Sometime during the US Thanksgiving holidays of 2018, I succumbed to a friend’s pressures to join a family for dinner in Tucson, Arizona. The family was a part of a program called International Friends which, amongst other things, aimed to bring international students together with American families to facilitate an exchange of cultures, ideas, conversations, etc.
That dinner turned out to be the most bizzare experience of my life. This very white, very conservative, very Christian family, living in a compound that was once a church (complete with Infant of Prague statues and a bell) spent the whole dinner shooting racial microaggresions around the table. Perhaps this was simply the norm for them. Or perhaps they thought that, being international students, most of these microaggressions would go over our heads, or that we wouldn’t understand English enough to recognize the double meanings behind them, or that we’d be too confused or afraid to respond.
That last part is typical with microaggressions, isn’t it? You’re never sure if what you’re hearing is really what you’re hearing? Did they just…? you’ll wonder. And when you get pissed off, you spend time calculating how best to respond, worried that a legitimately angry response will be recycled and shot back at you as reaching for offense, as being too sensitive, as being the one who’s fixated on race.
That night, I faked an excuse and simply left, texting my friend that I was gone. A part of me began to unpack all the signs I should have recognized all along—from the invitation email to the building’s description online to the unopened mail in the foyer. It was as if some ancestral spirit had been speaking to me all along, but I wasn’t paying attention. Stupid boy! Why you no listen to all the things we been dey tell you?
For days after, I kept thinking of racial microaggressions as the stealthy spearhead of the bigger monstrous force that is racism. Microaggressions as a consuming shadow that, with every little interaction you have with someone who embraces a racist system or ideology, sucks you in, tendril by tendril, and swallows you whole. It never appears overtly, but starts small—a comment about your name, about your mastery of English, about how “your people” [insert smarmy comment here], etc—and soon becomes a rivertide you’re swimming against, attempting to claw your way out of; a shadow that smothers you, pulls you under, tightens its fingers around your neck until you…
A few months after I had these thoughts, I began to write a short story inspired by this experience. It featured a chorus of ancestral voices, a Jordan Peele aesthetic, and musings on the multifacetedness of language.
Today, that story has just been published at Tor.com.
Tor.com is one of the biggest SFF publishers out there, making its name as a home for award-winning works—short stories, novellas, novels. It’s been a career bucket list item of mine to get published with them. “Choke” is my first full-length original short story to be featured there, and just in time for spooky season! (Hint: If you pay special attention, you can catch all the Jordan Peele-ist easter eggs.)
Lastly: Did you know that short stories, when widely read, widely loved and well supported, become poised to be considered for awards like the Hugos, Nebulas, Nommos, etc? If you wish to read (and support) “Choke,” here’s how you may do so:
Read the story (of course)
Comment and/or Favourite (on the story’s page) if you enjoyed it. This pushes it up the rankings and makes people see and remember it often.
Share with friends you know will enjoy it. If you do so on social media, feel free to tag me in it. (I also understand tweeting/posting can be a time drain. You may simply reshare my announcements on Twitter and Instagram instead!)
This story is one of my most personal so far. I truly hope you enjoy it. And remember: I have more new stuff on the way! Coming to you in 2023: