many accuse my people of being dreamless, like ghosts, or objects. of having no reasons to live outside of the hustle. that we are the hustle and are composed of generations of blind struggle. such are the theories of the same ones who used to think we were subhuman primates. we are not primates any more or less than they are. if anything, i am actually a tiger in human skin. this truth has been asleep until recently, then it broke open all at once. my stripes are like stretch marks, or whip marks.
i have tasted this brand of self-protection/harm before and know that i am both the beast that wants to escape and the beast who is not really a beast. more like someone who lives for their own truth and gets called a beast because the world never quite understands those who are unashamed of who they are, even as an attacked people. i have been taught to roll my muscles beneath a thick hide. always be faster than they are, my father would say. they come from a higher range of view. they have unseen connections everywhere. they start the race several yards in front of you, and there is no second place in this system, only the winners and the dust-eaters. simultaneously, i stalk nimble around their fragility, their easily triggered fears, their why-are-we-still-talking-about-this, their we-didn’t-put-you-in-cages, the-hunt’s-been-over-for-decades, if-you-can’t-succeed-in-this-country-it’s-because-you-haven’t-tried-hard-enough.
i prowl around my home, hide from hunters. always this hiding. my teeth itch for some kind of justice i cannot bite into yet. this violence, this blood, this anger tinged with fear. sometimes a growl hides a whimper. sometimes as i bite into the stick nudging me in the face, i nick my tongue with my own teeth. sometimes i rush into conversations, predicting the prejudices that i know will come. sometimes i am correct to assume, and my disappointment is another crack of the whip. sometimes i am wrong and, having bitten into my tail again, i contemplate when was the last time i could talk about these things without feeling under attack, even when i’m not under attack.
my life is composed of sometimes. sometimes sunlight, sometimes rainwater, sometimes cold winds, sometimes warmth. sometimes safe, sometimes tormented. i can never tell which one i will be at any given time. sometimes we have unhealthy defense mechanisms. sometimes i hiss my friends if i cannot see what is in their hands. sometimes, my mind is haunted by tales of cages, circuses, masters, their whips. a cacophony of painful cries echoing inside my ears. sometimes, there is this ache that i feel nibbling my insides. i can never tell how to cleanse it.
i have dreams. the kind where i feel myself moving through red and green forests, hunters swiping at my tail. my lungs burning brilliantly. my paws kissing the ground like wings kiss the clouds. the leaves becoming sky becoming the back of my eyelids as i run faster and faster until none of their dogs, their voices, or even the barbs at the end of their guns, can catch me. i wake up tensed in mid-pounce, marveling simultaneously at my ability to escape yet my inability to be at peace. there is temporary peace, yet they always return for me.
— DYNAS JOHNSON