"Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes."
January 27, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Let me introduce you to Kai Davis and her poem "Truth" (NSFW); a powerful commentary, on racism and perceived intelligence, which has been quietly circulating the web since December 2011. While the poet herself does not seem to have a web page, Davis' slam poetry is being noticed in slam poetry circles as well as on Tumblr.

More of this young woman's amazing and powerful poetry.
posted by DisreputableDog (74 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, apologies for the video quality in some. You'll have to turn it up, but then expect crowds screaming.

Also, disclaimer: I'm white. So, I hope this isn't whitesplaining to any degree (due to poetry content), as I just think her work is wonderful. I think each piece has a stong message.

Mmk, I'll stop being a fan-girl now.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:43 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a potty-mouthed rant to me,
Nothing like poetry,
But much like hypocrisy.
This young woman's too blind to see
That talking about what "white people" do
Is racism too.
posted by parrot_person at 7:47 PM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not really sure blind seething anger is "poetry".
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:50 PM on January 27, 2012


You say "gargantuan," I say "big as shit."

This performance was big as shit.
posted by localroger at 7:52 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


norabarnacl3, I don't think her seething anger is blind. It is well earned and well expressed.

Oh, and like the poster, I'm white. But my father was the token white professor at a Southern black university, so I'm a bit closer to this girl's perspective than most people with my melanin deficit.
posted by localroger at 7:55 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm always disappointed by NSFW links that SFW when muted.
posted by planet at 7:56 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not really sure blind seething anger is "poetry".

Art can't involve anger? I don't even know where to start explaining how wrong that is. "Slam poetry" is often groan-inducing in its earnest badness, but this good. I suggest everyone give it a chance.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:57 PM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


I totally get what she's saying because she did a good job of saying it. Look at my picture in my profile if you want to know what color my skin is I guess.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:59 PM on January 27, 2012


This young woman's too blind to see
That talking about what "white people" do
Is racism too.


Did you watch the entire clip? This particular piece, especially as it builds to its climax, addresses black-on-black stereotyping of intelligence as "white." I taught Mark Twain was an unfortunate choice of a target in the white "canon," but I think you have to try pretty damn hard to make this poem about (white?) you.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


drjimmy, I've never before met anyone whose race is "underexposed."
posted by localroger at 8:01 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I *thought* Mark Twain," that is. Now autocorrect has me teaching Twain, evidently.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:02 PM on January 27, 2012


And "potty-mouthed"? Really?!
posted by joe lisboa at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right. I can see where my "white" comment is taking this thread even before any trolls get here, so I'll say to the mods:

If need be, do erase my comment. I was only trying to express how earnestly I enjoyed the words and the format in which they were spoken, despite -personally- being on the cultural outskirts.
Not that I speak for other white folks or anything like that.

So yeah...
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:08 PM on January 27, 2012


DDog, do not apologize for being who you are or liking what you like. I'm sure Kai would back me up on that advice.
posted by localroger at 8:11 PM on January 27, 2012


Can't access YouTube at the moment, but her piece at the audio link is excellent, and I am an old cynic always ready to be underwhelmed by new poetry.
posted by Abiezer at 8:21 PM on January 27, 2012


"That talking about what 'white people' do
Is racism too."


No it isn't. But your attempt to defend the rights and sensibilities of oppressed white people is duly noted. Thank god someone has the courage to speak truth to power like you do.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:28 PM on January 27, 2012 [36 favorites]


DisreputableDog, my comments were not directed in the least at you, but at parrot_person and his/her lame parody.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:29 PM on January 27, 2012


All I can say is, if she's trying to be uncompelling and less than awesome, she really needs to practice a lot harder.
posted by uosuaq at 8:41 PM on January 27, 2012


[Maybe give the thread a chance, folks?]
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Angry and magnificent. Her audience loved it too...it's so rare and exciting to see a spoken piece connect with people that way.

Expletives are part of our language, a big part. Why is it wrong to use them as poetry? Much of the best unintentionally poetic language you'll ever hear is when someone turns a string of expletives and adjectives into a magnificent rant.
posted by emjaybee at 8:52 PM on January 27, 2012


This sounds like a potty-mouthed rant to me,
...
That talking about what "white people" do
Is racism too.
"potty-mouthed"? Since when do adults use that word to refer to other adults?
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Um. As far as I can make out, after watching it twice, the "Truth" poem is about how, as an African-American student, she strongly prefers not to use formal English and fancy words when talking to/at purportedly ignorant white American students but does strongly prefer to use formal English and fancy words to/at purportedly ignorant other African-American students. So radically smashing two prejudices with two sides of the same thingy, as it were.
posted by Bwithh at 9:13 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And further that if you're going to judge who she is based on the color of her skin and her particular vernacular then you've got her fucked up
posted by palidor at 9:22 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good lord people, it's poetry. If you don't like it, there's always a new open mic night next week.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought she was great.

Are people really confused about what she's describing?
posted by desuetude at 9:30 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


...
Is racism too.

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your poetry magazine.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 9:38 PM on January 27, 2012


That uncomfortable feeling you are feeling is the point and the purpose.

I loved it.
posted by Freen at 9:40 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now this is the kind of poetry that would make me interested in going to a poetry reading.
posted by birdsquared at 9:54 PM on January 27, 2012


And further that if you're going to judge who she is based on the color of her skin and her particular vernacular then you've got her fucked up

It aint the color of her skin, and like, man, the vernacular, aint like, you know, whatever, and stuff, you know, man ?

It's more that the deep anti-intellectualism - even when it's couched as a cultural imperative - is a kind of retrograde idiocy. I mean, yeah, take pride in your roots, but it's basically Larry the Cable Guy for African Americans.

And I think Chris Rock was better at it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:07 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good stuff.
posted by threeants at 10:07 PM on January 27, 2012


Holy crap--she's amazing.

Even more so when I realized that she's a senior in high school, and is only seventeen or eighteen. Talk about a woman to watch out for--she's going to be incredible.
posted by MeghanC at 10:59 PM on January 27, 2012


Slam poetry just feels so early 90s.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:00 PM on January 27, 2012


"It's more that the deep anti-intellectualism - even when it's couched as a cultural imperative - is a kind of retrograde idiocy. I mean, yeah, take pride in your roots, but it's basically Larry the Cable Guy for African Americans."

I'm pretty sure that you didn't watch the entire fucking video.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:06 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, slam poetry. No, I'm not a fan.

I'm pretty sure that you didn't watch the entire fucking video.

Telling people they didn't watch the entire video seems to be as helpful as actual racism. Just assume they did?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:07 PM on January 27, 2012


"Telling people they didn't watch the entire video seems to be as helpful as actual racism. Just assume they did?"

That was the generous interpretation. The less generous interpretation was that Pogo_Fuzzybutt either didn't bother to pay attention to what she was saying, or isn't capable of understanding plain English. Or some other things which aren't very flattering.

So, yeah, I'm going with "watched a little bit and then made a snap judgment based upon stereotyping" followed with "generalize about a culture as a means to criticize this video in a way that is entirely unaware of the irony of doing so".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:11 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's more that the deep anti-intellectualism - even when it's couched as a cultural imperative - is a kind of retrograde idiocy. I mean, yeah, take pride in your roots, but it's basically Larry the Cable Guy for African Americans.
Um, Pogo_Fuzzybutt, I'm pretty sure that that's exactly what she's saying, but in verse. Notice how she's highlighted the fact that "apparently" (read in a sarcastic tone, which is what most of that poem is in) she can't use big words with the white kids in her class but then she turns around and gets mocked from the other side by her own colored peers as they disbelievingly ask "why would I use big words?"

So...you just boxed her in because all you saw was her color AND the fact that she happened to be using slang along side those bigger words. Did you even listen to the rest of her poetry?
Unless I misunderstand your point, in which case I'd like to be enlightened very much, please.



Seriously, I don't get how some people are translating what she's saying into stuff like, "she's preferring not to use formal English / preferring to use formal English at different people based on the color of their skin."

Um, no. It's called sarcasm. She's saying how she's an alien in both worlds because some of her peers on one side can only see color and her peers on the other only see how she "ain't gangsta enuff."

Do I really need to explain this to some of you? *sheds a tiny tear*

posted by DisreputableDog at 11:12 PM on January 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


DisreputableDog: I suspect there are a lot of people quietly shaking their heads at this thread. I appreciated the link and think it speaks very well for itself. Seeing the first several comments in the thread, I felt like this wasn't a discussion worth participating in, unfortunately.
posted by knave at 11:26 PM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Heh. Throughout this thread, I shall attempt to defend the art now and then, but I won't get too wrapped up in it. I mean, first, there's a lot to cover there besides race, and two, you shouldn't feed the trolls.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:32 PM on January 27, 2012


"I appreciated the link and think it speaks very well for itself. Seeing the first several comments in the thread, I felt like this wasn't a discussion worth participating in, unfortunately."

That's a shame, because it means that those comments end up making a bigger impact on the thread than they would if all those shaking their heads at the thread had spoken up. This is probably a discussion for MeTa, but it's a problem in that the second comment immediately invites, practically begs for, a crappy thread but probably didn't rise to a level of justifying deletion on that basis. As much as it pissed me off, and as much as I thought it would hurt the thread, I didn't flag it because I didn't think it deserved to be flagged.

And yet, if you're right, this could have been a much better thread had some early comments not appeared or had they been removed. But if they shouldn't have been removed, arguably, then the only alternative is that your voice and the others who you suspect weren't heard because of them had pushed past that barrier and been presented, anyway.

It is a good post. Her work is good on its own merits entirely; but it's even more notable in that she's only a high school senior.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:36 PM on January 27, 2012


Um, Pogo_Fuzzybutt, I'm pretty sure that that's exactly what she's saying, but in verse. Notice how she's highlighted the fact that "apparently" (read in a sarcastic tone, which is what most of that poem is in) she can't use big words with the white kids in her class but then she turns around and gets mocked from the other side by her own colored peers as they disbelievingly ask "why would I use big words?"

I watched the whole thing. And as I say, Chris Rock makes similar points, both more pointedly and with more punch.

I mean, I think she's got talent, and whatever. I certainly don't think Chris Rock fell out of the womb with the clarity of vision that he has. I know it took some work to develop it. I hope she continues to hone her art. I think she's potential to make a real mark.

I just wasn't that impressed with this particular effort.

And as I say, it smacked too much of an appeal to anti-intellectualism. I took from it that she was celebrating the anti-intellectualism of her peers, or at least... preferring it to being "smart read white". Maybe she meant it otherwise and I missed that. Based on what others had to say, I can see that - but I posted how I took what she had to say, and well, that was my honest impression.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:36 PM on January 27, 2012


"I took from it that she was celebrating the anti-intellectualism of her peers..."

No, she's unambiguously harshly critical of it. That's really her deeper point—she's juxtaposing these two different standards and how they each reflect a notion that black people aren't "smart".

I mean, it's hard to believe that you watched it as you say, because there's a whole section where she says that what she hears from black peers is self-hating bullshit.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:41 PM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


The entire second half of that video is explicitly saying what you claim to not have understood, beginning at 1:28:
Niggers can't [?] for me, either, because as soon as I raise my hand for anything other than a bathroom break,
I become a weirdo.

And god forbid I excel, a four-point-oh means I'm four shades whiter. Because, apparently, intelligence
is a white trait.

At least that's what I've gathered.

One girl asked me, why would I use big words: "So I could sound like you?"

You know what I sound like? Like I've read a book before.

To my people, I act smart...so I act "white"?

So I can't be black and be smart because black people are dumb??

All this is, is self-hate.

And to them, that's acceptable, because white people told us niggers not to read 300 years ago and now, niggers telling other niggers not to read...what are we afraid of?

Like giving 100 percent means giving a 100 lashes and my people don't even know that we're working with our oppressors. Just passing on the torch where we can't
pass the bar; because the bar's been set
so low that we're crushing under the weight.

And you expect me to cut class and get an "F" just to perpetuate the stereotype that's been instilled through this bullshit curriculum?

The fuck I look like?!

I will never
equate stupidity with my melanin, nor will I ever
sacrifice my skin for the white's man stand-in, so never
ask that I speak for anyone but me,
represent anything but what I stand for,
and fight for anything but what I believe in.

And if anybody, ever,
expects me to do anything but be myself,
they've
got
me
fucked
up.
(My transcription and the line breaks are my own.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:07 AM on January 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


DisreputableDog, thank you for posting this; gorgeous stuff.
posted by ChrisR at 12:15 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Love her, and love the work.

And love the doubling back to "The fuck I look like"
posted by jrochest at 12:37 AM on January 28, 2012


It's great to see this video again, first time being on tumblr, and now again on the blue! Thank you, especially for all the links to her other performances too. For me, slam poetry is a beautiful intersection between storytelling, music, and rhythm. It makes me happy to see that there are youth funneling their energies into creative things such as these. Always, always makes me hopeful to see more art and expression. I'm cheering you and your peers on, Kai Davis!!
posted by one teak forest at 1:09 AM on January 28, 2012


Great stuff. I'm not entirely sure you'd call it poetry, but I enjoyed it very much.
posted by seanyboy at 1:13 AM on January 28, 2012


Well, at the beginning she out and out says that classmates that use big words like 'gargantuan' are 'pretentious'. I'm not sure how that squares with her using big words. How are the two different? Am I missing some subtlety?

But apart from that, I liked it. Articulate anger is a great thing.
posted by Summer at 1:31 AM on January 28, 2012


First, I was amazed at the level of craft she's reached as a mere high school senior.

Then I got depressed because I'm not that good and probably won't ever be.

Then I felt resentful because - get this for narcissistic impulses - I'm solidly in the wrong category across the board to have this kind of anger for my own use. White, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, you name it. All I got to be angry about is, what, I got beat up a few times growing up? That was my own idiot fault for having crappy social skills and refusing to meet people halfway. You purposely wear sweatpants and flip-flops to school because you think the way everyone wears jeans and sneakers is "conformist," goddamned right you get beat up, Younger Nathan.

Then I felt guilty about resenting other people for having more authentic sources of angst.

And then I was able to be amazed at the videos again, but now with bonus irritation at myself.
posted by Scattercat at 2:16 AM on January 28, 2012


Well, at the beginning she out and out says that classmates that use big words like 'gargantuan' are 'pretentious'.

No I don't think that's what she's saying. Or at least, I feel like I have the same complaint she does. What she's saying is some white people look down on her for using slang instead of the more "appropriate" words that would demonstrate her intelligence. But as long as she gets the point across as to the size of the object, then what does it matter which word she uses? Likewise, some black people look down on her for using "big words" rather than slang. It's the same racist attitude from a different perspective.

I think she just wants to talk however she prefers to talk, in whatever situation she happens to be in, without people being racist towards her. Or maybe that's just what I want. She's not tricking people or playing a game. She's just tired of being judged because of her race by anybody, black or white.

Tired of white people who assume she must be stupid because she's black. Tired of white people who hear her using slang or shorthand and assume the way she speaks must be inferior to their more "mainstream" speech. Tired of black people who expect her to hide the fact that she likes to read because reading isn't "black" enough. Tired of black people who think she is trying to be something other than she is not just because she uses "big words".
posted by Danila at 3:03 AM on January 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


Scattercat: Don't minimise your own reasons for being angry. It's not a competition.
posted by seanyboy at 3:05 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


There once was a girl from Philly
Whose reaction to racism was chilly
At the poetry slam
She told off the man
Both cocoa flavored and vanilli!
posted by Renoroc at 3:11 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel like I have the same complaint she does. What she's saying is some white people look down on her for using slang instead of the more "appropriate" words that would demonstrate her intelligence

OK fine. But the problem lies with her labelling of people as pretentious. She gets a big laugh out of comparing the so-called pretentious word 'gargantuan' to the presumably more down-to earth-phrasing 'big as shit', but then complains that when she uses long words with her black classmates it just means that she's 'read a book'. So which is it? Why is it pretentious when the white people do it and not when she does it?

As someone who was routinely mocked at school for using 'big words' (always implying that it was some kind of pose) this just really niggles with me.
posted by Summer at 3:39 AM on January 28, 2012


Summer, she too talks about being mocked for using big words so either she's crazy or there's a context that's being missed.

I guess I just note at what point in the poem she makes the accusation of pretentiousness. It's after a whole bunch of lines about white people assuming she must be dumb. It's not pretentious just to use the "big word". It's not always pretentious to say "gargantuan" and it's not pretentious for white people to use the word. It's not that white people can't use it but black people like her can. That ignores the entire context surrounding the line in the poem. Up to that point, she is very clearly talking about white people who judge her due to racial stereotypes. That's what the whole thing has been about up to the point she references "pretentiousness". The pretense is that they're better than her and they try to show it by using certain words in direct contrast to the phrasing she uses. Or maybe also because they assume she won't understand or that she can't communicate. She's on the defense, not the attack. She sees a mockery in the way certain white people wield their words.

I really think it's clear she's not going around listening to conversations that don't involve her and judging people by the words they use! Her point is that a white person is not better than her because they could afford a better education, or to "buy a thesaurus". But some white people think they are. Sometimes people wield their education as a weapon, that doesn't mean being educated is wrong! In fact, that's the point she's trying to make to black people when she flips things around. Some black people will call you an "oreo" and mock you if you don't hide the fact that you have some education. They are not genuinely confused, they know what you're trying to say when use the words but they mock you for using them.

I think if you remove the points from their context then they do seem hypocritical but context is everything here. It's not wrong to use big words. It's not wrong NOT to use them. Skin color and the words you use should not be related but frequently they are.
posted by Danila at 3:57 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess it's about people trying to put you in your place and using education to do so. There are a lot of people who pretend to be stupid. It's all a cynical pose. There are also a lot of people who pretend to be smarter than you because they use different words. This too is a pose. And both sides want you to pose as well. The people pretending to be stupid want you to buy into the pretense along with them. The people building themselves up as "more-intelligent-than-thou" want you to kowtow to that or feel shamed.

These people are not to be confused with those who are genuinely ignorant or genuinely intelligent. If I use a word and someone genuinely doesn't get my meaning they'll just ask me what I meant and I'll try to explain. No one is trying to one-up the other person. Likewise, if someone uses a "big word" as just a natural part of their vocabulary they usually don't mind that other people use other words not so big.
posted by Danila at 4:04 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This young woman's too blind to see
That talking about what "white people" do
Is racism too.


Sounds like that one point of hers especially bothered you. I wonder why.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 AM on January 28, 2012


All I got to be angry about is, what, I got beat up a few times growing up? That was my own idiot fault for having crappy social skills and refusing to meet people halfway. You purposely wear sweatpants and flip-flops to school because you think the way everyone wears jeans and sneakers is "conformist," goddamned right you get beat up, Younger Nathan.

Do you mind if I take this at face value? That's not a small thing, getting beaten up, especially when there's a soul-sucking reason for it. One that resembles other crushing phenomena in the world you eventually grew up into. And even if what happened to you had been as small as you sometimes think it is, surely there's some special satisfaction to be found in using an apparently insignificant item to evoke big feelings. There's a kind of magic in it when it works.

And of course if you were to take the line of reasoning currently being promoted by your (bully-instilled?) drive to deprecate yourself and apply it to other people, and follow that line to its logical end, you could say that Kai Davis doesn't really have anything to complain about when you think about what happened to Elie Wiesel. But that would be ridiculous. And the thing that wants to demoralize you wouldn't get anything out of it. Furthermore, if you succeed in getting your feelings across, most of your readers (maybe this would be different if you're reading on the same bill as Kai Davis; probably not a great idea anyway, she's a powerhouse) are not spontaneously going to think of people who have it worse than you on account of their status as members of oppressed minorities. They're going to think about bullies, getting beaten up, not fitting in.

I wouldn't be surprised if she eventually felt forced to complain that people want to think of her exclusively as a black poet with black problems, and that parts of her audience seem to tune her out when she writes about turtles or the decline of aesthetically pleasing commercial signage or even something angry that isn't necessarily race-specific, like getting beaten up at school because she violated some secret teenager-enforced dress code. (I was going to add her that she would probably say something about the irony of reinforcing her identity, in the audience's mind, as a specifically black poet with specifically black problems by the act of writing this poem I just hypothesized, but is this paragraph turning into real-person fan fiction? I'm disturbed.) Anyway. I'm reluctant to point this out because I know that if I were in the right state of mind and also in your demographic I would jump at the chance to feel guilty about the fact that I had the freedom to write about whatever I wanted to without specifically being thought of as a white male poet rather than a poet. But maybe instead you could just take that freedom and run with it as far as you can, because that's where the art is, and hope that she gets to do the same without having to take too much shit. At least she doesn't seem to be hamstrung by something in her own brain. There's something to get mad about. Your own insides fucking with you. How did that happen?
posted by Adventurer at 5:26 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Summer, she too talks about being mocked for using big words so either she's crazy or there's a context that's being missed.

There might also be some writerly pride at work here. You know, "never use a long word where a short one will do," per George Orwell. I was about to say "that's debatable, though, sometimes a long word serves the rhythm better or brings useful implications," but I guess if the long word does more work, the short one by definition wouldn't do. At any rate, if a person thinks a long word she wouldn't have thought of herself (as opposed, maybe, to one she had to look up because it was on the tip of her tongue?) beats the short synonym on the grounds that extra syllables always add value, she has a lot to learn about writing. And so there might be something of a teenaged author consoling herself in this: "That asshole who thinks I'm worthless can't write for shit. Doesn't know right from wrong at the vocabulary level."

I felt mocked too, for a minute. It was confusing and made me want to escape. IRL my diction can get kind of unnatural-sounding on account of, I don't know, funny wiring, a too-early obsession with The Boy's King Arthur (which btw I only realized two years ago is not short for "The Boy Is King Arthur"), whatever, but every once in a while somebody accuses me of using fancy-sounding words in order to make myself sound fancier than them, and I am always hurt and insulted and feel like they're not going to believe me when I say "but that's how I talk, I'm not thinking about it at all." And I had a flash of that when she mentioned the thesaurus thing: would she have thought I'd been sneaking into the thesaurus? I don't use a goddamn thesaurus! My words are all-natural products! And then I remembered that there are people who do exactly what she says, who shame people for the way they talk, or anything other signifier they can identify and isolate; I know I don't think her cultural/economic vernacular is inferior to mine, just different, and I'd trust her to tell a bully from a girl who sounds like Sir Bedivere sometimes. For example. Then I realized that my "I'm no thesaurus user" pain/shock/persecution flash was actually kind of neat because hey, I felt some of the same feelings she's feeling! Except that they have only affected me for a lifetime total of something like two minutes. I mean, insofar as I have been made to feel them by people who have had dark thoughts about my diction.
posted by Adventurer at 6:33 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


the bar's been set so low that we're crushing under the weight.

It's true of both education and poetry, I'm afraid. I do like this line.
posted by michaelh at 6:47 AM on January 28, 2012


First, I was amazed at the level of craft she's reached as a mere high school senior.

Then I got depressed because I'm not that good and probably won't ever be.

Then I felt resentful because - get this for narcissistic impulses - I'm solidly in the wrong category across the board to have this kind of anger for my own use. White, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, you name it. All I got to be angry about is, what, I got beat up a few times growing up? That was my own idiot fault for having crappy social skills and refusing to meet people halfway. You purposely wear sweatpants and flip-flops to school because you think the way everyone wears jeans and sneakers is "conformist," goddamned right you get beat up, Younger Nathan.

Then I felt guilty about resenting other people for having more authentic sources of angst.

And then I was able to be amazed at the videos again, but now with bonus irritation at myself.


Affluent White Man Enjoys, Causes the Blues

just ribbin', but that's the first thing that rose to mind
posted by FatherDagon at 7:42 AM on January 28, 2012


Seems pretty clear to me that she is not railing against the use of words but the reaction to them. Her white peers react with derision when she uses slang, assuming she's an uneducated thug. Her black peers react with derision when she uses SAT words, assuming she is trying to "act white."

She's saying that she wants to be able to use the full panoply of the English language without people stereotyping her.

And clearly she's not speaking against all white people any more than she's speaking against all black people. It's an "if the shoe fits" situation.
posted by xigxag at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is fantastic, thanks for posting it. I expect great things of her.

> I thought Mark Twain was an unfortunate choice of a target

I don't think Mark Twain was a target at all. She was saying (my paraphrase) "How come Maya Angelou gets put down for using bad grammar, when Mark Twain used plenty of bad grammar and his work is considered a masterpiece?" It's the contrast that bothers her; I'd be willing to bet she appreciates Mark Twain herself, since anyone with an ear for the English language can't help but do so, and if anyone has an ear for the English language, she does. She just wants Angelou up there on the masterpiece shelf beside him.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Teen angst like this seemed so much more necessary in what seemed like less liberal times. But if you don't keep pulling a rope tight, you can't walk it. Someday she'll put all that tension into the words themselves.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2012


gorgor I don't understand what you're saying.
posted by Danila at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2012


People naturally mirror each other in speaking, and there's sometimes kind of an insidery vibe to speaking the same way, especially among kids. When I was young we'd speak one way with each other in the street, and drastically another way when there were adults. Especially with black parents, where it was all Sir and Ma'am. Early habits die hard, and I still occasionally have to force myself to enunciate the sentence "I don't know".

But the "Truth" poem is a perfect encapsulation of how I felt when I was younger, when people would do that language reinforcement thing to each other. People who spoke a certain way, and were the "wrong" race to do so, were "tryna act black" or "tryna act white." Always frustrated the hell outta me.
posted by zennie at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"That talking about what "white people" do
Is racism too".


Stop reacting and start listening.

With young women like this - I have hope for women and the future.
posted by what's her name at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be willing to bet she appreciates Mark Twain herself, since anyone with an ear for the English language can't help but do so, and if anyone has an ear for the English language, she does. She just wants Angelou up there on the masterpiece shelf beside him.

Well put, and I agree. I just disagree that Maya Angelou isn't part of the American canon now.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:09 AM on January 28, 2012


My gosh people, if you can't get over your various insecurities, watch the rest of the videos! She is very, very good.
posted by smidgen at 11:18 AM on January 28, 2012


Thanks for the link. I don't think most people realize how exhausting it is to navigate her position: how much shit she receives living in two cultures with strong assumptions about how she should act.

Also, wow, a few comments in this thread are unbelievable.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, wow, a few comments in this thread are unbelievable.

Sadly believable. Maybe the mods should invert the color scheme for this thread to something like colored text on a largely (professional) white background. With, like, gargantuan fonts.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:29 PM on January 28, 2012


OK fine. But the problem lies with her labelling of people as pretentious. She gets a big laugh out of comparing the so-called pretentious word 'gargantuan' to the presumably more down-to earth-phrasing 'big as shit', but then complains that when she uses long words with her black classmates it just means that she's 'read a book'. So which is it? Why is it pretentious when the white people do it and not when she does it?

As someone who was routinely mocked at school for using 'big words' (always implying that it was some kind of pose) this just really niggles with me.


It's a performance, not a dissertation. Think of it like a song that draws you in with a hook but turns out to be about something different (and larger) than what you expected.

And not to be flip, but, uh, this isn't about you.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about anti-intellectualism in the context of this and my own life. There's a saying that in America, poor is a synonym for black. That doesn't really exist here in the UK. Not to say that we don't have issues with racism, but poverty tends to be pegged against class as opposed to race.

When I was growing up, there was a huge pressure from those I knew who were working class for me to be anti-intellectual. Books and big words weren't for a young lad growing up near Barnsley in the 1980's. I probably would have been beaten for using words like "Gargantuan" in a school context. Even now, with the girlfriends kid's, there's a tendency to mock any pursuit of intellectual endeavour. This is not because of their colour, but more a reflection of those working class roots.

I've been guilty in the past of associating colour with anti-intellectualism in the past. You can blame Chris Rock and my own insularity and stupidity for that. But, on reflection, I don't think it is a race thing. America prides itself on not having a class system, but this is bollocks. It has a class system. It is not a meritocracy. And like here in the UK, and in Australia, and probably everywhere else in the developed world, people hate it when you try to move upwards out of your designated zone. Either "you think you're better than the rest of us", or you "can take the girl out of {rough area} but you can't take the {rough area} out of girl."

This is not to minimise what Kai Davis is saying. I'm just curious if people are blaming black culture by association (and because it's easy and politically expedient). As we're fond of saying on metafilter, correlation is not causation.
posted by seanyboy at 3:10 AM on January 29, 2012


This was great. When slam poetry is good, it's really powerful and cool. Her rhythm is terrific.

Of course, when it's bad, it's really, really painful to watch, particularly live at an event.
posted by Glinn at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2012


I enjoyed this. Thanks for posting it.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:47 PM on January 29, 2012


I love the discussion between Summer and Danila. Someone I know in real life and someone I've previously admired on MeFi. Yay! And apart from not loving the slam poetry genre, I thought this was great!
posted by Lleyam at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2012


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