Balance Beam

On being a black, Muslim girl in the U.S.

Photo by Jessica Beliveau, Essex Junction, VT

Gym class 2009.

A young girl steps in to face her biggest fear yet.

She thinks to herself,

nothing can hold her back from this kind of success,

can tell her she can’t do it,

can scare her away.

Nothing, but the balance beam.

She hops on to it hoping that it will be just as easy for her

to make it across the damn thing

as it was for the other kids.

She wishes for one single chance to prove to the rest that she can maintain balance.

She crosses her fingers that no one will laugh…

Little does she know that with one foot comes the stumbling of another,

that we are not all as nimble as Jack,

that this beam was not made for victory on her part.

There never seems to be victory on her part,

only obstacles.

But she dodges these obstacles,

No, bullets, its matrix,

puts on costumes to make everyone comfortable,

its white chicks.

Doesn’t know how to choose one thing over the other.

Twilight, eclipse.

I’m sorry I didn’t mean to critique my life as a movie

but nowadays I can’t seem to separate fantasy from reality.

All my energy is concentrated on what I can’t have,

and what I do have is something most can’t handle,

I can’t handle.

I’m black.

I’m proud to be black,

scared to be black;

I’m black.

They tell me I’m beautiful in my skin,

but how far does beauty roll off your tongue?

They tell me that diversity is what completes their community;

accepting is different from tolerating.

They tell me I will never again be considered below them,

but our bodies have sunk before.

You engulf us whole,

still assuming we’ll make it in time for a breath of air.

And it takes no time for you to swivel your head around

and look at me whenever slavery is mentioned.

Is black blood the only blood that is visible?

Look at me.

I’m not only black, I’m Muslim.

I brush those terrorist jokes off my back.

But all the body is connected by

in front of the back is the heart.

Though you may not see it in my face,

my heart just died a little.

And yes these are the jokes that you and your friends whisper

as if I am blind, deaf, mute.

Honey, I would respond if I could.

But I have been taught that silence is sometimes better.

But I can’t stay silent

when Islam is our new unit in school. *cough*

Did you need help pronouncing the words Koran, Hajj, and Allah?

By the way, it’s Quran, Hajj, and Allah.

My point is when I’m not running away from the sirens

warning me, “Get away, you don’t belong because you’re black,”

I’m running away from the voices telling me,

“You clearly don’t belong; you’re Muslim.”

I’m convinced that there are two TV screens in my house

and when one is off, the other automatically goes on.

You see, white folks never hesitate to tell black, Muslim people

who they are and what they do.

Sometimes I shift my weight

to one side of the scale

because I appreciate one part of

me over the other.

Will I ever appreciate both simultaneously;

will I reach equilibrium?

It’s hard enough being one color,

one person, one identity.

Imagine being two

and, no, this is not a cry for help

because you had your chances to help, but you didn’t.

This isn’t some child screaming

for stupid attention,

because you didn’t dare to look.

This is not just a poem informing you of what you do,

because you already know.

This is me telling you that my life isn’t Hannah Montana,

it’s not the best of both worlds.

This is me telling you

that my voice

seems to be the only thing that matters anymore.

And I’m gonna use my voice

to tell you that I’m both

black and Muslim,

in a world where it’s hard,

no, exhausting

to find balance on a balance beam.

— Poetry by Hawa Adam, Burlington, VT

Hawa Adam is a member of a four-person slam poetry performance group, Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC), from Burlington, VT. MGMC travels to Washington, D.C., this month with Young Writers Project’s support to represent Vermont at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. Find out more at youngwritersproject.org/bnv2016. Click here to learn more about youngwritersproject.org!