Black Joke, after Patricia Lockwood by Taylor Steele

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

The Black joke is that you were born into this.
The Black joke is you got it from your mama!
The Black joke is can’t find you in the dark. Get it.

The Black joke closes its eyes, sees you in the black of its eyelids, except it doesn’t because it’s
black. The Black joke opens its eyes, and it’s just as dark outside. “You’re Black. The night is
Black. Get it. You’re practically invisible.”

No offense.

The Black joke is a group of 12 year old boys called you nigger. The Black joke is you were 19,
and you could only manage to muster up, “That’s not what your mother called me in bed last
night.” Now we’re speaking a language we all understand. Everything is some kind of joke. And
it’s dark outside. Like my mother!

Then suddenly you were Blacker, but not very Black at all.

The Black joke is you had been drinking grape soda and gnawing on fried chicken. Fried
chicken! Who eats fried chicken? Not everybody, according to the Black joke.

The Black joke is you don’t like rap? I guess I’m Blacker than you, says the Black joke.
The Black joke is you get to check Black off on your college admissions. Golly gee, I wish I
were as Black as you.

The Black joke is White people saying “nigger.” Well, you people get to say it.
The Black joke is White people saying “ghetto” because it’s just a word.
The Black joke is but words hold meanings and images and weight. What do you see when you
think “ghetto?” I bet it looks more like me than Taylor Swift. More like Jennifer Lopez than
Jennifer Lawrence.

The Black joke is reverse racism. Ha! Like, wouldn’t the reverse of racism be, like, not racism …?
Well, not according to the Black joke!

The Black joke is you’re oversensitive.
The Black joke is you’re taking this too personally.
The Black joke is slavery is over.
The Black joke is that they’re your friends.

It gets funnier.  

The Black joke is post-racial…
The Black joke is the Central Park Five anyway.
The Black joke is Trayvon Martin anyway.
The Black joke is Kimani Gray anyway.
The Black joke is Amadou Diallo anyway.
The Black joke is Reneisha McBride anyway.
The Black joke is I had to add to this list a week after I wrote this poem.
The Black joke is Eric Garner anyway.
The Black joke is Mike Brown anyway.
The Black joke is Ezell Ford anyway.
The Black joke is this poem might never be finished.
The Black joke is Sean Bell anyway.
The Black joke is Oscar Grant anyway.
Oh, you saw Fruitvale Station?
Oh, you saw The Butler?
Oh, you saw 12 Years a Slave?
I bet you cried until your eyes were red, bloodshot even. Funny word, bloodshot.

The Black joke is she thought Black people were born with cornrows. Wouldn’t that be a sight to
see?! Wouldn’t that be worth a cage in a zoo?! A glass-walled exhibit?! Alas, my hair was all
tight-fisted curls, not worth nothing.

The Black joke is my brother has a permanent rod in his arm from when White NYPD jumped
him for no reason and shattered him in some places. I hope to be around when a metal detector
goes off! When everyone is staring, except everyone is always already staring — I guess we
always look funny. When the security guards ask what he has in his pockets. When he reaches
for his wallet, and they mistake it for a gun. And BOOM! What a strange and funny accident!

Can Black jokes be funny at all, is the question.
Can any part of the Black joke be funny. The part where it ends—haha, just kidding! This skin is
forever, it even gets darker than it is sometimes. Why didn’t the Black joke add that to itself?

The Black joke cries out for the right to be told.
The Black joke is that this is just how it happened.

The Black joke is a White boy wanted to assure me that he thought Stop & Frisk was racist after
he made a Black Joke and I corrected him all after I fucked him. Come on, that’s a little bit

Admit it.

Taylor Steele has recently received her BA from The New School University, graduating with Departmental Honors in Cultural and Screen Studies. She has competed on both a national and local level as a spoken word artist, including the Collegiate Union Poetry Slam Invitational of 2010 and 2011, has been published on Thought Catalog, and has written and recorded with M-1 of Dead Prez. She is now a member of the new spoken word collective, “The Red Ribbon Army.”