Only certain characteristics of Angela’s face were what most people would deem desirable: high cheekbones, visible but soft jawline, and general symmetry. But her wide crooked nose caused people to pause just before they called her beautiful. “You’re pretty, dear,” her grandmother told her when she was younger, patting her narrow shoulder, careful to avoid looking directly at Angela’s nose.
The screeching halt of the train broke her thoughts. Angela stepped onto the train and headed to the last visible seat.
“Hey baby,” a man whispered to her as he leaned against a pole. "You're so beautiful. You look like you just stepped right out of an Ebony magazine." He leaned closer to her and she looked up. She was startled to see a clean-shaven man in a well-tailored suit and tie. He was handsome, even. She quickly turned away.
"You look good in that dress; I'd bet you'd look better out of it." The man clung to the pole, determined to make eye contact with Angela. "Hey, where do you get off? Let's grab a drink." She continued to ignore him. The man's voice was now irritated and he loosened his tie. "Who do you think you are? You stuck up ugly black bitch! You should be grateful I even acknowledged you!"
Angela had been alive for twenty-five years and those twenty-five years had taught her many things about herself. One of which was that she was more prone to fight than flight.
She could distinctly remember the ninth grade Washington Prep School multicultural assembly, standing front and center on the auditorium stage. The irony of the whole assembly lay in the fact that a week before, “nigger” was spray-painted across the west gym wall. Although it was a small incident compared to ones in the past, Principal Lester was quick to clean up any remnants of the vandalism to protect the school’s prestigious reputation.
In an effort to rectify the incident, he commissioned the three guilty students to organize the school’s first multi-cultural assembly. Angela was the first to volunteer. She looked at the nervous Principal Lester. “I’m planning on reciting a Maya Angelou poem to represent black culture.” He stared back at her barely wavy hair and freckled face. “Well,” he coughed. “I don’t see why you can’t do that. This school is all about inclusion.” Unbeknownst to poor Principal Lester, Angela had bigger plans.
Leading up to the assembly, her friends told her that her speech was too radical. “Listen, Angela,” her friend Maggie told her. “If you really want people to like you, and by people, I mean boys, you have to stop being so offended by everything.”
Sadie was more direct in her approach to making Angela more “likable.” “Angela, it shouldn’t even matter to you. I mean, you’re not even that black. Well, technically you’re black, but only half, so...you catch my drift?” No, Angela did not catch Sadie’s drift, nor Maggie’s drift, nor that of anyone else who told her she should quell her voice when she had a hurricane inside of her.
She remembered lying in bed the night before the assembly counting all the times she had not stood up to anyone and blended into the crowd. So when the assembly finally arrived, she stepped up to the microphone. All eyes were on her, crooked nose and all. “Why the word ‘nigger’ shouldn’t have been erased from the west gym wall...” Silence. “Because we have to stop pretending that racism does not exist, and the more we stare it in its ugly face and refuse to let Washington Prep School cover up another—“ The microphone was quickly snatched from her hand, creating a sharp noise that rang throughout the auditorium.
Backstage, Principal Lester wiped his hands on his jacket and whispered “Angela! You told me you were reciting Maya Angelou!”
When Angela stared directly into this infuriated man’s face, she did not
flinch. “No, who do you think you are? You think just because you acknowledged me I owe you my time?” He blinked his eyes as if he hadn’t been expecting her to respond.
"It's a shame, I’m usually not even attracted to women like you. You're lucky." He snickered and shook his head like a man who believes he holds all the answers. "Black women always need an excuse to get angry." Her mind raced, but she was not afraid.
“I didn’t wake up this morning and think ‘Hmm, I better look good today or that creep on the C train won’t acknowledge my existence.’ I’m tired of the harassment I deal with on a daily basis from work to the street. I certainly don’t need it from salacious degenerates like you. So you can take your suit and your tie and stick them up your ass!” Her stop came abruptly and she gathered her bags and stood. Right before she was to step off the train, she turned to the man on the pole. She stood six inches taller than him. Her words clear and concise: “Damn right I’m black and I’m angry. However, that does not make my anger unjustified.” She walked out and the doors to the C train closed behind her.
Sawyer Philips is a freshman journalism major. She loves slam poetry, playing the bongos, and finding awesome deals at the Garment District.