Ako Tomi



I wrote this um poem because
A couple weeks ago I went um down to Watts with my homeboy
And uh he had some of his friends with him they was coming or whatever to take pictures or whatever
And they was looking like um
They had never seen black people
You know what I’m saying and um
I realized that uh
If you scared of your own people then you scared of yourself.

– Dom Kennedy


When Ako picks me up from school he asks,

“If you had to pick between your White friends and Black friends, who would you choose?”

I tell him in a mostly White school –

Us Black kids stick together.

He scoffs and says I’m pickin the losin’ team

That Mamaiay didn’t travel all this way

For me to sprint backwards

I don’t know how “Don’t blow your opportunity”

Became code for “Don’t be too Black”

But Ako echoes bein’ around Whites

Is the first step to success

That cuz I’m light skinned

It’ll be easier for me to fit in

But, I never wanted to be somewhere

That’d make me want to rush home

Ako lives next to all them motels

With the broken-down signs

And the broken-in women

He only watches Fox News at home

But flips the channel when Black people fill the screen

Says it gets him all embarrassed

That they’re making us look bad

Well, not really us –

Because, we’re not like them

But close enough –

To be mislabeled by others

He says we’re African

Never to be confused with


Says nothing good comes out of Blackness

Just like how nothing good happens

After dark

Ako’s irons his name to please the White clients

Like he creases his suit before he chauffeurs them ‘round the town

He spends all day servin them

Says ‘Yes sir’ and ‘Yes m’aam’

Inhaling the relief of Nicotine during his breaks

Ako won’t ever smoke in his car though – his car’s too nice

He drives one of them fancy limousines

When it’s not making him money, it’s lookin’ the part.

He takes it to the car wash so much

It make the night sky look ashy

Ako’s always politickin’

Mamaiay’s stays mouthin’ back

Ako’s tryna strip me of my Blackness

Mamaiay’s tryna preach fellowship

She says she don’t see color

That only love lives in her home

They tuggin’ back and forth

Thinkin they’re on opposite teams

But I’ve always felt like erasure and hatred

Are two fruit of the same tree

Ako and Mamaiay helicopter my identity

As if I was mumbling my first word – or stumbling my first steps

They think they’re doing me a favor –

By trimming my Blackness

They don’t understand

That not all that is carried

Is meant to weigh you down

They don’t understand

I’ve always been the Black sheep

That gripped tightly to her coat.

When Ako picks me up from school he asks,

“If you had to pick between your Rich friends and Poor friends, who would you choose?”

I tell him in a mostly Rich school –

Us Poor kids stick together.

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