Warning: This is not your typical physician blogger post. But, as you’ve hopefully figured out by now, I’m not your typical physician blogger.
There have been but few times in my life when the power of the written word has changed me.
When words, so delicately crafted, approximate both the splendor and the obscenity of human experience, and the light can overcome the shadows. When I was liberated because they spoke it so.
Those are sacred moments between me and Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Amiri Baraka.
When I read Amiri Baraka’s Black Art I was a sophomore in college and about 19 years old. I was living in a world dominated by the images, opinions, and interests of white people and trying to figure out what it meant to be a brown girl like me. He said:
Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth…
We want “poems that kill.” Assassin poems,
Poems that shoot guns…
Clean out the world for virtue and love,
Let there be no love poems written
until love can exist freely and
cleanly. Let Black People understand
that they are the lovers and the sons
of lovers and warriors and sons
of warriors Are poems & poets &
all the loveliness here in the world.
We want a black poem. And a
Let the world be a Black Poem
And Let All Black People Speak This Poem
What a thought.
What if blackness was the perspective from which all other experiences are compared?
What does it mean to conceptualize blackness beyond a race card or a problem or a conversation about affirmative action, inner city violence, or health disparities?
Is it possible that black people could be “all the loveliness here in the world?”
If it is possible, then how can I embody that pride effortlessly or “say it loud?” Both, of course, being equally acceptable.
Historically, this poem framed a time of anger and unrest at the centuries of injustice suffered by black people in America. It was the 60s. It was the beginning of the movement for civil rights. It was the birth of the Black Arts Movement, the contribution of black artists, writers, philosophers, and activists to not only chronicle the emotion and the intentionality of the movement, but take the greatest weapon at their disposal – the written word – and BE the movement.
Amiri Baraka was the movement. He was bold. He was fiery. He was unabashedly committed to re-claiming blackness and the beauty it embodies. As a young black woman who found my passion for social justice in medicine through the ethnic pride I discovered in college, I can only hope my writing will do justice to the beauty of the people I seek to serve. For the overlooked, vulnerable, and marginalized among us, thank you Amiri Baraka for fiercely embracing our power and showing us how to live in the beauty in us all.