I Am a Black Kansan in a Sea of Red, White, and Blue
To be a POC Midwesterner is to be steeped in a rich and magical history
“You sound funny, where you from?” “What the hell kinda accent is that?” “Wait, say that again!” That’s how it starts, usually after I speak for the first time in a new setting with people who I’ve never met.
The questions are relatively harmless, and the sharp fascination with my cadence and the rhythm of my mumbling meter can be amusing. Sometimes I indulge these requests for linguistic gymnastics, letting words roll off my tongue as I juggle letters like a circus performer, swapping them back and forth, cutting them out entirely or forcing them in where they weren’t before.
For example, you can pick pecans, but when you bake them with a crust, it’s PEE-CAN pie. Also, there’s an R in “wash.” Webster and Siri will deny it, but where I’m from, we wedge it in after the A.
Sometimes I indulge these questions. Usually, I take a breath and brace myself for what I know is coming next.
Hi, my name is Elle, and I’m a Black woman born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas.
Yes. You read that right, Kansas.
This is the part where, if I say this out loud, people make this really interesting face. It’s a mix of shocked and disturbed — like they came home to find that someone had broken into their house, but instead of taking anything, the burglar left cookies on the coffee table.
“Oh! Oh,” they’ll say. Then they’ll share a look as if they’re asking each other if they believe me.
“Why the hell do you live there?”
“Kansas? Really?! Wow.”
Insert the obligatory Wizard of Oz joke or a statement along the lines of “I didn’t know niggas came in Kansas flavor!” People are always surprised, but I no longer am. No, I, like many other Black Kansans, have come to accept my role as a perception doppelgänger. I bear a striking resemblance to something familiar, but it’s not quite right. However, unlike the creatures of myth…