High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Anaika Falcon & Meisha White


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Anaika Falcon is a senior in my creative writing class. She is 17 years old and will be attending Miami University in Oxford, OH in the fall. She will be majoring in AYA Integrated Language Arts Education in the hopes of teaching high school in the future. She is an avid reader and immerses herself in Asian culture, specifically Japanese and South Korean culture. Anaika’s inspiration for writing this poem was taken from the bullying that she went through when she was in elementary and middle school. She wrote this poem because she felt like many people do not fully understand the consequences of bullying. Not only that, but those who commit suicide are seen as taking the easy way out, and she wants to challenge that view because she does not believe killing yourself is easy; therefore, suicide is not an easy way out.

Meisha White is a senior at Saint Martin de Porres. She  She will be attending Spring Hill College in the fall on a full tuition scholarship. She plans to study Psychology and Early Childhood Development. Meisha has always loved writing music, poetry, and short stories. Her talent began to really blossom in her freshman English class and matured as she learned more in her creative writing class. The topic of bullying that leads to suicide was initially Anaika’s idea. When she brought it up, Meisha thought it was great but was nervous about her writings not being deep enough. She writes, “This project meant a lot to me because I included person experiences and I knew the topic was strong. I am very excited about this poem to be shared because it has the power to change people’s view and save a life or two.”

I chose to feature this deeply moving performance piece for its perseverance and persistence. It is devastating and relatable. It speaks to our collective experience of abuse and bullying. I encourage you to take the 13 minutes to witness these young women in action.

Video of Performance: https://youtu.be/MI7akkTB1c0

“We Had the Guns and You Gave Us the Ammo”
By Anaika Falcon and Meisha White

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
I see it in your eyes
And in the way you spout those lies.
You don’t know that every day I go home and cry.
I cry until the tears overflow into a small river.
I imagine stabbing myself in the liver,

Anaika and Meisha:
But I am not capable enough to be my own killer.

Anaika:
I use knives and cigarettes to feel fuller.
I take the blade and slowly ride it
Across my tender skin.
I watch as the blood trickles out
Leaving me in inexplicable bliss.

Anaika and Meisha:
It reminds me of the sweet kiss
My mother would plant
Across my cold cheek.

Anaika:
But now I am at my peak.
I am 5”3’ and I am not the prettiest.
I am bleak.
I am weak.
I am nothing but an empty carcass
Trying to speak.
I see it in your eyes
And in the ways you spout those lies.
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Your words were my ammo.
How you let them caress my every fault.
You opened up my deepest darkest vault.
You opened up my wounded scar.
You didn’t have to look too far.
To you, I was another hooker at the bar.
I wasn’t a girl I was just another one
Of your women to be judged.
You knew I wouldn’t budge.
I wouldn’t even give you the time of day,
But that just made it all okay.
Now every time I walk the halls
People laugh and watch me fall
Fall into the abyss
Waiting for someone,
Anyone to call
Call my name and make it better,

Anaika and Meisha:
But now all that is left is that letter.

Anaika:
[sigh]
My suicide letter.
Leading me to the greener side of the land.
I walk into the bath listening to my favorite band.
The water encompasses my body
And breaks my bonds.
I was never fond of the heat,
But today it is how I will beat you.
With the serrated edge of my blade
And the heat to drown my sorrows away.

Anaika and Meisha:
I WILL WIN.

[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

————————————————————

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
How hard is it to go to school and break through expected doors?

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
You’re supposed to be a star, first generation great

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Once you lose your virginity you become a whore

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
Pill after pill I contemplate
They say life is great
Live it to the fullest
But how can I be happy
When I’m expected to stay away from “bullshit”
(When I’m expected to be the coolest)
I ask myself…
How many times have you looked back on your life
And said wow
Realized that there’s not many moments
You cracked a smile
I’m supposed to do great in school
But if I complain it’s
“All you do is go to school”
For girls having sex even for the first time
Is a mark of impurity
But I’m supposed to be “the man” right?
It’s funny how friends stay tight
Only if the timing is right
When you’re doing better they put you down
And try to pick a fight

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Cam! Please open the door!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
What’s wrong with you?
Being negative
And having self-hate

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
After all that I’ve done for you?!
All of those sacrifices and you want more?!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo…
So now it’s too late.

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

Anaika and Meisha:
My breath is leaving my body

Meisha:
My lungs stretching out
Their hands reaching out
For my idle breath

Anaika and Meisha:
Their words of envy strangled my neck

Meisha:
They were an assault on my lungs
They pushed out my air

Anaika:
“She thinks she’s better”

Meisha:
“You have no respect for authority”

Anaika:
“When I first saw you I thought you were stuck up”

Meisha:
“Everything’s your fault”

Anaika and Meisha:
Judgement before a word of exchange

Meisha:
I laugh and it’s

Anaika:
“What’s the problem I thought it was over”

Meisha:
If I’m friends with their enemy I’m the enemy

It’ll be quick

Just stand in the chair

Anaika and Meisha:
Hold your breath

And be free

Meisha:
I loved me as much as I could

But I was hurt by the reciprocated hate

The struggle of being like the girls in the magazines is heavy

So heavy that I decided

Anaika and Meisha:
To drop the weight

Meisha:
Create an escape to escape the hate and release the fate

A fate I couldn’t take

I made my own to correct the mistakes of the ones that hate

I hug the rope
Tied the knot
Stood on the chair
And accepted the fate

Anaika:
The fate of a girl who was too much
So much that she had to escape

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
[Anaika walk forward and stand behind Meisha]

I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Dear God, make me a bird
So I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you a bird.
I’ll help you fly away.

Meisha:
His fingers hugged one of the most important parts of my body
And it was so powerful that it took my breath away
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You are a bird

Meisha:
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You have always been a bird

Meisha:
Is what I repeated but all that I heard was screams of passion
Vibrating my eardrums echoing in my head
It shook me… so I thought the only logical thought
And it was clear…
I’m dead

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’re not dead,
You are a bird.
You are a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Dear God, oh dear God, how was this happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly away
I’ll take away your pain

Meisha:
Alone in my home with no voice

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You do have a voice,
The voice of a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Not even the strength to give a whisper
So dry that in the midst of it all it went unnoticed but my face,
My face is where the screams of passion unfolded
Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you remember
That you are a bird

Meisha:
The wind that I didn’t have then felt great now that I’m so high up

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
The winter was approaching so I figured
Heading south in that V was enough

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
Voiceless it cries,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Wingless flutters,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Toothless bites,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Mouthless mutters.

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I’ll be free…

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
It’ll be quick everyone will see how hard it hits
Where kisses go I have scars that will never heal
One wrong touch and I’m that scared little girl
Crying breaking down
Remembering this man of steel
How could this be happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly

Meisha:
What was the angle?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
The angle of flight

Meisha:
What little girl in the 7th grade
Could ever deserve to be strangled?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I took the deep breath
That I couldn’t back then
Trying to pull out the little bird from within

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
Toes at the edge,
Dressed in camo.
I jumped.

[Meisha falls to her knees]

Anaika:
[Lift head and smile][Walk backwards]
Welcome to my murder of crows.

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
Because I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

———————————————————————

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Every night
I would lay in my bed soaking in my fright.
When the night fell over my room like a warm blanket
Peace was shattered by the light.
It layered my room in bright hues.
It came in the form of a fuse.
Like the sunset his touch lingered on my skin.
Yellow     warmth
Orange   aggression
Red         penetration
Red like the blood that stained my face and clothes.
With a pace as fast as a wild cat tearing away at its prey.
All I did was lay.
Lay in pain.
Lay in fear.
Wishing he would pour me a beer,
A beer to wash away the fear.
To wash away the feel.
The feel of his body crushing mine
Like a landmine.
The feel of his ring
Touching my torso.
How I wish this was a one night fling.
How I wish the light would leave my sight.
How I wish I could hide his bites.
How I wish I could fight back,
But how could I.
How could I ruin them.
Ruin him like he ruined me.

Anaika and Meisha:
But men don’t get raped
And fathers don’t rape their sons.

Anaika:
I am done.
I am alone.
My secret, his secret has been found.
For every bruise my mother pounds her head against the wall.
She falls.
Falls for him.
For his lies.
Because I am a lie.
She yells I should just die.
I… should… just… die.
I walk away.
Away from the pain and the lies.
I take the gun.
This should be fun.
Now I will make him come.
I let myself become numb
And strum my fingers against the barrel of his gun.

I put it in my mouth just like he taught me to.

The barrel chills my tongue
And leaves my mind in a fuzz.
I can hear my ears buzz.
I pull the safety back.

Anaika:                                                                             Meisha:

I can’t do this.                                                                    You better

I can’t live like this.                                                             You better

No one will care if I die.                                                     You better

No one cares that I’ve already died inside.                       You better

I am a lie.                                                                           Make me

I am worthless.                                                                 Me better

I am pathetic.                                                                     Me better

I am a worthless piece of shit.                                         You better make me better

It doesn’t even matter if I kill myself now.                        You better

No one believes me.                                                         You better

I am a lie.                                                                         You better

I tried not to give up.                                                         You better

No, I didn’t give up…                                                       Make me                                

I didn’t, but you did.                                                          Me better

You gave up on me first.                                                 Me better

You chose him over me,                                                 You better make me better

You betrayed me.                                                            X2

Anaika:
I pull the trigger.

[Walk backwards]
Because you gave me the gun and all the ammo needed.

—————————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

Meisha: 3:00 AM

Anaika: I wake to the sound of my slaughtered cries.

Meisha: 3:05

Anaika: The sweat rolls off my body like all of your lies.

Meisha: 3:06

Anaika: My mind begins to crumble and die.

Meisha: 3:07

Anaika: The binds that have kept me tied down release themselves from me.

Meisha: 3:08

Anaika:
I realized there is only one way to free my mind.
Free my mind of your destructive slurs.
They echo in my mind causing a blur.

Fag

Meisha: Pussy

Anaika: Fruit

Meisha: Fairy

Anaika: Nancy

Meisha: Pansy

Anaika and Meisha: Queer

Meisha: 3:09

Anaika:
My salvation lies on my bedside.
It weighs heavy on my mind and in my hands.

Meisha: 3:10

Anaika:
As I imagine a new kind of euphoria and a new land
My mind fades into the darkness.

Meisha: 6:00 AM

Anaika:
I awake to the sound of a harmless noise
That shows me the starless sky
In the heartless morning.

Meisha: 6:01

Anaika:
But today I will not be in mourning.
I will feel the sun across my face
And I will let a smile spread across my face

Anaika and Meisha: Because today is a good day.

Anaika:
Today salvation will follow me to school.
Today salvation will free me from ridicule.

Meisha: 7:15 AM

Anaika: The doors to the school feel cool against the push of my hands.

Meisha: 7:17

Anaika:
The cafeteria is crowded with students and teachers.
They are all make believe preachers.

Meisha: 7:18

Anaika:
My salvation is nestled in my pocket.
Questioning its power,
But no flower is going to stop my salvation.

Meisha: 7:19

Anaika: I pull out my salvation.

Meisha: 7:20

Anaika and Meisha: Everyone runs

Meisha: 7:21

Anaika:
But I am having fun
And no one can out run my salvation.

Anaika and Meisha: I found salvation in a gun.

Meisha: 7:22

Anaika:
Bodies hit the floor.
Their screams hit me at my core.
Their blood begins to pour.
My heart begins to soar.

Meisha: 7:23

Anaika:
I have found euphoria
And I won’t let them take that away from me.

Meisha: 7:24

Anaika:
And with a loud bang
I let salvation take me away…

Anaika and Meisha: Away to euphoria.

Anaika:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

——————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
Your words cut us like knives.
Your stares blew through us and
Nested themselves within us.
Our guns were holstered at our sides
Ready to save us from all of you,
But only if you give us the ammo.

[Walk backwards]

Meisha:
[Walk forwards]
It only takes one bullet,
It only takes one round,
It only takes one shot
To break our souls
To shatter our hearts.

[Meisha and Anaika move to stand side by side]

Meisha and Anaika:
We are not strong,
But do not believe that what we did was weak.
Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
It takes time.
It takes thought.
It takes a broken person.
It was us.
We were the broken,
The irreparable.
We had the guns and you gave us the ammo.

[Meisha and Anaika walk backward and turn around]

 

 

 

 

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Bianca Capeles


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Bianca Capeles is a 17-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. Her future aspirations include a United States Presidency and many, many book publications. She is a member of the Poetry Club and the Drama Club. She enjoys writing and engaging in heated political debates on Facebook. She continues her fight for equality because she “doesn’t understand how someone could advocate for one life over another.”

Capeles’s poem is a re-imagination of biblical lore. Her second person point of view and her steady and engaging rhythm reveals and insists on a historical pattern on repeat.

I chose this poem because of its clear message: a woman’s value is incalculable and should not be determined by men. The moment I heard this poem performed, I knew it needed a larger audience. Please join me in enjoying this untamed, bold new voice!

Elysha

Jezebel,
Explain the glances in your direction.
I guess it doesn’t help to stand beside Elijah,
newly turned prophet,
felt called to bring you to church.

Jezebel,
It must be the skirt you chose to wear,
just tight enough to curve around your legs,
evoking lust, causing Christian men to sin:
Mesmerizing beyond faith to break a commandment,
to devalue the worth of wedding rings…

Jezebel,
It must be the leather you chose to wear,
zipped up to your neckline,
covering what you thought would label you temptation.
Instead, you become rebellious in the eyes of the priest:
He sees your eyeliner and deems you troubled,
criminalizes your modesty,
sends women to patronize:

They say, “God changed me,”
and shows you a picture of a happier woman.

Jezebel,
Explain the whispers in your direction:
Pastor mentions his lovely wife –
You only notice the shrinkage of a woman under constant scrutinization.
You notice her limbs are completely covered in the same church Jezebel is shamed.
She looks as if making up for Eve.

Jezebel,
You remain unconvinced.
Elijah looks over for affirmation,
mentions later that his congregation asked about you:
But you hear the intentions behind every invitation to go out.
They want to discern your spirituality through the clothes that you wear,
if your inherent reflex is to smile if a man is caught staring.
They want to compare your faith to your fashion sense,
despite never having sex, Jezebel.

Elijah,
You are committed to God first, and then wife 1, 2, and 3.
She stands beside you with her child,
the offspring of another man,
and you bask in the reverence that is your position right now:
What a respectable man of God you are
for taking over the responsibilities
of used goods.

Elijah,
You feel above reproach.
You will raise your daughter to shun women like her mother,
wear clothes that attract men like you,
and associate her worth with her virginity,
even while having sex with drunk women,
conceiving a child out of wedlock,
and denying her.

Elijah,
You enjoy the air that Jezebel gives you:
Men glare and envy you,
all unhappy in marriages you have been able to avoid up until now,
with children not claimed to be yours as of yet.

Elijah,
You convince yourself that your interest is her salvation:
That the conversations you have could never find themselves materializing into something more than seeking God,
positioned beside the riskiest threat introduced to church since implemented dress code,
because you’ve brought her to church.

Elijah,
Explain the thought process that makes you innocent beside her:
Your tightened tie and shaved face would not exclude you from rebellious titles,
the tattoo on your arm is similar to the criminalization of eyeliner in Pentecostal churches,
And yet you remain a higher stature than assumed Jezebel,
Because you are assumed to be Elijah, Elysha.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Jazmyn Alexander

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Jazmyn Alexander is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She loves hair, hanging out with friends, shopping, and reality T.V. shows. To be perfectly honest, Jazmyn and I got off to a rough start this year, but as the year progressed, Jazmyn felt incredibly connected and engaged with the material that we were learning. She says, “Before this class, I really didn’t care about feminism or women being treated poorly in the media. I didn’t pay much attention. I just thought a woman being degraded was the norm. When we learned about it, I felt like women have so much more to offer than being objectified for men. And we’re beautiful; we don’t have to get naked to show that we’re beautiful.”

Jazmyn’s rap is incredibly powerful. She addresses the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown. She says: “Writing this rap came easy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about justice. I wanted to stick to one person for each verse.” I feel especially connected to this poem’s chorus. I love the way it subverts our conception of what a contemporary rap encompasses.

See Jazmyn read her poem here.

He’s Gone

Verse 1:
Now Trayvon walkin down the street, swagged out with a hood and J’s on his feet.
Ain’t doing nothing but lookin at his phone, no worries but it was gone be a long way home.
He wasn’t ready for what was comin, if he only knew that he was gone get into somethin.
Tryna fight… for his life, with Zimmerman on his back he knew that something wasn’t right.
So he kept on walking, noticed he was being followed so he started talking…
The man was cruel, knew what he wanted to do.
With all the break-ins on his street this was a justice move.
Tray’s girl on the line, she wanna know if it’s okay, is it all fine?
He let her know, he had to call back, time to fight for his life cus he under attack.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Tray lost his precious life to a bullet hole
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Trayvon is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

Verse 2:
Then there was Eric too, chilled on the block listening to the humming blues.
He didn’t know how this day would go… Wasn’t knowing that he wasn’t gonna make it home.
Then a fight broke out, he tried to break it up but he got struck out.
(Make noise) he gasp for air, I can’t breathe, please let me go, please let me go
Cus I can’t breathe!
The police they choked him tight, aware of his asthma as he gasped for his life.
They didn’t care, they didn’t stop
Black man down, was the evidence that they got.
Taking this man’s life away, the public watched like dim to a brighter day.
This gotta end, where do we begin?
Rest in peace… Tray, Eric, Mike, and all black men.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Eric lost his precious life to a choke hold
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Eric is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Dion Pride

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Dion Pride is an eighteen-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. In his free time he enjoys writing, watching film, and participating in Cleveland’s community advocacy. At school he is involved with our Take Back the Night Campaign and event, he is an active member of Campus Ministry, and he participates as a member of the Men of Strength Organization.

I am constantly inspired by Dion’s compassion towards his family and his classmates. He is an activist who cultivates a culture of empathy in our classroom and community alike. I most enjoy the imagined conversation that takes place in this poem. This vital dialogue considers the courage needed to empower each other to stand up for equality.

In his own words: “Like in the past, no one person can get us there, we have to get us there. The energy of the youth and the wisdom of our elders. Together we can be the greatest force of change. Today, let us make the negro proud and show them how far the African American can go. Show them we won’t stop this time, until we are all free at last.”

See Dion read his poem here.

Be A Man

Yea, I’m a FEMINIST, I believe in equality.
So you believe that a woman is just as equal as you?
I do.

Do you think that we can have a woman leader?
There’s this real smart sweetie that live on Cedar
She can do the job.

There’s no way a woman can lead our nation–
We’ll be at World War III by her next menstrual cycle.
You say that now, but you would follower her
Like a boy on his bicycle
While you try to catch her in that Benz.

Women need to stay in they place.

So what is their place?

In the pages of a Secret catalog.
Let me tell you a secret real fast,

That girl is way more than a pretty face.
She can out school you and fool you.

When you were getting C’s and D’s,
She was getting A’s and B’s, trust and believe.
More than just a pretty face,
All women of all shapes and sizes
Meant to be equal by our God the highest.

But girls with bodies should show them and expose them.
Not for you, it’s not slavery, their sexuality is not for you to own.

But the media says…
Forget what the media says.
But politicians say…
Forget what politicians say,
They remind me of Homer from The Simpsons: rude, crude, and dumb.

It’s time for the wake up call,
It’s time to put your glasses on,
You don’t have to be worried about those wolves.
You have to worry about those foxes, those vixens–
Not those video vixens.

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Johnny Ward

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Johnny Ward is a senior in my Resistance Writing class. His life is music. He enjoys working out and good food. He follows sports and the news, and he constantly sends me relevant and funny BuzzFeed lists and videos. He says that our class has opened his eyes to what feminism actually meant.  “I thought it meant you were feminine, or a lesbian, or pro-women to the point that you were anti-men. Now, I know it means standing up for women’s rights and being conscious to the fact that lack of equality is a problem and that anyone can be a feminist.” His advice to young writers is to practice, have confidence, practice, and perform.

I especially love this poem for its insistent and aggressive repetition. Johnny maintains a sturdy rhythm that serves to highlight the contradictory messages we send young men. He writes about the struggle to come out of the cold and embrace connection. This poem commands our respect on many levels.

See Johnny read his poem here.

Be A Man

I’m young
I’m young but
I feel so old
If I may be so bold let me say
It’s more than just cold out here
It’s more than just cold out here
You need more than just a coat out here
You need coats out here

Men!
They coming for your throats out here
But be a man
Tell me what are tears?
I’m unfamiliar
I ain’t been able to cry since… eh, can’t remember

I’m seventeen, look at me
Still manhood’s a puzzle
I carry a whole household on my back with back trouble
and still going through black struggles
But anyway be a man
Showing emotion is weak
or it’s how you show it
If so, then please explain that to me
Like what do I do whenever I see
My friend going through it?
Walk up and just give her a hug then leave?
I wasn’t taught to console nor to be consoled
By God!
It took Jesus 16 years to even reach my soul
Pardon my rude mouth he forgave it already
I’m making the change
I prayed it already

Wish I could forgive but I hold grudges
Like that one time
One time said “your father was a joke n****, you the punch line!”

Life ain’t easy it’s full of opinions
“You ain’t a man until you first had sex”
“You ain’t a man until you gotcha first check”
“You ain’t a man till you known through respect”
“You ain’t a man till you build intellect”
“You ain’t a man till you made yo first band”
“Think you a man with that gun in yo hand?”
“You ain’t a man till yo words ain’t see through”
“You ain’t a man till we believe you”
“You ain’t a man till yo actions speak for you”
“You ain’t a man till these women adore you”
“You ain’t nothing till you love yourself”
“Aye you a man, man why you need help?!”

We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect
We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — DeJuan Brooks

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

DeJuan Brooks is a senior writer in my Resistance Writing Class. His work has previously appeared in As It Ought To Be as part of a collective response to the prompt “We Can’t Breathe.”  He enjoys good music, playing  sports, and writing. His favorite author is Alex Haley. DeJuan is committed to bettering his Cleveland community. He says, “A lot of people don’t  want to change anything. They get complacent with the way things are. If no one’s going to help, I might as well try.” In the following poem, I most admire his careful attention to rhyme and the natural rhythm that highlights and reinforces the idea that we are trapped in an insidious cycle of repressed emotion and stereotypes. This poem was the poem that inspired this series. I am consistently impressed by DeJuan’s persistence, poise, and maturity. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do.

See DeJuan read his poem here.

Be A Man

The face of a young black man in the inner city. The growing pains that make him “strong.”
The fights, the bruises, the cuts, the scrapes. The tears that came and were told to go away.
We internalize pain for an image we portray. Cuz we all know if you emotional as a girl
your dad gets ashamed. People may think that’s crazy, he just a baby,
but we all know that boy in the 4th or 5th grade who at recess played patty cake
or double dutched way too much. So your dad gives you that look to stay away,
cuz he knows what you don’t, and he’s keeping you “safe.”
And we don’t try to even exercise our free right and go over there and play,
cuz we supposed to be growing to be men, and not that way. Cuz the way we raised,
boys don’t cry, boys don’t walk that way, boys stay strong, boys portray men who are
messed up themselves, cuz that’s how we was raised.
Your dad gets more proud when you fight, then when you tell em’ bout your pain.
When you fall down, you stand up. You crying, then man up. We release pain on others,
we’re supposed to be brothers, but I gotta figure out how to release this some other way.
They say fight like a man, but what people don’t understand is if you’ve never seen
my mom throw hands, you’ll never understand what a real fight is.
A whole theory deferred.
I know men, women, even children who would kill to have as much pride as her.
I lived my whole life knowing my worth, so when they tell me to man up,
like men set the precedent of the world, like this woman who brought me into the world
isn’t stronger than any man or boy. I was raised as a boy and I turned into a man,
but when they tell me I’m acting like a girl, I think of the fight my mom endured.
So, when they say I’m acting like a girl, I feel like I’m the strongest man in the world.

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY: AN AUTOPSY

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY[1]

(AN AUTOPSY[2])

By Rion Amilcar Scott

 

Go ahead. Smack him one. He expects it so it would be rude not to. Besides, look at him giving you a dehumanizing stare[3]. How dare he look at you in that manner? He thinks he’s better than you. Approach in such a way that makes you look huge, immense—a living blue wall of silence[4]. But be loud. Put this guy down before he even starts. Grab him from behind. Maybe use the baton. Don’t be swayed by his screams and pleas of innocence. As a matter of fact, don’t hear them at all. Be deaf to his cries. Innocence doesn’t really matter here, anyway[5]. Sort it out later. Don’t be inhibited with the violence—punches, kicks, strangulation holds[6], baton blows, Tasers[7], and so on. Don’t worry, the state has your back. Make up any excuse you want. It doesn’t need to sound good. As a matter of fact, it would be insulting to make it sound too plausible. Say something like: “He was looking at us all leery and then he raised his hands. We had to throw him on the ground, smash his face to the concrete, knock his teeth out, and put him in a chokehold[8]. It’s important to neutralize the threat.” Toss it off without thinking. Fuck it, say: “He was dancing funny and I found that threatening so I was forced to jab him in the ribs.” The state has your back. No matter what you say, your superiors, the courts, everybody will nod and mumble: “Seems legit.” Yell racial epithets[9]. Shoot wildly[10]. At least 40 shots if unarmed[11]. More might be better[12]. It’s only polite to flex your authority every once in a while[13]. Let the world know how tough you are. The standard charge is resisting arrest. Assaulting an officer. Pile up any ol’ charge. What does it matter? To make the people feel safe and whole you have to break[14] one or two every once in a while so they know your power is both awesome[15] and nearly completely unchecked[16].

 

[1] Inspiration for this piece came from a short story collection called Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski. The work is structured like an etiquette book except each piece of advice covers how to properly comport yourself while doing something wicked such as homicide, adultery, or arson.

[2] I go back and forth with this satirical piece—or “mockery” as I call it (“humor piece,” “satirical piece,” such clunky terms)—wondering if it’s at all successful. It was written from a place of pretty raw anger and frankly, terror, after reading about a succession of police harassment and brutality cases, mostly involving black and brown “suspects.”

Many of these incidents featured graphic and disturbing video of the assaults taking place. Sometimes I was brave enough to watch.

The public has been filming and broadcasting egregious acts of police violence since the 1990s when a motorist filmed Los Angeles police brutalizing Rodney King. Now that most of us carry video cameras in our pockets, such footage is nearly a weekly occurrence. This has done much to inspire the outrage of the public but has seemed to do little to stem the tide of police abuse or even to ensure the type of decisive and swift punishment that would make police think twice about physically assaulting citizens.

One possible thin silver lining is a study done by Rialto, Calif. police that ran from February 2012 to July 2013. A group of officers wore tiny video cameras while interacting with citizens. According to the New York Times, the video cameras resulted in a 60 percent drop in the use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers.

[3] According to CBS Miami, Miami-Dade Police choked a 14-year-old boy on Memorial Day 2013 because he watched them with what police termed, “dehumanizing stares.”

[4] It’s often said that a universal and morally bankrupt admonishment against “snitching” in poor black communities enables crime in these neighborhoods, but when was the last time you heard of police informing on one another? As the rapper Immortal Technique said, “They never snitch on themselves, but they want you to snitch on you.” An important question that’s rarely asked in these debates is why would anyone want to report crimes to people who have a reputation for brutalizing them?

[5] In Sept. 2000 in Prince Georges County, MD—the county I currently live in with my wife and son (in fact, this occurred in the very neighborhood I once lived)—Prince Jones, a man who had committed no crime, began his last stand. Undercover Prince Georges County narcotics officer, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones (no relation) followed Prince roughly 30 miles to Fairfax, Va. (coincidentally, the county where I went to school in the mid to late aughts) in an unmarked SUV and shot his car 16 times, killing him in the process. Police say they were trailing a suspect in the theft of an officer’s gun and Prince’s car resembled a car driven by the suspect.

Prince, a Howard University student (the university from which I hold an undergraduate degree—as a matter of fact, I too was a Howard student at this time) nearing graduation, was unarmed.

Cpl. Jones claims Prince rammed his car and refused to stand down when he announced he was an officer (though he admitted to showing no badge); witnesses dispute this claim, however, saying that Prince’s car was not moving when Cpl. Jones fired his weapon. As a result of killing Prince Jones, Cpl. Carlton Jones faced no criminal charges (sources: Washington Post; Washington Monthly).

[6] On Thursday July 17, 2014, police in Staten Island approached 43-year-old Eric Garner, a 400 pound asthmatic, purportedly to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Garner had reportedly just broken up a fight. Video recorded by a bystander shows Garner protesting frequent harassment: “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. It stops today… I’m minding my business officer. Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Four officers surround Garner and wrestle him to the ground. One deploys a chokehold, a use of force specifically banned by NYPD regulations. Despite video evidence, police claim a chokehold was not used on Garner. While an officer shoves Garner’s head to the sidewalk, he repeatedly cries, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” And those are his final words.

[7] When Oakland transit officer Johannes Mehserle pulled his revolver, shooting and killing Oscar Grant while he lay handcuffed and face down, he claimed to have been reaching for his Taser. For killing Grant, Mehserle served less than a year in prison.

In 2007, after a video of a University of Florida student being tasered by campus police made the rounds on the internet, “Don’t tase me, bro!” became a late-aughts punchline, but the incident that inspired it, a young man being tasered by police for aggressively asking a politician a question during an open forum, is a chilling, abusive, and reckless display of police power.

[8] From the New York Daily News: “The NYPD prohibited the use of chokeholds in 1993. The city’s independent police watchdog has substantiated 10 chokehold cases filed against cops since 2009, but little has happened to the officers involved, records show.

“In one of the cases, the cop accused of putting a person in a chokehold lost up to 10 vacation days, records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board show.

“In two cases, the department declined to discipline the officers, and in three cases, cops received ‘instructions,’ or retraining. In another case, the cop retired before he could be disciplined, and the three remaining cases are pending, the records show.”

[9] According to the New York Times, in 2011 the government intercepted a phone call in which NYPD officer Michael Daragjati bragged about falsely arresting a suspect. In regards to the young man, Daragiati said: “Fried another nigger.” Even more horrifying: Also in 2011, retired Marine, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, inadvertently called police to his White Plains home when he accidentally activated his medical alert bracelet. The response of police—this is not in dispute—was to ignore Chamberlain’s request that they leave, call him a nigger, and fatally shoot him (sources: New York Times; New York Daily News).

[10] In 2013, the NYPD shot a disturbed and unarmed man and two innocent bystanders. The man, Glenn Broadnax, caused a commotion by jumping into traffic. The wounded Broadnax was then charged with assault for the bullet wounds suffered by the bystanders under the theory that his actions caused the police shooting to occur. An attorney for one of the wounded bystanders speaking to the New York Times: “It’s an incredibly unfortunate use of prosecutorial discretion to be prosecuting a man who didn’t even injure my client. It’s the police who injured my client.”

The NYPD (again) in 2012 shot nine innocent bystanders during a confrontation with a gunman in Times Square. All nine bystanders were struck by bullets from police weapons. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on the shooting: “I believe it was handled well” (Source: FoxNews.com).

While searching for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner in February 2013, the LAPD shot at trucks that were said to resemble Dorner’s on two separate occasions. In the first incident, police fired on two Hispanic women—a mother and her 47-year-old daughter as they delivered newspapers early in the morning. A bullet ripped through the back of 71-year-old Emma Hernandez. Somehow this incident resulted in no fatalities despite the fact that police fired more than 100 rounds.

Later that day, police opened fire on a truck driven by a white male, David Perdue, a surfer on his way to the beach. In that instance, police rammed Purdue’s truck before shooting at it. Perdue was not hit and prosecutors determined the use of force was reasonable. Dorner, who died in a cabin fire police claimed not to have intentionally set, was a black male (Source: Christian Science Monitor).

Richard Pryor on California police in 1973: “They accidentally shoot more niggas out here than any place in the world. Every time you pick up the paper: nigga accidentally shot in the ass. How do you accidentally shoot a nigga six times in the chest? ‘Well, my gun fell and just went crazy.’”

[11] 41 police shots took the life of Amadou Diallo in the infamous 1999 shooting in the Bronx. He was armed only with a wallet.

[12] In 2006, 50 police shots took the life of Sean Bell in Queens, NY the morning he was to marry. He too was unarmed.

[13] The examples of police brutality used in this piece are all relatively current, which implies that this is a recent problem. That is certainly not the case. Worldwide, police and excessive police force have historically been tools of the state used against the disenfranchised and dispossessed to make sure they don’t get too loud in their cries against their disenfranchisement and dispossession. As the rapper Boots Riley notes: “You never seen a police break up a strike by hitting the boss with his baton pipe.”

It was police, for example, who held the fire hoses that mowed down civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland as a response to police harassment in 1966. Even then it was a long-standing community problem. The group’s initial program was an armed patrol to evaluate the behavior of the police. Government suppression of the Party was codified in the COINTELPRO program (see FBI documents here), a wave of law enforcement intimidation and force unprecedented in its cruelty, lawlessness, and violence. Chicago police murdered the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, in a police raid while he slept (drugged by infiltrators) on December 4, 1968. Police fired nearly 100 rounds at the Illinois Panthers while the Panthers fired only one.

[14] Richard Pryor on the police from Wanted/Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1978): “Two grab your legs, one grab your head—they go, snap! ‘Oh, shit he broke. Can you break ‘em? Does it say so in the manual? Let’s check. Yep, page 8, you can break a nigger.’”

[15] A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report (War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing) details the increased militarization of police departments around the United States. SWAT teams armed with military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment handed down from our decade long Middle East (mis)adventures are being deployed in American cities for fairly routine operations. Just outside of Atlanta in 2014, police raided a house in search of a small stash of drugs. They carried M16s and upon entering tossed a flashbang grenade that landed in a crib next to a sleeping toddler. The child suffered a hole in his chest and possible permanent brain damage. The suspect police were looking for was not in the home at the time and did not even live there, according to the toddler’s mother, who wrote about the incident for Salon.com.

The family moved to Atlanta, a town that is no stranger to police raids gone astray. In 2006, police invaded the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, shooting her dead in the process. After police found no drugs in her house, they planted three bags of marijuana. The paperwork that served as the basis for the “no knock warrant”—which alleged that an informant purchased drugs at Johnston’s home—turned out to be based on falsified evidence (source: CNN.com).

[16] In many of the above cases, such as the Chamberlain case, police were cleared of any wrongdoing or faced relatively light or unspecified punishments, a situation that I imagine leaves police feeling comfortable in deploying any act of violence in their toolbox, no matter how reckless, if it leaves them standing when all the smoke from the gunfire has cleared. However, for much of the populace, that knot in their chests when a squad car sidles up next to them in traffic is the twinge of sheer terror.

***

Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, The Rumpus, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. He can also be found at forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com and @ReeAmilcarScott.