A Narrative on Service and Activism

How Community Service

Fried My Brain

Service came to me. The “Day of Service.” Every year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

A half day.

– – –

Signifier: “Inner-city.”

Saccharin and safe.

Color and money being the two great unspeakables of Liberal private school.

Three hours. Those that miss the schoolbus follow in SUVs.

I have, in this moment, acquired whiteness.

Something much worse.

Guilt of betrayal.

At once, I am ally and tour-guide. Feigned commonality.

Translator for my white compatriots.

This is a safari.

I’m assigned to an elementary school teacher. I am to be her assistant for the day, for an hour.

No instructions. Just assistance.

What am I doing here if not evidencing her failure?

On the way back I’ll try to block out the stories that situate a strain of cuteness within an act of assault—and, as such.

The bus’s perfectly uncomfortable green vinyl offers me nothing. As do the tin walls. The last traces of Vaseline and shortening are sucked as scents out of the windows that won’t close—their last traces worn in our perfumed bodies. By 695 the faces are a blur. Back on campus they seem to have barely existed at all.

Next year I will select more wisely. Cutting down vines that tug at the old Elms and Oaks in the woods bordering campus. An “invasive species,” which, here, seems ironic, but probably isn’t. At least I was given a machete.

– – –

What is activism if not “service?” Handy salve for the guilt of privilege. A buffer, maybe.

We all clamor to keep the warmth of the middle-class brackets around us,

As if to find solace in the possibility of peril,

And so rich becomes a slur when no one’s looking.

My stomach will turn each time I hear “diversity,” “community service.”

I go on to perform a twice-refracted blackness.

And in my performance, apathy and irreverence bring me comfort.


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