100 Refutations: Day 71

I, Who Am Ignorant

I, who am ignorant
Need to know
If white is virtue true
So I can go and bleach my skin

Asks this question, a loyal man
Because he needs to know
If the black man should not be baptized
In the baptismal font

If there is yet another more pure

Going forward, going back
Prettier, shinier
Where the white man is dipped
Will someone tell it straight
For I, who am ignorant

Two men and one woman
From whom we all descend
While only the black man
With disdain ought to be faced

The same blood it must be
Though the black man alone
Is placed forever

If the black man is not baptized
I need to know
Black was St. Benedictine
Black his paintings too
And in the Holy Scripture
I have never seen
a single word writ in white ink

Black were the nails driven through the Christ’s hands
Died, he, upon the holy cross
Is it possible then, that down he came
Not to suffer for the white man’s sins
Only this way will I know
If the color white is virtue true

When we have to account
To my God for every deed
How will the black man atone
For the white man’s sins

If the black man is then found
Without a crime for which to pay
Will they say that it’s not true
That the white man has no sentence
That it’s all been misconstrued
So that then I may go and bleach my skin


Manuel Saturio Valencia Mena

Manuel Saturio Valencia Mena (1867-1907) was a teacher, a poet, a popular leader from the Chocó region, and the very last man officially sentenced to death in Colombia. As a child, he participated in the parochial choir and learned both French and Latin under the tutelage of the Capuchin priests. He was an exceptional student and the first black man accepted to Cauca University’s law program. He earned the rank of captain while fighting in La Guerra De Los Mil Dias. He was a lifelong autodidact and served in many important positions in the region. In 1907, he was framed for arson—for likely political reasons—and, after a six-day trial, he was executed by firing squad.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V. earned MFAs in creative nonfiction writing and literary translation from The University of Iowa. She is the author of Drown Sever Sing from Anomalous Press and Don’t Come Back from Mad River Books, as well as editor, with Sarah Viren, of the forthcoming anthology Essaying the Americas. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation work has been featured in journals including Bellingham ReviewChicago ReviewFourth GenreBrevityPoets & Writers, and The Sunday Rumpus, among others. She won Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices Award, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and is a Rona Jaffe fellow. She moved from Colombia to China to Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an assistant professor for Virginia Commonwealth University. Visit www.linawritesessays.com.

English translation copyright (c) Lina M. Ferreira C.-V., 2018.