Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem of Double Consciousness

Revolution Is One Form of Social Change

When the man is busy
making niggers
it doesn’t matter much
what shade
you are.

If he runs out of one
particular color
he can always switch
to size
and when he’s finished
off the big ones
he’ll just change
to sex
which is
after all
where it all began.

—Audre Lorde

 

“You’re not ghetto/ratchet/black like the rest of them.”

“I like you because you act white.”

“You’re pretty for a black girl.”

I’m not the only one who has received one of these back-handed compliments in some form or another, said by white and black people alike. While I hear them quite often, I’m always taken aback. How exactly does one respond to a person essentially thanking them for being a “well-behaved nigga,” as if a “good” black person is hard to come by? It’s not comforting knowing that someone feels that way about a group of people, or that they felt that way about me before getting to know me. And if they are satisfied that I am white enough for them, would they just as quickly condemn me if I were to suddenly act characteristically “black”—speak Ebonics, curse someone out, refuse to leave the waitress a tip, etc. It’s that feeling of double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois described in his book, The Souls of Black Folk.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

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Audre Lorde’s poem opens with an allusion to a quote from Malcolm X: “What does a racist call a black Ph.D.?” The answer is ‘nigger.’ ” It doesn’t matter your education, whether or not you can properly enunciate your words; it doesn’t matter your size, how athletic you are; it doesn’t matter your complexion, the “one drop rule” still applies; it doesn’t matter your sex—you could be as pretty as a white girl, but you’ll still be black. When someone’s mind is poisoned by racism, it doesn’t matter how well-behaved a nigga you are, it won’t change their thinking. Take for example, former LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, who had employed many black men—players, coaches, etc.—in his career, yet couldn’t stomach the thought of his girlfriend (who herself is said to be half black) being anywhere near them. There are a lot of closet racists out there, many of whom smile to your face in public but drag you through the dirt behind closed doors.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem of double consciousness. What do others see when they look at you? A stereotype? A prejudice assumption they’ve projected onto you and anyone who looks like you? Which version of yourself do you prefer people to know?

—Nortina

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6 thoughts on “Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem of Double Consciousness

  1. I look like any other working class mom, if a bit more uppity on occasion. I can tell you people have been astounded by the most random of things. Apparently I didn’t look like a smoker, I looked like a virgin, I don’t look like a person who likes rap, whatever. I think my favorite had to be, “Oh no thank you, I’m happy being a pagan,” to which the woman responded, “Really? But you look so nice.” So I guess I look nice. I don’t know what nice looks like. Nice looks only like Christians? or Protestants? I dunno.
    I think just being a woman puts us in other people’s expectations — when they’re surprised we’re confident or capable of self-defense or educated or outspoken or athletic or ballsy, whatever again. I think it takes a while in living to realize that book by the cover thing. I get surprised at times myself and I’m 42.

    I hear you on the separation of blackness. The generation before mine has plenty of that. Certain blacks were okay, because they were in our neighborhood or they were in college or they were our dentist, but they were different from the blacks in black neighborhoods. It’s a subtle kind of racism that racists don’t even think is racist. I grew up with that chit. I’m sure no one told our black neighbors that they were a special kind of black.
    Now, my kids don’t have to live like that, and can’t imagine how I did.

    SNL pegged that last weekend regarding the blackness of Beyonce, did you see that? “I know he’s black.” If you didn’t, you should.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wait , Christians look nice? Which Christians has she been hanging around? Kidding! Most people say I look like a bitch when I’m walking, minding my business, so I guess I’m a pagan, haha! When will people realize that book by the cover thing wasn’t just referring to books? lol
      I’ve seen a lot of skits and jokes about how people never knew that Beyoncé was black until her performance at the Super Bowl lol. I haven’t seen the SNL one. I’ll check it out.
      I’ve noticed that a lot of black people share that kind of thinking unfortunately. “I’m not that kind of black,” or “I’m better than those blacks.” I guess it comes from that double consciousness. We gotta prove that we’re not like the stereotype, so we separate ourselves from the “black” blacks, but what starts to happen (at least from what I’ve seen in some of my friends) is that resentment transitions from being directed toward only “ghetto” blacks to being directed toward all blacks, which doesn’t help any.

      Liked by 1 person

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