Poems on racism

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about racism and various related themes. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Place each poem on a different table in your classroom. Walk around the room and visit each table and read each poem. At each table, on a large sheet of paper, there should be a 'see, think, wonder' table, like the one below. Write your answers to the questions in each column before reading what other students have written. 

  2. See Think Wonder
    What do see, when you read this poem? What images come to mind? What does this poem make you think about? What kinds of ideas come to mind? What do you still wonder? What questions do you have? What would you like to know in order to understand this poem better?

    The price seemed reasonable, location
    Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
    Off premises. Nothing remained
    But self-confession. "Madam" , I warned,
    "I hate a wasted journey - I am African."
    Silence. Silenced transmission of pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
    Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
    Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
    "HOW DARK?"...I had not misheard...."ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?" Button B. Button A. Stench
    Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
    Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
    Omnibus squelching tar.
    It was real! Shamed
    By ill-mannered silence, surrender
    Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
    Considerate she was, varying the emphasis-
    "ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT" Revelation came
    "You mean- like plain or milk chocolate?"
    Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
    Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted
    I chose. "West African sepia"_ and as afterthought.
    "Down in my passport." Silence for spectroscopic
    Flight of fancy, till truthfulness chaged her accent
    Hard on the mouthpiece "WHAT'S THAT?" conceding "DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." "Like brunette."
    "Not altogether.
    Facially, I am brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet.
    Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused-
    Foolishly madam- by sitting down, has turned
    My bottom raven black- One moment madam! - sensing
    Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
    About my ears- "Madam," I pleaded, "wouldn't you rather
    See for yourself?"

    To those fixed on white,
    White is white,
    To those fixed on black,
    It is the same,
    And red is red,
    Yellow, yellow-
    Surely there are such sights
    In the many colored world,
    Or in the mind.
    The strange thing is that
    These people never see themselves
    Or you, or me.

    Are they not in their minds?
    Are we not in the world?
    This is a curious blindness
    For those that are color blind.
    What queer beliefs
    That men who believe in sights
    Disbelieve in seers.

    O people, if you but used
    Your other eyes
    You would see beings

    Dey been speakin’ at de cou’t–house,
    An’ laws–a–massy me,
    ‘T was de beatness kin’ o’ doin’s
    Dat evah I did see.
    Of cose I had to be dah
    In de middle o’ de crowd,
    An’ I hallohed wid de othahs,
    Wen de speakah riz and bowed.

    I was kind o’ disapp’inted
    At de smallness of de man,
    Case I ‘d allus pictered great folks
    On a mo’ expansive plan;
    But I t’ought I could respect him
    An’ tek in de wo’ds he said,
    Fu’ dey sho was somp’n knowin’
    In de bald spot on his haid.

    But hit did seem so’t o’ funny
    Aftah waitin’ fu’ a week
    Dat de people kep’ on shoutin’
    So de man des could n’t speak;
    De ho’ns dey blared a little,
    Den dey let loose on de drums,—.
    Some one toll me dey was playin’
    “See de conkerin’ hero comes.”

    “Well,” says I, “you all is white folks,
    But you ’s sutny actin’ queer,
    What’s de use of heroes comin’
    Ef dey cain’t talk w’en dey’s here?”
    Aftah while dey let him open,
    An’ dat man he waded in,
    An’ he fit de wahs all ovah
    Winnin’ victeries lak sin.

    Wen he come down to de present,
    Den he made de feathahs fly.
    He des waded in on money,
    An’ he played de ta’iff high.
    An’ he said de colah question,
    Hit was ovah, solved, an’ done,
    Dat de dahky was his brothah,
    Evah blessed mothah’s son.

    Well he settled all de trouble
    Dat’s been pesterin’ de lan’,
    Den he set down mid de cheerin’
    An’ de playin’ of de ban’.
    I was feelin’ moughty happy
    ‘Twell I hyeahed somebody speak,
    “Well, dat’s his side of de bus’ness,
    But you wait for Jones nex’ week.”

    Gather round, I'm glad everybody came out tonight
    As we stand on our neighborhood corner
    Know that this fire that's burning represents the passion you have
    Listen, Keisha, Tammy, come up front
    I recognize all of you, every creed and color
    With that being said, fuck your ethnicity, you understand that?
    We gon' talk about a lot of shit that concerns you, all of you
    Now everybody throw your hands up high
    If you don't give a fuck throw your hands up high
    Throw your hands up high
    Now I don't give a fuck if you
    Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, goddamn it
    That don't mean shit to me
    Fuck your ethnicity nigga
    Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that saved my life
    Y'all be calling it hip hop, I be calling it hypnotize
    Yeah, hypnotize, trapped my body but freed my mind
    What the fuck are you fighting for? Ain't nobody gon' win that war
    My details be retail, man I got so much in store
    Racism is still alive, yellow tape and colored lines
    Fuck that, nigga look at that line, it's so diverse
    They getting off work and that wanna see Kendrick
    Everybody can't drive Benzs, and I been there, so I make it my business
    To give 'em my full attention, ten-hut, man I gotta get my wind up
    Man I gotta get down with God cause I got my sins up, ooh
    Matter of fact, don't mistake me for no fucking rapper
    They sit backstage and hide behind the fucking cameras
    I mosh pit, had a microphone, I tossed it
    Had a brain, then I lost it, I'm out of my mind
    So don't you mind how much the cost it, penny for my thoughts
    Everybody please hold up your wallets
    Yeah man, I'm the mailman, can't you tell man?
    Going postal, never freeze up when I approach you
    That's star-struck, and roast you, oh my, HiiiPoWeR
    Now I don't give a fuck if you
    Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, goddamn it
    That don't mean shit to me
    Fuck your ethnicity nigga
    I'm tired of y'all, cause everybody lied to y'all
    Do you believe it? Recognize them false achievements
    It's treason and I'm Tylenol, I knock out when you knock it off
    Knock of the doors of opportunity, I'm too involved
    I'm no activist, I'm no Einstein, before calculus I was kicking in math
    Dropping that science like an alchemist, and I be kicking that ass
    Lyrically I'm UFC
    If a UFO had came for me I'ma come back with the head of alien
    Don't alienate my dreams, get it right, get a life
    I got two, that's a metaphor for the big shit I do
    Boy, TMI, TSA, man I'm fly
    Put wings on my back, that a plane or angel? Both
    Like a pilot with a halo, whoa, gross
    I don't mean nothing, so many things come through
    Them, him, her, you, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm
    I'm just a messenger
    Yeah I know life's a bitch, get the best of her
    Put them threes up, they notice that we up
    HiiiPoWeR, and the power, and the people
    And if they don't believe us, they'll die
    Now I don't give a fuck if you
    Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, goddamn it
    That don't mean shit to me
    Fuck your ethnicity nigga

    I, too, sing America.

    I am the darker brother.
    They send me to eat in the kitchen
    When company comes,
    But I laugh,
    And eat well,
    And grow strong.

    I’ll be at the table
    When company comes.
    Nobody’ll dare
    Say to me,
    “Eat in the kitchen,”

    They’ll see how beautiful I am
    And be ashamed—

    I, too, am America.

  3. After having read all of these poems and song lyrics, work as a class to make a list of global issues that are related to racism. Look at the 'see, think, wonder' diagrams to inform your list.

  4. Break up into smaller groups. Assign each group a different poem. Which global issues, from your class' list of issues are present in your group's poem? Where do you see evidence of this?

  5. Visit the page on poems in the text types section of this support site. Are there any poetic, stylistic or structural devices that you can identify in your group's poem? What are the effects of these devices on the reader? Why do you think the author chose these words in this order? Take notes on your group discussion.

  6. In your group, (re)visit the 18 question from the areas of exploration and select 2-3 questions that relevant to your poem. Discuss your poem in relation to these questions. Take notes on your group discussion.

  7. Visit the page on concepts in the 'Guide and outline' section of this Support Site. Write a discussion question for your classmates about your poem, which includes one or more of these seven concepts in the question. 

  8. Give a 5-minute, group presentation on your group's poem, in which you comment on: the global issues that are presented in your poem, the kinds of stylistic and structural features that you found in your poem and the AoE questions that you discussed as a group. Ask your classmates the questions that you wrote, using one or more of the concepts from this course, in order to initiate a classroom discussion on your poem.

Take one of the poets who are featured in this lesson and find more poems by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in more poems by this poet? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Saturday, 29 February 2020, 8:49 PM