It is often said that great art is created during troubled times, so it should come as no surprise that Barnard — well-known for its alumnae writers — has seen this trend continue as the “twin pandemics” of COVID-19 and a renewed focus on racial injustice and violence sweep the world. In this new limited series, Barnard community members share poems and songs that speak to this unique moment in time. (If you would like to contribute, please email

Today, Lecturer of First-Year Writing Alexandra Watson reads her poem "Tragic Mulatto: One Drop Rule,” which is forthcoming in an issue of The Swamp Magazine.

Tragic Mulatto: One Drop Rule

Rashida Jones is trending
I refuse to let this be the soapbox I die on
No one wants to hear how I wished I was Brazilian or Greek
Jealous of my Puerto Rican friend
with shorthand for her shade
When Fat Joe said the N-word, when J. Lo said the N-word
I had to ask, are Puerto Ricans black?
Portal opened in my historical imagination
In DR I was rubia
To fit in, I straightened my hair
A blow out sweated out in 4 minutes, ringlets when I reached my door
In Italy, Negro with the soft E
On a boyfriend’s friend’s AIM profile: I can’t believe he’s dating a--
Someone says “What are you?” That someone is a man
“I could tell by the shape of your ass”
I start sweating teaching Passing
an 18-year-old asks me, “But how did she not know?”
Can you picture me?
Waiting for the film with Ruth Negga
Waiting for the one with Lena Horne
Watching Imitation of Life again
I’m counting up quadroons and octoroons
I’m counting up to see do I make the cut
I’m playing with the dropper
one drop as tincture, one drop as evidence,
one drop as memory a special kind of Magic
The princess Meghan Markle
Jennifer Beals’ Devil in a Blue Dress
Maureen Peal in The Bluest Eye
They all get what they deserve
distant mothers, white lovers
who uncover them too--
“I love your complexion”
“This skin is so boring”
Pockmarks, ruts in my years