NaPoWriMo Day 4! With Our Teeth

Hey! Day four of #NaPoWriMo is here! I hope everyone is getting into the swing of sitting down and writing daily. Today’s poem was inspired by this prompt by Sam Gordon plus an experience I had the other day. I was in Target browsing the book section, which is always one of my favorite things to do. I was looking at all the different books enjoying how wide the variety was until I got to the “African American” section. All the books were ridiculous, with titles like Pastor Needs a Boo and Project Chick. It got me to thinking about the lack of flexibility within African American books available to the mainstream.

With Our Teeth

Who sets the standards?

Says your dark is why.
Your night sky skin is the only reason.

Yesterday I spent time with the shelves
and the books they keep,

spines standing up straight
and proud of their bodies—

adventure, action, romance, coming
of age, I reveled in all those choices.

The black books slouched,
heavy with the burden of being token,

of being cliche, a heart of ghettos
a calloused mouth,

the black books had black titles
like Honor Thy Thug and black

women in lingerie and black men
in sagging pants and isn’t that

exactly what being black has become?
Playing into a role, digging

rivers into our tongues with
our teeth, swimming in stereotypes

to avoid drowning. Isn’t that
what they expect, those standard

setters? Those cage architects,
they say here, take this and be grateful,

look at all the space we’ve given you,
you have your very own shelf in our world.

And we buy it because it is ours, it is
all we’ve been given, we invest in it,

take note of what they expect us to be
and we do better, be more, set our

own standards, let them think they
have won, while we build our own

shelves, fill them with the truths too
honest for their world. Say to them,

look at all the space we’ve let you
think was yours. Be grateful.

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