My parents taught me that image is everything

that apples bruised and brown

are always the last to be picked

always assumed to be rotten.

They warned me

that despite claims of being colorblind

my teachers, bosses, friends’ parents

can’t help but drink in my coffee-colored skin

and need sweetener to make it easier to swallow

So my mother always made sure I was shellac-shiny

buffed the color out of my speech

compelled me to calibrate my smile

so camera-flash bright

you’d only be able to see the white after-image;

she’d fake indignation

yet let a smug smile slip every time someone said,

“Your daughter is so articulate.”

She shared this sentiment with my Father,

a corporate executive

born in the belly of the Brick City.

He escaped the projects by hopping up

on an auction block and selling

his skill to the highest bidder

Branded himself

the ghetto boy with work ethic

the easy answer to the problem

of Affirmative Action.

When I ask him,

if selling yourself means selling out

he says

he’d rather be trading shares

than cropping them

When college decisions came in

I became my father’s

lucky copper penny

his favorite social currency among Caucasian friends.

His response to their laundry list of

humblebrags and accomplishments:

“My daughter goes to Princeton.”


I now wonder if being black and successful

means carving out a life composed of contradictions

whether suburbs and private schools

have turned me reverse-minstrel

whether code-switching is its own type

of tap dance.

– Destiny Salter