Volume 26, Number 4

Virtually Deadly

They didn't know I was black
the first time I got called a nigger. We played
video games online, the one place

where black boys fire guns
without becoming instant monsters. While winning
the match I didn't realize what fires waited

inside of us boys until I made the victory shot
on the kid on the other end of the internet, releasing the poison
from his viperous tongue. I didn't have a mic

when I was online, which is to say I didn't have a voice
to hurt him with any power my words could possess,
which is to say I found myself blacker than I knew

as unheard as I always had been. Minutes
later came the second time, from a couple
of teammates, as a term of endearment, a thanks

for covering their backs, acknowledgments
of a good job listening to orders. I'm certain
they didn't know I was black, didn't know

how insulted I was, but I'm also certain they wouldn't have
cared so long as I continued to follow orders. At that time,
I was one of the best at my favorite online shooting games,

which is to say pulling triggers no question, following
orders, more comfortable with real and fictional death
than my own blackness. When confronted with the story

of Joan of Arc, I cried like the Catholic schoolboy I was.
Let the news report another victim of violence who looked like me
and I wouldn't flinch. Today I've been listening:

I have veterans for friends. I know how quickly our country martyrs us,
how it burns us at the stake when returning from war, instant monsters
if owning guns without ever targeting other black bodies

while following orders. I know how loud the unheard cries
against the violence are. I know how comfortably snakes sleep
at night, aware of our deaths. I know this isn't a game.

—Deonte Osayande