Sarah A. Chavez
Halfbreed Helene Contemplates Protest Capitalism
Waiting in line at Safeway, Helene scrolls
the pics on Wildfang’s Instagram
admiring the straight-cut collared shirts.
She pauses on one embossed with protest
buttons: “Cuz Liberty Was A Lady Too,”
“Honk for Choice,” and “I Believe You.”
But do they? H thinks. Always there seems
in the commercial air to be a twinge
of uncontextualized doubt that there could be
so many unwanted hands touching hair and grabbing
ass in public. Why, by these accounts it would seem
to never abate . . . H considers the $52 commitment
to wearing her over-taxed anger like a commodified
protest trend. So many tshirts now and buttons and signs
in the living room windows of her white neighbors.
Of course, she should be happy about this. They are
trying (visibly). They are doing all but raising
a closed white power fist in the direction
of their black and brown neighbors. See,
their tshirts and bumper stickers and lawn signs
are saying, I’m not one of those. I gave
a donation to __________ . And yes, their money
is helpful, and yes, their inclusively aware
interjections in white spaces are helpful, and yes,
not all do ___________, . . . but H finds
their fragile, self-focused fear exhausting.
Their neon insistence on Twitter creates a nagging
irritation in her chest, like the feeling of catching
a gnat in the eye. You can see around it, but such
distracting irritation! If it stays in, everything goes red.
Folks say not to touch it, it’ll just make it worse, but all
you want is to stab a stubby finger in to dig it out.
This is the thing she has the most trouble with—
Almost never can she leave well-enough alone.
Helene always—eventually—makes things worse.
And to what end? her mother asks. What do you
care? Yes. And there it is, the reminder
of halfness. Her inability to be wholly any/one
thing: not white enough to not be affected, not
brown enough for the most extreme violences.
She sighs into the small bright screen in her hand,
glare from the neons overhead. Glare in her eyes.
That’s when H notices, behind her in line,
a tired-eyed, slope-shouldered Latina, with two
small children. Papi, no. Don’t touch that. Put it
back, the woman keeps saying to the small
caramel-eyed, curly-haired human knocking candy
bars and gum packs onto the floor. H looks up from
her phone at the baby in the cart and the baby
looks right back at her with clear, focused eyes.
It feels as if the child is seeing into her mixed-
blood soul, can sense her feral insecurity, her
confused anger and intrinsically knows, even
at such a short stage of development, its eventual
anger, its sense of self as oppressed or oppressor
will be more whole than she could ever be.