Less bold than a sign,
Still there is that lingering line.
Invisible to the ignorant
Making itself more tolerant.
More subtly than a white sheet
Yet the young man is still not safe on the street.
Oppressors walking amongst us
Your silence feds the beast
through our children we are teaching it.
Passing this unspoken and undermined
From one generation to the next.
This gruesome thing I speak of
Will fool you
It’s not even there
Pat yourself on the back
You posted a picture
Used a trending hashtag
You’re an ally now
Your work is done.
Only now the feast has just begun
Another victim you see
Right there on the TV
Being layed to rest beneath the Weeping Willow tree
A mother’s child to never come home again
Another funeral to attend
One more sacrfice
Maybe this one will finally spark change
Numb, knowing soon the news will replace his name
With the latest political game.
You are to blame.
Letting that slithering snake
Hide in the corner of your room
Until it’s capable
Of killing you
Except it won’t do that
It trusts you now
Why wouldn’t it?
You have been devoted to it
Feeding it everyday
by turning your cheek the other way
When you die it’ll still need to eat
Who will it tangle by their feet?
Wiggling its way
Around its prey
Until it finally gets a strong grip
C O N S T R I C T S
You raised that
Something so small
Next thing you know
It’s covering your walls
Just like you covered your eyes
By telling yourself those dirty little lies
That it wasn’t real to start
You’re educated, you’re that smart.
Only your schooling let you down
Because we only learned about the white man wearing a crown
& everyone else with a frown
Being torn down
To support the economy of this little town.
Call it tradition
Call it generation
Call it fake
Call it a snake
Call it individualistic
Call it systemic
Call it americanism
Call it racism.
Call it for what it is.
This poem took shape after reflecting on the themes we went over in the readings for this unit. Fortunately there was some overlap from another class on talking race and its implications in literature. It was interesting to see how themes and presentation of race have changed, but shown very little evolution from the literature we read in this class to more contemporary pieces like Warriors Don’t Cry and The Hate U Give. This poem was an effort to depict how race can be acknowledged but put on the back self through the lens of someone it doesn’t directly affect. Being a white woman I decided to use this opportunity to reflect on how race has been presented to me through my life, but try to encompass how little I was aware of it. It is easy to ignore an issue that isn’t pertinent to your life, but when it comes to racial injustice and ignorance, ignoring it fuels the prejudice that attaches itself to racism. I would like to think this day in age no one blatantly wants to be racist, but that’s not the case. The hardest part about gauging the topic of racism is understanding even if you aren’t running around saying derogatory things and promoting it, you can still be aiding it. I wanted to really incorporate the white ignorance I have been blinded by for almost all my life. Listening and watching the poem read aloud called #ToBeBlack really inspired this poem of mine. The words, and how it was read, it hit your heart and rippled through your rib cage. I wanted my written words to have to power, to say, avoiding it, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I think as white American’s the easy way out is to turn your cheek, look the other way. That only lets it grow. By not educating ourselves, by not acknowledging it and actively combatting it we are not alleys. We are counterproductive to the work and efforts that have taken centuries to be noticed. This poem is written specifically in the mindset to get through to anyone and everyone who either says “racism doesn’t exist anymore,” “not here, there isn’t racism in our town,” or anything minimizing the issue at hand. I decided to use different representations of racism like the snake to ground this concept in reality. I personally am terrified of snakes, to create an image of a snake growing by me feeding it and nurturing it by ignoring it really resonated with how my ignorance to racial injustice and racism aided it’s growth. My early education (k-12) never exposed me to the facts, they masked the very present issues behind the Emancipation Proclamation. I have a lot of lines and diction that reference reproducing. We were breeding this ignorance into our children like myself who knew nothing until college. That ignorance is then woven into the history printed out for the next twenty years at least. That racial inequalities present itself in a multitude of ways just like racism shape-shifts itself in different manners. We saw it in the podcast with the Afircan American actor who doesn’t get casted for roles because he “doesn’t fit the character” based completely on his race. Now that you have gotten a glimpse of where my inspiration came from let’s talk about how these words took shape on the page.
I wanted to start short and sweet, except I want them to have a jabbing effect which is why the first two lines last word rhymes. That rhythm is the beat to which I read this poem aloud. It’s an unwavering, persistent beat, marching to a drum, like ignorance does for racism. I followed that pattern for the first two couplets, honestly, to be inviting to readers, I felt if I jumped right in with you big stuff people would put it down quicker. You will see this rhyming scheme appear a couple times throughout the poem and that is to remind you, racism is still pulsating through this country. This poem took shape on how it sounded, lines stop where I want my readers to pause and think. I wasn’t worried about how it would look on a page to be 100% honest, and I think it came out better because of that. The first solid not abstract image I use are of a white sheet referencing the KKK and a colored man in the street. The rhyme was there, but that is the reality of how racism has shifted in today’s world. The fourth stanza ends each line on the word it. That was also intentional, and I hope you thought of the creepy clown lurking in sewers because racism is more viscous that It itself, whom I would like to point out is also a shape-shifter. The stanza about the snake was designed to give racism another shape that was more relatable and more blatantly pointed out than It the clown. I wanted people to understand even if it is legless it can maneuver through your life, and even more so it has the power to kill. Lastly, the last stanza. It had rythme, call it, call it, call it, yes I’m asking you to give it a name, but I am calling my readers to take action. To acknowledge themselves and to educate themselves. That is the entire point, to expose that racism is here, and by ignoring it you are only fueling it.
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One thought on “Shape-Shifter”
Susan, this is a fantastic poem. I really like the short dagger-like lines. They hit the reader in an interesting way, and I’ll have to steal that from you. I think there’s a lot that can be done with this style. Fantastic work!
Now, I really like the imagery of someone feeling like they are doing well to help the world, and people who are oppressed, while never really working to address the growing power of racism in their own world. The snake in the poem is a great choice, not only for the stealthy, slithering, constricting imagery, but also because of the connection to sin. This great sin that man has committed: mistreating others due to their race, will be our downfall, much as Satan went to Eve as a snake and led the world to pain.
Really cool piece, thank you for writing it!