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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 995

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My Uncle & White People

Toi Derricotte

My uncle said white
people have an
inferiority complex--that's why they pay
thousands of dollars to go somewhere to
lay out in the sun & spend hours in the
beauty shop curling
their hair--&, because we have these things
naturally, it
makes them
mad. My uncle, a
mailman, though, really, an operatic
tenor whose sweet voice (as he'd take off his
uniform by his closet at four
o'clock each afternoon, singing, "Sylvia's hair is like the
night"--his daughter's name) lifted
us. Then he'd go out to his
second job, feeding the five hundred
minks he raised in neat
steel cages
in our backyard. How to make
sense of a man's
life? I'll never forget one New Year's Eve
when I was four or five, I heard him
beg my aunt (white-looking,
light-skinned) for sex. I wanted her
to say yes.

Toi Derricotte is author of four books of poetry and a memoir, The Black Notebooks. The Black Notebooks won the Annisfield-Wolf Award in nonfiction and the nonfiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association in 1997. Her latest book of poems, Tender, won the Paterson Poetry Prize in 1998. She is co-founder (with Cornelius Eady) of Cave Canem, the first workshop for African-American poets.



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