I wish I had thicker skin.
Skin that didn’t tear so easily at offense or slur.
Impenetrable skin, that shielded a too-tender heart from lazy jokes and thoughtless comments.
“I told Jackie she was going to win [the National Book Award], and I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.”
Instead I’ve got this thin stuff.
Skin that leaves me shaken in darkened movie theaters as Black bodies are beaten on the big screen.
12 Years A Slave
Skin that allows a good day to turn to bad in 7 seconds flat.
–“How the f*** does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots”
—“A Prior Lake, Minn. father is calling out his adopted daughter’s bullies on YouTube, Snapchat evidence and racist voicemails included.”
—“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro… They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Skin that belies the old adage:
Sticks and stones may break my bones…
Because the words, they always hurt me. Every time.
Even words that aren’t necessarily pointed in my direction.
Words about my President.
Words about a boy I’ve never met, but who is dead now and can’t defend himself.
Words about a work of art; thrashed to pieces because it speaks to the hearts of a few and, for once, ignores the many.
These words wound the thin-skinned, and leave them exhausted…without peace.
So I bury my head.
I turn off social media.
I exit the conversation.
I sing songs from Pnumbra
“She said don’t bother her, ‘Cause she can’t cope!”
and Marvin Gaye
“Makes me wanna hollar, the way they do my life.”
over and over and over again…
And I read.
Perfect Peace – Daniel Black
Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros
Milagros – Meg Medina
Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys
Home – Toni Morrison
Here, in this arena, thin skin serves me. The words on a written page walk unchallenged into my soul and change my condition. They transport me into the experience of another human being: one who is better off; one who is worse off. One who gives me new perspective and replenishes the deficits that the real world often leaves behind. When I am within the pages of a book, I am where I could never be. I am witness to events that I could never imagine. I am intimate with characters who exist beyond my dimension. They capture my spirit and show me a strength and beauty that is often difficult to observe in the tangible world. Woe to the (hu)man who does not read!
And so in the end, I guess I am glad. For while my thin skin leaves me often bruised, it also leaves me available to hope, and to love, and to dream with something as simple (and as complicated) as a good book.
“People read to be amused, to pass the time, or to be instructed.
Now I never read to pass the time, I never read to be instructed;
I read to be taken out of myself, to become ecstatic.
I’m always looking for the author who can lift me out of myself.”
– Henry Miller