She asked me to her office, said
It’s an emergency.

The heels or the sneakers,
she asked. Nothing
in this wide world could make me wear
heels anywhere, certainly
not in a car for five
hours, stuffed like a pimento in an olive
between two administrators spearing me
for details to stir into their martinis.

The sneakers.
Of course, I said, confused
by her footwear anxiety. She paused,
But, which is more…
professional?

I stopped. Stared at
friend, colleague, mentor, go-to-person
who is leader, innovator, math coach
and only woman of color
in our building and knew this wasn’t
about the shoes.

What could this skin
of mine say back? What
shoes could offset her bold
blackness in this whitewashed world?

I can’t offer what shoes to wear
any more than I can moralize
about what clothing
Black mothers should let
their young sons wear out of houses
to keep them alive, can’t tell my black
professor neighbor not to fear dropping
his daughter’s class pet off in the backyard
of a friend’s house while they are not home,
can’t tell him it’s silly to worry about
some neighbor calling the police,

can’t tell the black anesthesiologist to just
be calm when stopped for the broken
headlight. Can’t say, It’s just
a routine stop. Can’t tell the public
relations director with natural hair
to simply ignore being followed
at the drug store while shopping
for cough medicine for her son.
Can’t advise the Latino cable guy
how to handle each door slammed
in his face as he comes to repair their connection
to Game of Thrones or Walking Dead.
Can’t correct him when he says he doesn’t need
a TV show to feel as though he is walking
dead, every single day.

I can’t tell my friend what shoes to wear.
I can’t tell her she won’t be deemed unprofessional
no matter what’s on her feet, despite
being towering strength and brilliance.

I can’t tell any one of these black lives who matter
much of anything.
I can only tell my whiteness
listen.

© Terri Muuss

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