“I ask no favor for my sex;
all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
-Sarah Moore Grimké, as quoted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 1973
Take Your Feet Off My Neck
A poem by Monica Brinn
I am a woman.
I bear the future; you rip my sons from my arms.
I am a woman, yet you call me a girl. Your treat my body as your own.
I toil. I exceed; my reward is your disdain.
I want only what you want: a seat at the table; equality.
You violate me. You turn away. You don’t believe me.
I have no voice.
I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask is that you take your feet off my neck.
I am an immigrant.
My motherland has forsaken me; I seek the promise of a dream.
My clothes are different; my skin is different; my god is different.
In my heart, I am the same.
You tell me to get in line. Kindly show me to the line; I cannot find it.
I want only what you want: a good life for my family.
I ask for compassion; you do not understand my words.
You cannot hear my desperation.
I ask no favor for my birthplace; all I ask is that you take your feet off my neck.
I am Native American.
My people are one with this land that you call yours.
You are greed and promises broken.
When you ask, I give and I give.
When I ask, you take and you take.
You mock, you ridicule, you satirize.
I want only what you want: a home for my people.
Sacred lands desecrated. Homes long lost.
I tell you “no, not here, not this time.” You do not listen.
I ask no favor for my people; all I ask is that you take your feet off my neck.
I am transgender. I am queer.
My body seems not my own.
My differences scare you; you see not our sameness.
You want to put me in a box, but I do not fit.
I confuse you. My pronoun annoys you.
I want only what you want: to live and to love.
I am a human full of joy waiting to be released.
It is trapped. I am choking.
I ask no favor for my heart; all I ask is that you take your feet of my neck.
I am a black man.
I scare you. My existence threatens you.
No clothes nor money nor status will change me in your eyes.
I am a reminder of the sins of a nation.
My people built the very walls that you use to hold me in.
My only crime is the color of my skin. Your judgment swift.
I only want what you want: the right to liberty.
I cry out. You drown my cries with your anger.
I cannot speak.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
I ask no favor for my race; all I ask is that you take your feet…and your knees off my neck.
Post script: I am saddened and angered by the continued unnecessary loss of life in my country. While this was written after the violent, unjust and senseless death of Floyd George, he is but one of many. From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin to Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year, it devastates me.
Too many innocent black men have been killed. Black lives fucking matter.
Too much blood of members of the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, women, immigrants and perceived immigrants has been shed during the long and violent history of our country. Too many deaths. Too much violence.
Not everyone liked or will like this poem. Some said that it is ‘self-absorbed,’ ‘tone-deaf’ and ‘ill-informed.’ Those are valid responses since I am a white, straight woman. I am angry. I am sad. I am not sitting in the US right now, and I am hurting for my country. Anyone with humanity would be furious right now; my fury usually manifests in sadness, tears and hopelessness. That’s me. Violence begets more violence. The only outlets I know are to write and do yoga. When I was lying awake a few nights ago, these words came to me. It was not meant as anything other than acknowledgement of the pain so many have felt in the past and are feeling right now. The last time I wrote a poem was probably for a high school assignment. I don’t claim to be a poet, but art was what my heart needed. It’s true that words matter, and my words were written with a sad heart and with good intentions. I would rather make a misstep than take no step. I am still learning.
I know the feet that were originally mentioned were metaphorical, and the knees on George Floyd were literal. I was not making light of those literal knees. All of the groups mentioned have suffered great loss at various times in our history. I needed an outlet to vent my sadness. I stand in solidarity with you today.
George Floyd. I will say his name. I hold his family and his community in the light.
If you want to help, these links offer resources:
- How to Help Demand Justice for George Floyd
- 5 Ways White People Can Take Action in Response to White and State-Sanctioned Violence
- 5 Ways to Show Up for Racial Justice Today
- 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- Black History Month: Highly-rated charities promoting black health, education, rights and Community Development
I have been teaching yoga for free throughout the COVID-19 crisis and asking voluntary donations, which I have been matching. Past beneficiaries were GenYouth Now, Warriors at Ease and a local club benefiting kids in an under-served community. Starting with class on Monday, June 1, donations will benefit a chosen organization working for civil rights and the rights of black Americans, and I will match them up to $500 with a minimum contribution by me of $50.
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