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