For the final day of black history month 2017 (I’ll miss you, black history month 2017), I’d like to share a couple of poems by Pat Parker, an African-American Texan lesbian feminist who died of breast cancer at age 45 in 1989. (Hooray, being black and being lesbian are both factors that make it likely you won’t get appropriate early medical intervention, although I can’t say whether that was the case with Parker or just bad luck.) She was amazing. There’s a poetry award named after her.
Even though her poems are 30 and 40 and 50 years old, they feel completely contemporary. The glass half empty side of that is: we haven’t come far enough in confronting the problems she railed against decades ago. The glass half full side is: sometimes you can write a poem that is truthful and unswerving and it still cuts to the heart of someone many years after your death, confronting a problem that needs your knowledge.
This one is called “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend” and it is from 1978 (from a collection called Movement in Black) but lord if it doesn’t sound like it could be on a blog talking about the women’s march or cultural appropriation, with perfect concision. It’s cutting and funny and kind.
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.
In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.
The other poem you should read today, the day of President Trump’s first address to Congress, is “Where Will You Be,” also from Movement in Black (1978). It’s long, and so I will link to an external site. It includes the stanzas:
Citizens, good citizens all
parade into voting booths
and in self-righteous sanctity
X away our right to life.
I do not believe as some
that the vote is an end,
I fear even more
It is just a beginning.