DEAR WHITE AMERICA
By Danez Smith
i’ve left Earth in search of darker planets, a solar system revolving too near a black hole. i’ve left in search of a new God. i do not trust the God you have given us. my grandmother’s hallelujah is only outdone by the fear she nurses every time the blood-fat summer swallows another child who used to sing in the choir. take your God back. though his songs are beautiful, his miracles are inconsistent. i want the fate of Lazarus for Renisha, want Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean & Jonylah risen three days after their entombing, their ghost re-gifted flesh & blood, their flesh & blood re-gifted their children. i’ve left Earth, i am equal parts sick of your go back to Africa & i just don’t see race. neither did the poplar tree. we did not build your boats (though we did leave a trail of kin to guide us home). we did not build your prisons (though we did & we fill them too). we did not ask to be part of your America (though are we not America? her joints brittle & dragging a ripped gown through Oakland?). i can’t stand your ground. i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the morning, when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave. i reach for black folks & touch only air. your master magic trick, America. now he’s breathing, now he don’t. abra-cadaver. white bread voodoo. sorcery you claim not to practice, hand my cousin a pistol to do your work. i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones. you took one look at the river, plump with the body of boy after girl after sweet boi & ask why does it always have to be about race? because you made it that way! because you put an asterisk on my sister’s gorgeous face! call her pretty (for a black girl)! because black girls go missing without so much as a whisper of where?! because there are no amber alerts for amber-skinned girls! because Jordan boomed. because Emmett whistled. because Huey P. spoke. because Martin preached. because black boys can always be too loud to live. because it’s taken my papa’s & my grandma’s time, my father’s time, my mother’s time, my aunt’s time, my uncle’s time, my brother’s & my sister’s time . . . how much time do you want for your progress? i’ve left Earth to find a place where my kin can be safe, where black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until then i bid you well, i bid you war, i bid you our lives to gamble with no more. i’ve left Earth & i am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you. i’m giving the stars their right names. & this life, this new story & history you cannot steal or sell or cast overboard or hang or beat or drown or own or redline or shackle or silence or cheat or choke or cover up or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or ruin
this, if only this one, is ours.
Racism in America has created a dangerous and painful reality for many African Americans. For this reason movements like "Black lives Matter" were created. Due to ignorance to the black experience and racism, movements like "All lives Matter" and questions like "Why does everything have to be about race?" were raised. Poet, Danez Smith answers and debates these statements beautifully in his poem "Dear White America". With passionate craftsmanship and purposeful structure, as an African American himself, Smith demonstrates the black experience successfully with the help of polysyndeton, anaphora and hyperbole to show how injustice in America still affects black lives to this day.
A very noticeable repetition occurs throughout the poem. "i’ve left Earth in search of darker planets,-", "i’ve left in search of a new God.", "i’ve left Earth & i am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you." This type of repetition, anaphora, creates a sense of ethos. Putting himself in the poem and the fact that he's African American makes the poem even more emotional and respected. His use of "I" gives personality to the poem and using sentences like "my grandmother’s hallelujah is only outdone by the fear she nurses every time the blood-fat summer swallows another child who used to sing in the choir." and using real people who have gone through violence because of their race in line "i want the fate of Lazarus for Renisha, want Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean & Jonylah risen three days after their entombing, their ghost re-gifted flesh & blood, their flesh & blood re-gifted their children." points out one of Smith's biggest claims. The claim that racism still exists to this day, causing emotional trauma and death of innocent people and children.
With the mention of the quote "i’ve left Earth in search of darker planets, a solar system revolving too near a black hole" already present and additional quotes like, " i’ve left Earth to find a place where my kin can be safe, where black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until then i bid you well, i bid you war, i bid you our lives to gamble with no more." and "i’ve left Earth & i am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you.", Smith shows signs of desperation. Using the hyperbole of having to go as far as to move to another planet to find safety, equality and the simple sense of being humans too. This really shows how White America makes blacks feel unwelcome, worthless and attacked. Sick, "-sick of calling your recklessness the law."
The penultimate sentence is one of the most impacting. It states, "i’m giving the stars their right names. & this life, this new story & history you cannot steal or sell or cast overboard or hang or beat or drown or own or redline or shackle or silence or cheat or choke or cover up or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or ruin-" This is a clear example of polysynderon. The list like and repetition of "or"between each word is used to represent the repetitive abuse, disrespect and political injustice that they've gotten throughout history and continue to get to this day.
Danez Smith's poem, "Dear White America" is greatly advised and worth the read. It lists all the African American injustices beautifully, fluidly and with no apology. His thought out use of figurative language and personal relationship with the topic in question made for a poem that carries it's message across clearly and successfully. Racism has been a problem in America for way too long, it's even a big part of its history. All Smith is trying to do is ask White America, why are they surprised that everything is about race? "-because you made it that way! "
Culture and identity has always been a very complex topic. It is something that only the person it that position can fully comprehend. Jose Olivarez gives a great example of this in his poem "Mexican American Disambiguation". He takes the role of a man of Mexican descent who struggles to explain to his audience the complexity of being Mexican-American, while giving a sense of not knowing where he fits. Trough the use of repetition, ethos and dialect throughout the poem, Olivarez demonstrates how he struggles to explain the complexity of Mexican and Mexican American labels and the weight they have on his life as well as how he struggles to identify himself and others.
Olivarez uses repetition a fair amount throughout his poem. The words "who are not to be confused with", "my parents are", "I am a", "though the two are cousins" are repeated throughout the poem as a way to show his struggle to explain how and where everybody, including himself, fits. This lets the audience see how he tries to give everybody labels as a coping mechanism against him not being able to find one for himself. While he seems to have his identity figured out at the beginning when he says "I am a Chicano from Chicago which means I am a Mexican American with a fancy college degree and a few tattoos." but later, towards the end of his poem he says "I call that sociology, but that's just the Chicano in me, who should not be confused with the diversity in me or the mexicano in me who is constantly fighting with the upwardly mobile in me who is good friends with the Mexican American in me, who colleges love, but only on brochures, who the government calls NON-WHITE, HISPANIC or WHITE, HISPANIC, who my parents call mijo even when I don't come home so much.". This last sentence repeats all of the labels he used through out the poem, but this time towards himself, contrasting with the certainty from the first sentence where he gives himself only one label, Chicano.
He then continues by using ethos and dialect hand in hand to convey to the reader that he has first person point of view in this topic. Olivarez is actually Mexican American which shows the reader that he has a say, insight and actual knowledge of the topic of being Mexican American. He continues to prove this by using the words "mexicano", "probesitos", "mestizo", "gringos", "que significa esa palabra", "sin papeles" and "mijo". His ability to switch between English and Spanish shows his connection with both his American and Mexican sides, making the poem personal, giving his words greater value and sympathy from the reader.
After struggling to explain Mexican and Mexican American labels throughout the poem, Olivarez concludes by saying "my parents call me mijo even when I don't come home so much.", letting his audience know that even if he can't identify himself completely with the Chicano, Mexicano, or Mexican American in him, he will always be that label he is desperately trying to get away from and desperately trying to find no matter how far away he runs from it.