Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Lessons from a Mirror

Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.

Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.

Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.

Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.

Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?

Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette

and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.

I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.

And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.

When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.

—Thylias Moss, from Pyramid of Bone (1989)

 

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Sarah Baartman, an African freak show, for lack of better terms, who was paraded around Europe, her body put on display for white people far and near to marvel and its strange features (large breasts and buttocks), and measure her against white woman (even after her death). In an effort to elevate themselves as the superior race, they declared that fair, virginal Victorian age white women were the image of beauty and portrayed Baartman as the abnormal “other.”

Hundreds of years later, and black women are still experiencing this kind of marginalization.

Moss’s poem alludes to the tale of Snow White, in which the evil queen/stepmother asks the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all, and it tells her Snow White. Like the evil queen, black women are told daily, whether directly or indirectly, that white women are prettier, that white women are purer, that white women are more desirable lovers. We are forever living in the shadow of their “beauty.” The few times that black women are complimented, it is for their European features, which overtime created the problem of colorism within the black community (light skin vs. dark skin).

dark_girls_caro_page-bg_29012
Source: Ebony

Black women are constantly pressured to look more like white woman—never mind that most white women don’t even look the world’s imaginary “beauty standards.” Whether it’s a daughter being expelled from school because her hair was too distracting, a model’s dark brown skin being lightened on a magazine cover, a female rapper or celebrity with a very round derrière being slut shamed, or a business woman being fired from her job for refusing to straighten her hair or wear a weave or wig because her boss thinks her naturally outward growing hair is unprofessional.

What’s more insulting is that many black men (not all, but a lot) often praise white women while degrading black women at the same time. While I’m a huge advocate for interracial dating—you love who you love; skin color shouldn’t matter—I do have a problem with black men who only date white women because they hate black women. Excuse me, sir, but your mother is black. Your daughter, no matter how much you try to mix that blood around, will still be black. What’s more demeaning is their worship of “exotic” or “foreign” women, or “white girls with a fat ass,” while the most a black woman would hear is, “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” “I only date light skin girls,” “Hell must’ve froze over for me to date a black girl.”

It’s hard to stomach some of the hurtful things I’ve heard black men say about black women. I often wonder where all this animosity comes from. Is it a form of self-hate or did all these men really have the same bad relationship experience with a black woman? I’m leaning more toward the former.

The last two stanzas are the most heartbreaking of this poem. I’m sure all women have that occasional fear that they’re not good enough for their man, that one day a smarter, prettier, nicer woman would come through and take him away. For black women, especially black who’ve heard their men say the above comments, we fear that woman will be white. No matter how hard I try to please him, will he still leave because I’m not white enough for him, because I’m too black? When you enter a relationship thinking this way, you quickly realize that “more than white is missing.”

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the black girl staring into her reflection, for the black girl pinching her skin to bring up the white. Tell her she’s beautiful. God created her in His image and likeness. Tell her she doesn’t have to alter her body, God’s body, to feel loved.

#BlaPoWriMo: Boycott the Dark Girl (poem)

Boycott the dark girl!

Don’t tell them about race; Middle America
doesn’t want to face your afros and wide nose,
your full lips and round hips.

Boycott the dark girl!

Rip open your blouse, measure the humpback
on which a nation’s edifices are housed,
count the scars from raw cowhide
whipped in formation of a chokecherry plantation.

Boycott the dark girl!

Mend your heartstrings across the violin bridge,
play an empowering song with the bow of your fist.
Splash shades of brown through the stadium field—
a prism of acceptance, their politics must yield.

Boycott the dark girl!

A call for peace, an end to violence
is an attack, they say.
You were beaten, raped,
your genitals dissected and put on display.

Dance on the boycott, dark girl;

Hatred can’t make them turn you away.
Your purple skin is imperial; reclaim your domain
as you slay on the stage in Black Panther berets.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the “Dark Girl”

To a Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness
And the rounded darkness of your breast.
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eye-lids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk,
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

—Gwendolyn Bennett, from Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (1927)

 

Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman is recognized today as the first video vixen, probably the most degrading “first” of an African or person of color in all of history. Similar to the video vixens of today, who shows off their bodies to the pleasure of men in raunchy (usually rap) music videos, Saartjie Baartman was paraded around Europe in a traveling circus, her body put on display under the title, Hottentot Venus.

Black women’s bodies have always been a topic of discussion; since Saartjie Baartman, they’ve always been “on exhibit.” European explorers marveled at the African woman’s larger breasts, buttocks, and labia. They described their physical traits as abnormal to that of white woman. African women were characterized as hypersexual while white women were viewed as pure and delicate. White men put their wives on pedestals—frail, virginal angels, barely able to withstand childbirth—while at night they snuck into the slave quarters and lived out their sexual fantasies with the “jezebel” slave women, usually without consent.

jezebel-large

This why so many slave mothers dreaded having daughters, because they knew the stigma of their bodies would force them to grow up too fast, that their masters’ eyes would soon be wandering. This is why fugitive slave and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,  Harriet Jacobs, hid in an attack for seven years before finally escaping to the North. This is why Margaret Garner, the inspiration behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved, killed her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife rather than allow her to be recaptured into slavery.

After her death in 1815, Saartjie Baartman’s body was dissected, her genitalia and buttocks analyzed as if they were scientific specimens. Her skeleton and body cast was put on display until 1974 and 1976 respectively when feminist argued for its removal on the grounds that it was a degrading representation of women. However, her remains weren’t returned to her home soil in South Africa until 2002, after endless legal back and forth.

I love Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem because it pays homage to the Dark Girl like Saartjie Baartman. She was physically characterized as abnormal and ugly, and was exploited as a sex object, but she is still a Queen. From her brown skin, to her round buttocks, to her full lips and wide nose, she is still beautiful. From the pain and depravity she had to endure while enslaved, she has only grown stronger. This is why Beyoncé’s new song “Formation” has quickly become and anthem for black women. Like “To a Dark Girl,” it expresses racial pride and affirmation of black female beauty.

OK, ladies, now let's get in formation, 'cause I slay . . .
OK, ladies, now let’s get information, ’cause I slay . . .

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the dark girl. What delicacies do you see within her that the world has historically turned a blind eye to? Now is her time to be raised up on a pedestal. Debunk all the stereotypes. Admire her for her royal, brown elegance and grace alone.

—Nortina