I remember those nights so vividly. Poppa had us hide in Mr. Smith’s stables under the hay when they came. I had never been so terrified. They rarely came except when Mr. Smith was gone. Like wolves to a hen house, the men in white would come and steal one of us away. I never saw what happened, but I heard the horrible stories.
One time when poppa was workin’ in the field he came home cryin’, sayin’ he foun’ somebody. He wouldn’ say who, but I knew it was probably my uncle, or what was left of him. Momma held him tightly like he was a child, and jus’ rocked him. I came up and hugged him from behind. He stopped cryin’, not because he wanted to, but because I think he wanted to be strong for me. He wanted me to be strong, too.
Poppa took me by the shoulder and directed me outside and was showin’ me how to skin a rabbit he caught. I noticed him lookin’ at me, but he wasn’t sayin’ nothin’.
“Poppa, why do they do that?”
“Take people from here.”
“What do you mean…”
“Your skin, it’s black.”
I glanced down at my arm. I didn’t see the black. I saw brown – light brown, like momma. I didn’t quite understand. I didn’t really notice my skin before. I always thought it was neat that Mr. Smith’s sons had white hair and blue eyes. I thought they were kinda funny lookin’, but I would never tell them that. For a while, we were all best friends. But when school started, they got new friends and I was stuck workin’ the cotton fields.
“Poppa, is it wrong to be black?”
Poppa paused for a minute. “I guess.”
I felt something like a heavy blanket cover me, but there was nothin’ there. I was sad. I thought about the men in white with crosses who stole my uncle and how they kept talkin’ about doin’ God a favor.
“Does God not like black people?”
“I guess not,” Poppa said.
I ran back to momma and cried in her arms. “Momma, are we bad?”
“What do you mean, baby boy?”
“Poppa said God don’ like black people.”
“Oh, baby boy. Poppa don’t mean that.”
I showed her my arm, touching my skin. I wondered if God liked her more because she was a lighter skin than poppa.
“God does not like black. Poppa’s right, but what he meant is that God doesn’t like black on the inside. It doesn’t matter what your outsides look like. God looks to see if there is blackness in your heart.”
“Momma, what color is my heart?”
“It’s pure white, baby.”
“Are you sure?”
“What about your brother, was his heart black?”
“No baby. “
“Then why’d those men take him? Weren’t they followin’ God’s orders?”
Momma shook her head. “No baby!”
“Then why’d they take him?”
“They were jealous of him.”
“What do you mean?” I was confused.
“Because God loved him a whole lot,” she said with a smile.
“Because he was white on the inside.”
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