The dance is subtle.

Seem benign. Smart, but not smart enough to offend. Not too aggressive, you’ll be labelled one of them. Hair not too wild, you don’t want to be one of them. Shuffle. Hip swing. Turn. Don’t spend too much time with another dancer, if too many of you are seen together too often they’ll assume you are planning something. Tongues will wag. Don’t look them in the eye or they might think you are challenging them.

“I don’t wanna dance,” you say.

They laugh while standing and watching you. “No one told you you had to dance.”

But you know you can’t stop. You’ve seen what happens when you don’t dance. They throw you in jail. They call you crazy and throw you in an institution. They spit names at you, if you don’t dance.

They only whisper it, if you do. Only think it.

So you dance.

You dance until you get good at it. Until you can jump higher. Turn quicker. Spread your legs wider. But you have to remember not to be too lewd. That is another group you do not want to belong too.

They gather around you. Some say wow. Some throw money. Some simply watch, entertained.

Someone steps forward and puts a hand on your shoulder.

“Stop dancing,” she says.

She looks like you, but she wears clothes like them and has a fist full of money in her left hand. She hands you the money and then grabs your hand with her right and gently leads you out of the warehouse you have known your whole life.

You step from concrete to grass for the first time. It’s wet and cool and the color of the money you have clutched desperately in your free hand.

You pass many warehouses, so many you lose count as you are driven out of this place. You cannot stop staring at the sky.

She laughs at you.

You smile back, not quite understanding the joke.

The woman takes you to a smaller warehouse. She calls it a house. It has light inside. So much you are not sure you will be able to sleep. But she tells you they are lights, and shows you how to turn them off.

From then, everything is easier.

Now They pay you when you dance. You wear clothes like Them. Most of the time you choose when you dance. They do not compare your mannerisms to them.

You are unique.

That’s what They call You.

They smile at You without irony, most of the time, now.

They introduce You around.

You visit the warehouses and pay and bet like Them.

You smile and occasionally buy a gifted ones freedom, to assuage Your guilt. To give back to the place You came from.

But when They call on You. When They ring that bell. Knock on Your door. Call Your phone, You better dance.

Rebekah Coxwell currently lives in Virginia Beach. She is a Black American mother, wife, sister, mortgage processor, student, graduate assistant, editor, and writer. When she can find time she loves to read Toni Morrison, Albert Camus, and Garcia Marquez. She identifies as an existentialist and loves to watch movies and shows that make her cry or that scares her enough to keep her up at night. She’s been published in Adelaide and Opiate Literary Magazine.

What can people in a place of privilege do to stop forcing others to perform to a set of “normal” standards? Tell us in the comments.

Image credit: Flickr

Help us disrupt the Southern literary landscape.