
Or like Morrison said if you need me to kneel for you to be tall that’s a problem within you, not within me. I am a man.
Perhaps, I should move, run, duck and hide to escape — you.
Because you might be a threat, tool, beast or thug.
Your brain might be smaller and you could be predisposed to greed, violence, and sexual assault — perhaps that’s the problem.
perhaps you are enslaved because you fancy me to be.
and you’re an expert servant because you look in the mirror and that’s what you perceive
Maybe you look in still water and see someone destined to steal and take and hoard and you project that outwards everywhere you go.
Maybe I should move away from you, keep my kids from marrying your folks, segregate our grocery stores and water fountains, legalize red lines around your neighborhoods, devalue your houses until your schools lose all their prowess, reroute revenue and divest so you have no access to social, political or economic power.
Maybe we’ll take your kids and come up with names for them and labels for you.
Maybe we’ll only hire you for certain things and only pay you when we feel like it. And we’ll highlight your good ones with scholarships and documentaries to keep you pursuing the American Dream. And then our families will be safe and you’ll know exactly how to excel and behave. Maybe that would teach you the value of hard work and perseverance and the real worth of the Dollar.
Or perhaps it will teach you how to pray, wallow, and holler in the squalor of your life — until you find the rage within you that will one day help you identify with me.
I won’t do that though, even though you tell yourself I will so you can keep your knee on my neck until I call for my momma and die.
I won’t be like you. Because I am a man made in the image of God and my heart is light not dark and I was molded to flourish, work, rule and create in community like They who made me. Three in one, one in three.
and if you saw you as fundamentally human, you could see me too. But you still see yourself as master, better, objectively good and supreme and so you will never see me outside of your need to be something other than what you actually are.
And boy, you are no god.
I know because in His image, They made me. I am a man.