Magazine · Poetry

Ethnic Studies by Toluwanimi Obiwole

I’ve been staring down a long hard historical fact for two years now

maybe my whole life

That putting the stories of my people in a bound leather dissertation

Will either pasteurize it

Or get me in trouble

Depending on how much truth I tell

The first ethnographers arranged indigenous people like dolls

In front of a narrative

That would snake around their throats

And choke the oral tradition from their lips

We called grandfather’s stories history

English translated them into myth

I came to snatch them back

Under the midnight glow of library fluorescent lighting

I relearned what the ancestors died discovering

That if you are too loud

Too brown

Insisting upon the right to your own breath

They might just take it from you

Or swallow you up in an institutional lie

But what will they say

Now that I have torn up every story about me or my people that isn’t true

Now that I have taken their blue passport and made a bridge with it

Now that I am delicately crafting self love into a quantifiable form of healing

Rediscovered grandfather’s stories

And how to tell them so loud

So brown

So insistent upon my own necessity

Most days the university will call me idealistic

Cause learning your own history will not make you millions

But detangling history with voices as coarse and

thick with struggling as your own

With the reverb of emiliano zapata marching to fela’s drum

Sure sounds like the end of capitalism

The beginning of reparations

And isn’t that the most expensive thing?

Holding the key to your own freedom

Collecting sovereignty back from the pioneers and conquistadors

that still live

All of you who have survived classes where historical atrocities are the only available histories about a people like yours

Can now rewrite the textbooks

Fill in lost syllables and accents

To tell a more complete narrative on survival

On revitalization

On the joy that exists and must be remembered

In every indigenous song and story

Joy like a rock through

neocolonialism

neo-imperialism

And every other ism

That fashions its mouth against me

I have always had a voice

But now this $60,000 piece of cardstock will amplify it

My feet, blackened on the road to revolution

Now have offices and neighborhoods to go to

But wherever I

Wherever we

End up

Let us rework the spaces we are in

Pull out the hard truths from our back pockets when necessary

And always

be unapologetically

Free

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