Thursday, April 2, 2009

NaPoWriMo #2

Dichotomy of Race and Language: A Girl from The Hood

When I was growing up we could not say finna, ain't or lie.
Slang in general would unleash an automatic correction-
and scowl. You don't want to irritate my mother.
Dropping the endings of words-
Correction. And the ominous skies
before the storm.

Where I grew up, everybody said dang, finna, doin'.
Everybody went to the neighborhood school.
My sister and I at eight and seven caught the bus
to a better school- according to my mother.

We were often teased: "Why, y'all talk white?"

I live in the suburbs; a single, educated woman
with two daughters. Our favorite food is Indian.
I work for an established reference publisher.
My peers are liberal, middle class and educated.

We eat lunch together, debate social ills, talk about
latest art films, exhibits and what we're reading.
We visit each other. I read poetry at their weddings.

Inevitably though, someone slips up: "You don't
talk like other black people."


Today's PAD prompt is outsider. I would have preferred not choosing race, but the truth is the dichotomy of race, culture and language hugely colored my upbringing. It was a natural choice when I read the prompt so I went with it.

Today is Poetry Friday. Find more poetry reads at


Serena said...

Even though you didn't want to talk about race, I think this is a great poem. My PAD poem will be up on the blog at 9pm. Check it out if you like.

Amias said...

I am from a time where we called ourselves "colored" because it denoted "beauty" instead of "evil" .. But being old and from the south, I have found that Black folks discriminate against other colored folks, just as bad as the White folks.

I hate stigma, no matter where they come from. It's an old house nigger/field nigger mode ... and I lived to see a "Colored/Black" President Elected, even if he's not a son of "slaves" ... maybe I will live long enough to see this stigma ends .. but I doubt it.

I think everyone dialect, is just that, their dialect .. no one to me speaks better than the next, nor do poor family care less about their children education. But being poor, we have Phd's in Common Sense and Survival.

cupcakewitch said...

Wow- awesome poem. I love all the different levels to it... the idea of a "better school" leading to middle class life...
the idea of language and how it shapes us.
Really well done.

Anonymous said...

since race is what came to you with the prompt, i'm glad you didn't ignore it! listen to the muse. :) these are important things to express, even if you thought you wanted to write about something else. it's good, honest work!

susan said...

Thanks, carolee. :-)

Serena, on my way.

Amias, I think my mother and you are about the same age. I am glad you can relate. I know my mother was motivated by a desire for us to have a better life. I don't think she could have known the eternal conflict the language issue would become for me.

Thanks, Marie. I was hoping I would convey levels without beating a reader over the head.

Claudia said...

Very nice, and I can certainly relate - I especially like the way you play with the word "correction"....

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Love this poem. The ending is powerful. I am in the middle of Lori Tharps' Kinky Gazpacho now and really enjoying it. She talks about similar experiences. As a white mother of Black sons I feel totally lost in this subject and need all the wisdom I can find.

Zetta Elliott said...

I sense a little defiance in your words...outsider-ness has been such a defining experience for me, but now I claim it--yesterday I started out saying, "I'm not American." Yet here I am taking up with it!

susan said...

Zetta, not this time. While I admit I'm not shy about stirring the pot, this isn't one those times. I didn't take a hard look at how conflicted and angry I felt about how I talked, how I was perceived and who was really defining me until my thirties.

susan said...

After re-reading your post and my reply, I need to come back to this. If we're talking about being an outsider in general, yes there is defiance. I am very comfortable being an outsider most of the time. Most of the time, I prefer being the odd chica. But in this work, especially when I was a child, I felt pressured, ostracized and driven to meet or dispel other peoples' expectations. What should have been empowering and liberating in some ways was a burden. I was always feeling I had to prove my allegiance and worthiness.

christine said...

I love this poem, L. Wow! It's great to read an intimate view of language, from a perspective different from my own.

There is a pressure among many groups, I think, to conform to one way of being over another. In the US in general, there's a strong anti-intellectual current. Hopefully leaders like Barack and Michelle will help weaken that current. Knowledge is power.

Excellent poem! May you keep defying stereotypes, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, whether we want to or not, race dictates the pages of our life.

Beautiful poem.

GirlGriot said...

Wonderful poem ... in how many of these lines did I see my own experience? My students still ask me about the way I talk, still start the conversation by saying I "talk like a white lady." [sigh]

I still struggle from time to time with my outsider status -- all of the ways that I am 'other.' On days like today when I'm out with my Cleopatra Jones hair, I'm definitely more defiant than struggling, however!

Thanks for sharing this great poem.

Amias said...

Of course I can relate Susan, I was the little poor girl the middle class blacks picked on. I was what they called a "field nigger". I lived in the country, they lived in town. Their parents were teachers, or worked in the Gin, ours were sharecroppers and worked in the hot sun.

We were indeed outsiders, and the names they called us were worst than what the white folks said.

By the way, kids tends to emulate what they are around. So it is with speech. I am so very sick and tired of the term, "talking like a white person" ... as if the white person is better, and/or can articulate better than a black person.

The speech thing is so amusing, just like white folks saying "N-word", which is the new name for nigger. But I am old what do I know.

By the way, I can appreciate your "leave a comment" message, it's refreshing.