Lauren Yates

After My College Votes Me a Member of the Culturally Elite



The album—Halcyon Digest. The band—Deerhunter. I cannot see their name without seeing a black man stab his attacker with a hunted stag’s antlers. The deer, both him and his mother. The song—Helicopter. Remixed by the white DJ who hates his brown girlfriend for getting too famous. Shoegaze becomes glitch. A trap beat underwater. Each shriek towing the line between coming and dying. Percussion like beating a pack of cigarettes before it opens. A boy taught me this song. I made it my anthem.


I compared our love to a photograph with Stockholm Syndrome. An accurate metaphor. I never thought twice about “abuse.” Wet earth after a dry spell requires its own word: petrichor. The way you hurt me goes by many names. Sometimes, breathing. Wednesday. Awake.



My mother and I shared a trundle bed until I was fourteen. She would unroll the mattress from under my bed into a second twin-sized bed. I had to climb over her water. To get to the bathroom. There has never been space just for me.


The eccentric are typically single. I am more normal than I think, or this will not last. My aunt has been alone for years now. She says climate change is a scam. She blasts the Dave Matthews Band in her red convertible. We drive to a CAKE concert. The critics call the vocals “laconic droll.” We are the only black people here.


The adult spelling bee at the hipster bar is full of drunk white people. The word I have to spell is “licentious.” It means promiscuous. It also means not giving a fuck about grammar. I stand on the stage. An auction block. I misspell it on purpose. Unconcerned with proving how well I speak this racist language.




My roommate is a straight white woman who prefers black men. OKCupid only shows her black men’s profiles. She giggles and says, “I don’t know why. Having a preference is racist and based on stereotypes. I like everyone!” She swears the algorithm’s broken.


She tells me I’m not black enough without saying I’m not black enough. I go to gothic dance parties. The Smiths Social. Joy Division Night. She cocks her head to the side, asks, “Why are you so obsessed with white culture?”


She says, “Kenneth Cole is like J. Crew for black people,” as if this is something she’s allowed to say.


She’s dating two black men at the same time. Behind their backs. Says she’s too good for polyamory. Her profession? Couples therapist.


A black man wanders our neighborhood offering to wash cars. My roommate gives him money. For food. For cigarettes and booze. For his daughter’s inhaler.


He starts showing up on our porch, drunk. He slurs, “Mama always told me I’d marry a white woman.”  When I tell my roommate, she says she and her boyfriend will sit down with him. “He needs to see I’m already with a black man.”


She tells me to call 911 if he shows up again. As if he would survive. As if I would ever betray a black man like that.


When her second boyfriend surprises her from Boston, she says he can’t just show up. She says, “If you do this again, I’ll call the police. I’ll get a restraining order.” She had asked him to be more romantic. He was just doing what he saw in the movies.


Why is it so much easier for her to call the police than to say no. No, I can’t give you money. No, I don’t want to date you. I’m with someone else.


When the surviving boyfriend proposes, she mopes around the house for weeks. She refuses to wear the ring. I would ask why she said yes, but I already know she can’t can’t say no.


I pity her fiancé. Even though he’s a hotep with ankh tattoos. Even though he never responds when I say hello and it’s been eighteen months. Even though he keeps fighting for a woman that doesn’t want him.


I picture him as the new Emmett Till. Dragged and beaten for putting the moves on a white woman. When he said, “marry me,” my roommate couldn’t say no. It’s only a matter of time before the police show up.


Lauren Yates is Philadelphia-based poet and therapist. In 2012, Lauren earned her B.A. in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently studies Counseling Psychology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Temple University. Lauren’s work has appeared in Bettering American Poetry 2015, Crab Orchard Review, and Vinyl. For more information, visit

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