Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

the self-hatred of don l. lee

i,
a one time,
loved
my
color—
it
opened sMALL
doors of
tokenism
&
acceptance.
(doors called, “the only one” & “our negro”)
after painfully
struggling
thru Du Bois
Rogers, Locke
Wright & others,
my blindness
was vanquished
by pitchblack
paragraphs of
“us, we, me, i”
awareness.

i
began
to love
only a
part of
me—
my inner
self which
is all
black—
&
developed a
vehement
hatred of
my light
brown
outer.

—Haki Madhubuti (9/22/63)

 

In 1974, upon his return from a trip to Africa, poet, Donald Luther Lee changed his name to the Swahili, Haki (meaning “justice”) Madhubuti (meaning “precise, accurate, and dependable”). In an interview years later, he explained that adopting an African name would help him arrive at a “final destination of self.” (Source: Poetry Foundation)

Madhubuti’s poem, “the self-hatred of don l. lee,” is interesting because it doesn’t describe the same kind of self-hatred described in Baraka’s “Black Bourgeoisie.” Instead of running from his blackness, the speaker runs to it. In fact, he fears he’s not black enough. While he was never ashamed of his “color” before, he didn’t fully understand its significance, using it instead for “acceptance” into white circles, as the cool, “token” black friend. However, after reading the works of writers, historians, and Pan-Africanists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright and others, he opened his eyes to a new version of himself, became aware of his African roots, and wanted to embrace all of it.

I like this poem because it reminds me of a slight identity crisis I had earlier this year. Back in November, I finally made the leap and bought an AncestryDNA kit (it helped that it was on sale for 20% off too). I’ve always been curious of my background. What part of Africa were my ancestors from? Who in my family is white? Am I part Native American (like every other black person in America claims to be)? After 6 weeks, I received the email that my results were in, and . . .

DNA

I’m half Nigerian! I’m also thrilled to see that I have a little Senegalese in me too, since I’ve always believed I was related to Phillis Wheatley somehow ;). My DNA is also a compelling mapping of the Atlantic Slave Trade, as the majority of African slaves came from West African countries.

Now I find myself facing the same dilemma as Don L. Lee. I’m 91% African, but I know nothing about the continent; I know nothing about Nigeria. How can I embrace my roots? Change my name, my clothes, my hair? Would I even fit in if I ever visited, or would they look at my light brown skin and call me white? And these results don’t reveal any additional information about my ethnicity. Am I Yoruba? Am I Igbo? Am I Fulani?

I won’t say my recent self-discovery has lead to a developed hatred for my American self, as it did for the speaker of this poem. Nortina is not going anywhere. America is just as much a part of me as Africa is, and while I would like to know more, I’m happy that I at least have a country to point to now. I am Nigerian.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about self-discovery. What is your history? Your roots? How will you embrace your newly discovered self?

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12 thoughts on “Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

  1. Wow, this is interesting, and I find it a profound perspective of your findings. To put it out there, to declare after one knows his or her identity, exactly what does that mean- thought-provoking. I have an interest in doing the same, but I appreciate knowing beforehand, if I decide to do so, I may not know anything more than I knew before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For Blacks, slavery makes it much harder to track down our roots. I had a cousin who tried to do our family tree once and he was stopped at certain points. It’s definitely frustrating. While I still have questions, I’m thankful that AncestryDNA gives much more info than just my DNA. It talks about the regions, their histories, the people. It also shows me other people on Ancestry.com I could be related too. I think what is most amazing is that although I am far removed from Africa (both time & distance), I’m still technically African. Africa runs through my veins. Yea, I’m 9% European, but those parts of my DNA are trace amounts, I’ll probably never be able to pinpoint my European roots, and honestly I don’t care. I feel like too many Black people worship the other parts of their heritage (“I’m Puerto Rican,” “I’m Cherokee,” “I’m Irish,” etc.) when in reality, those ethnicities probably only makes up 0.5% of their actual DNA. We should really start to embrace our African heritage too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You said a mouth full. You are correct, it is true, we have those who still seek to claim the small percent from another heritage rather than our own. Until we learn self love and embrace who we are we will not appreciate our heritage as African Americans, and our African ancestry. I had a similar conversation with someone the other day who brought out those same points. We must do better.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww come hug me my Nigerian sister lol!

    Well you could do a bit of research if you want to know more about Nigeria or
    You could just ask me 🙂

    Whether your half Nigerian, American, Fulani, Yoruba, light brown skinned – it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – you’re still a person, an amazing talented person!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I’ve gotten older, my desire to be closer to my African roots has grown tremendously. I like that AncestryDNA not only gives you your ethnicity results, but it also gives you a little information about the country’s history, landscape, people, etc. I’ve been reading that, but I do want to do more research & learn as much as I can. Even though I’m far removed from Africa (both distance and time), I’m still African & I think that’s beautiful. It’s great to know your heritage, but yes, in the grand scheme of things we’re all people, we’re all equal, we all originated from the same two people. We are one! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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