the first time [a re-telling]

I was six years old. I know I must have been six because I was on a two-wheeler bike by myself and my dad gave it to me for my sixth birthday. We lived on Fletcher. I was riding the bike up and down the block. I was allowed to go from one corner to the other by myself because that way my mom or anyone could see me if they just looked for me. The old white lady came down the block from time to time and sometimes she was nice and sometimes she was mean. She had short brown hair and small eyes. She always wore a heavy coat. This time she screamed at me. “You little nigger! You almost hit me with that bike! Go back to your nigger Jesse Jackson neighborhood!” I told my mom and she

 

four boys on Ellis [a re-telling]

As I was getting into my car I saw the lights flashing and the four of them sitting on the curb. CPD stood over them and the university police were looking on. I drove up and pulled alongside and asked what was going on, if their parents had been called and informed that they were being questioned. Their heads were down. One officer told me that the youngest was nine years old. He said they were suspected of stealing a phone. I asked if they were being arrested or if it was legal protocol to interrogate them without an adult present. Another officer began to yell at me, standing next to my car and shouting through my window. He told me to leave. I would not.

 

another time [a re-telling]

I was in Harvard Square, on my way to a meeting. I was walking down Brattle and she was in front of a pizza and salad place that was pretty good. As I passed, she looked at me and furrowed her brow so that her eyes were squeezed up and her nose wrinkled. “Ugh! You nigger.”

*

Excerpted from Electric Arches, available from Haymarket Books.

Illustration by Hayveyah McGowan. Via Eve L. Ewing.

Eve L. Ewing

Eve L. Ewing (@eveewing) is a poet, essayist, and sociologist. She is the author of Electric Arches and a Provost's Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. She lives in her hometown of Chicago.