My past  by Jebril Umo

I just wanted to say that a black man without a criminal record is less likely to get a job than a white felon, that’s the beginning of my past.  

As my fingers struck the keys of the keyboard they started to blister. My tongue started to tremble. Trying to wrap my mind around the fact of as much as I try to forget. I can’t forget.


The indistinct screams from the hippocampus part of my brain waiting for the Alzheimer’s to kick in. As it remembers the same screams from the negros on the plantation who got lashed in their backs.

The same screams that are channeled and spewed out of the vocal chambers of black mothers whose salty tears season her grits before breakfast, the same tears that keep her Kool aid fresh, the tears you see on Tv.

The tears you try and sympathise with.

The same God Damn tears that dilute the blood of her baby boy. And yet again she remembers.

Yet again as her son bathes in his blood he can hear the screams of his great great grandaddy reciprocating through his soul. As they unite in shackles. Preparing a place for his ma. Who sacrificed all. Who tried to keep her son of the same streets that killed us all. The same streets that unite a black hoodie and black skin as a recipe for murder.

A recipe that goes back centuries not as secret as the hidden ingredient that goes into her fried chicken but if a white boy tries to pull of this meal from the magic melinated cookbook it wouldn’t work. He’s missing the secret ingredient of melanin. Even a small dose can be deadly to the consumer known as the human eye.

Not everything is about race. Well, my race is having to sit quiet in class, while my classmates explain where their last names come from. That their three times great grandad fought in the war when I can only trace my ancestors back to my grandmother. Knowing that someone, somewhere amongst the forest of my family tree fought the biggest war of all. Claiming freedom for all our people. Making sure that no other negro man or woman, child or baby is enslaved and sold into a trade of which it is life threatening to escape. Knowing they had a higher chance of winning the lottery than kissing sweet fresh air, not the same recycled fumes that are being traded for a bag of cotton at the end of the day.

But I spit fire from the roots of my vocal cords’ gasoline the same as my saliva that just ignites the fire. My hearts deepest desire. Of freedom. To be released by the same shackles that bounded my great great grandfather to the ocean floor.

These shackles arrest the hands of the great. The same shackles that are birthed on another black man’s arms as the metal door of a prison cells that beguiles his soul. No matter if he is innocent. He still remains captive to his skin colour of which none of us can choose. As if he traded his iced-out chain for a noose. Asphyxiating him so much, stealing the breath from his lungs. So, he blindsides himself to confessing guilty. For ever being blindsided. Blind on one side. Clear vision on the other. Vision that ogles at the horizon, because the waves in the water paint a life beyond these four walls.

Perhaps the reason for so many black men to be called back to these bars of metal is because handcuffs are circles representing eternal life. Plantations close but uprose the judicial system. Given a number and a row a cell and a block. On the plantation a number a row, a cell and a block. It’s the closest me or my brothers will ever get to knowing our history.

A prison cell.