Jordan James Sterns
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There Was

Jan 24, 2023

Guns, swords, and chains.

Rulers, pirates, and slaves;

Carmine stained on silver blades

Of steel.

She was of valor, a leader of queens

Fierce battles she fought.

Honor she sought

For kings who thought


of conquest’s price, so steep.

To my east, warriors painted

By the heat


Raid by night, conquer by day then rape and

Sell to western apparitions who sail on the moons tide
in fleets.

Carried I, like a fallen leaf.

Rocked to sleep by the oceans, deep.

Centuries away from my home —

I am alone.

Wide was the sea yet he could not see;

His vision blanketed

By a veil of greed.

Below, the mouths bellow

In the hell of a vessel —

Stacked they like crates of


Born I, a sacrifice of the womb, Buried in the throes of life,

My woes

worn like sleeves —

Death by one thousand knives; Rivers red pour

from my flesh

As I am emptied for the lords,

The gods and


my naked body shining as rose quartz beneath the African sun;

white gold before his brown eyes,

I was adored.

Ripped from my European shores,

I am enslaved.

Am I the evils of my white sins, the scars of my black lies — does life matter at all?

The pain feels the same;

like the past heavy upon my back like a looming curse.

As do the bones scattered from east to west

As man falls prey to beliefs on the never-ending conquest

Of more.

A message From our Author

Being that I come from both a European and African descent it is important to me to look into the histories of slavery from a broader scope. I was inspired to do so in 2020 because of the racial tension that occurred during that time. I was angry with the charlatans who used human grief as their means to profit, be it financially or socially.

There have been many books written about racism, slavery and the “black experience.” In many of these books white people are pointed to as the scapegoat and have been guilt tripped into accountability for the sins of their ancestry. While black people are absolved from any responsibility.

There is a quote that goes “The sins of the father are not the sins of the son.” yet we hold the mistakes of our ancestors over the heads of white people and condemn them for what we cannot control; the past. The common assumption is that black equates to suffering and white equates to privilege. But this perspective completely ignores the truth of suffering, and that is, suffering is universal and cannot be claimed by one group of people over another. That is what I try to capture in this poem. Furthermore, in our pain we grow stronger and are able to deal with the chaos of life with integrity.

It seemed to me that most of us genuinely believe that this evil can only live in the heart of the European culture. And that somehow being black made you immune to corruption, greed, and pride. This is the same as to point out the faults in others while ignoring the plank in one’s own eye.

The mainstream thought is that white Europeans are exclusively at fault for the slave trade but this idea ignores the African involvement that took place. Long before Europeans touched the shores of Africa there existed a trade network that included goods, spices, religious and philosophical ideas, and slaves. Warring kingdoms and tribes fought much for the same reasons wars are fought today: For power.

The survivors of the weaker tribe or kingdom were captured and sold, some even sacrificed to the gods to ensure the future prosperity of a kingdom. The European foreigners simply capitalized on the already existing slave system established in Africa.

From the 15th to 19th century African pirates known as ‘Barbary Pirates’ raided ships along the coastline of Europe. Their reach stretched from Ireland all the way down to the Mediterranean. The captured and enslaved men, women, and children were then sold into the vast network of a slave trade of over one million humans during this 400 year time span.

What does this have to do with this moment in time? Everything. The present is the sum of the past. Where a man stands today is the result of his actions of yesterday.

In closing, I believe humanity does not have beliefs but beliefs that have humanity. Ideas possess and enslave us. They control how we see the world and who we believe ourselves to be. They dictate how one interacts with others and if their beliefs contrast with our own we fight intellectual battles to prove our way of life is right and theirs wrong. And if handled immaturely these intellectual sparring matches become warfare and bloodshed. We see this in politics, religions, and in the divide of cultures. Slavery then, from this lens, is far deeper than merely man enslaving man. White enslaving black or black enslaving white. It is, I believe, that man is enslaved by beliefs. By culture. By his pride. By his self.

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