Naima Yael Tokunow, Epistemology of Shadow Black

It’s amazing what whiteness can build. Shadow Black is not a body, but is projected onto
a body, lithographed over face, skin. You know what a shadow is. The dark area between
body and the light. Now, imagine that the shape was moveable, just the darkness standing
up in front of you. Imagine that Shadow looks like a monster—yellow eyes, bloodied teeth,
skin hot to touch. Or sexy and still monstrous. A forked tongue, always. They believe
that a Shadow Black will bleed their whiteness dry. And yet they keep manufacturing
Shadows. You may remember when a person looked at you and saw Shadow Black. You
may remember the wide of their eyes, unseeing you, manic.



I do not make Shadow Blacks, but I record them. On all of our bodies. Sometimes, I see
us, breathing slowly, and with cinematic eyes, watch the mass of us expand and exhale
like a giant fungus underneath the earth. I know that this image of brown limbs holding
on to each other, uncountable heads gaping and mawing in unison, may not be accurate. I
recognize that this image is not unlike a mass grave full of black skin. It’s the function of
Shadow Black to keep us in funeral. How do you stare at Shadow Black without becoming?
If I keep pinching myself, maybe. And yet. I can’t avoid being seen as Shadow Black. This
book is so much self-portrait.



As Shadow Black, my own body doesn’t stop from being. There’s just disconnect that
disallows me to touch myself, to see with my own eyes. That is the true trick of oppression,
its propensity for retinal takeover. Even my mirrored self is adjunct. These poems become
my first words. I mourn and learn prayers of self, here, as the Bodied Poet. In the safe
house of this book. But still. I was not voiceless as Shadow Black, only muted by the
outside. Shadow Black functions like cotton in the mouth, between the gums and cheeks,
against the throat. There is a certain plugging. Visibility is having a throat and tongue. An
unencumbered mouth. To feel light. Light isn’t the right word. Maybe lighted.