When the radio crackles on, I remember my skin. The practiced, silken voice of NPR‘s Krista Tippet lifts above the sizzle of pancakes and the shuffle of feet against the hardwood floor. The morning’s topic: “Grappling with Whiteness.” Emphasis on the Wh–.

I don’t need to look up to remember (god, do I remember) that I’m the only one in the room with dark skin. I sip my orange juice at the table while the room shrinks—wishing, in hindsight, that I had refused the breakfast invitation, slept in.

This Black man should have known better, but shoulda, coulda, woulda…

Five folks ‘round the table, four hundred years of oppression rocking the small room. Flinging mugs from shelves, tossing the portrait of Guan Yin to the floor. It’s all quaking, people! It’s all—


I’m the only one clutching my seat.

Brown knuckles White.

Cindy cuts a triangular slice of pancake. A bit grainy. Drew eyes me, nervously. Andy licks maple syrup from his thumb, hankering for more butter.

And Tom.

Tom, finger to chin, looks to me and asks, “What do you think?”

What do I think? What do I think? I think the Black interviewee just told Krista Tippet to stop asking Black folk what they think! Aren’t you listening? Are any of you listening? Jesus Christ. The ceiling is caving in! Look up!

—is what I wish I had said.

“Yea, it’s true,” I say. “It’s tough for African-Americans.”

I look out the window. Maple trees don their fall wardrobe. I reach for one, a buoy.

Bhante Sumano (Bradley Donaldson) is a Jamaican-American Buddhist monk. His writing has appeared in BrevityLion’s Roar, and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. He currently lives as a wandering contemplative in the United States. 

Photo by Laura Oliverio