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10 Spoken Word Pieces About Race And Black History

In honor of Black History Month, #BlackFutureMonth, and to celebrate #BlackExcellence, here are some poignant spoken word pieces about race in America.

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This list is by no means the best of the best or anything. I just feel like they're important to share with the world. I hope you enjoy!

If you are into spoken word, you should probably know of or be subscribed to the YouTube channel, Button Poetry. It has an incredible collection of spoken word pieces from poets of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and so on. I've chosen some of the many great pieces that have spoken to me on so many levels.

This list isn't in any order of how great they are, by the way.

That being said, I would like to start off with my favorite post of the bunch:

1) "Dear White America" by Danez Smith

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Anyone who knows anything about Danez Smith knows that his performances are nothing short of captivating. And this, by far, is my favorite performance of his. And in the year and a half that this video has been out, it has never not been relevant.

I am equal parts sick of your '"Go back to Africa"s as I am your "I just don't see race"s. Neither did the poplar tree. We did not build your boats, though we did leave a trail of kin to guide us home. We did not build your prisons, though we did, and we filled them, too. We did not ask to be part of America, though are we not America?

2) "Hella Black" by Mahogany L. Browne

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Mahogany L. Browne is another fantastic black poet who writes pieces that can strike a cord with anything she says. This poem is about loving your blackness even though society often tries to discourage that, or tries to erase it.

Look here: I'm hella black. Even when all you wanna talk about is feminism, or poetry, but never racism. So we can't hold court 'cause your hands too small to talk the world that got all my black feelings in it, and how too much black talk make you uncomfortable 'cause you only wanna talk about the labels that afforded you such a privilege whereas you don't have to talk about all this black, and all this woman, and all this black woman, and all this inconvenience.

3) "When a Black Man Walks" by Neiel Israel

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This performance is chilling and compelling, and I have watched it more times than I can even remember. It gives me chills every time.

See how many faces change to fear in the presence of a black man. See how many women hold their purses to tightly their fingers grow numb. See how many men hide their eyes, wishing the darkness would go away, maybe choke itself to death. "That ugly two-third human being." "That next to nothing black dot." "That useless prison black spot."

4) "cuz he's black" by Javon Johnson

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This is the video that really started my paying attention to Button Poetry, and my search for spoken word pieces about racism. If you haven't seen it before, you're welcome.

We both know it's not about whether or not the shooter is racist. It's about how poor black boys are treated as problems well before we are treated as people.

5) "For Emmett Till" by Dominique Christina

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Dominique Christina is another favorite poet of mine. Her poetry digs deep and makes you think. This one is especially important because of its usage of Emmett Till, a black boy in history everyone should know and learn about.

It is an image I shoved at my own fourteen year old son, frenetic in my attempt to tell him that this is black history. I need him to know that if he's not careful, not brave, not the sum total of all our unlit courage, if he relegates these stories to cliff notes, well, he bleeds out and dies in the epilogue.

6) "Black Privilege" by Crystal Valentine

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I can't even begin to put into words how incredible this poem and Crystal Valentine are. No list of great spoken word pieces about racism in America would be complete without it.

Black privilege is a myth; is a joke; is a punchline; is the time a teacher asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said "Alive"; is the way she laughed when she said there's no college for that. And it's tiring, you know, for everything about my skin to be a metaphor, for everything black to be pun intended, to be death intended.

7) "Kelly" by Zenaida Peterson

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This is one of my favorite pieces about the critique of what it means to be an ally, and checking your privilege.

I say, "At five, they do not need to be told what racism loos like. They are very aware of the monster under their beds."

8) "How to Find a Heaven You Don't Deserve" by Will Evans

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This video is poignant, and deserves more recognition that it has gotten. It's more subtle than the other poems, but just as powerful because of it's subtlety.

"And then, a woman delivers a child who is beautiful and dark and large like tomorrow. She doesn't take her newborn home, but straight to the police station. Is that not what you want: a brilliant head, not quite formed; a shimmering, black body that is ready made for drowning?"

9) "Dark Skin" by Tova Charles

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This poem speaks about colorism, and it's an important conversation to have since it's tied to racism, and colorism affects how you're treated in life almost as much as racism does.

When they try to call you dark as night, tell them without you the stars would have nothing to shine for.

10) "For Bayard Rustin" by Danez Smith

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For the last post on this list, I would like to bring it back to Danez Smith again. For those who don't know, Bayard Rustin was just as important to the Civil Rights Movement as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was also involved in getting rights for South Asian people in America, and for advancing LGBT rights in America. Sadly, however, his importance has been largely erased from history because of homophobia. Danez Smith does a great job at highlighting his importance and struggle.

You just wanted them free to work, to love, to grow, to know life unlimited, to taste freedom unfiltered. You dreamed America beautiful, but black boys who couldn't 'get right' were nightmares. Bayard Rustin, the movement was not for you. Your skin, yes, but your heart, that's a stretch. They were ashamed of you, Bayard. No matter what you spoke into existence, or what you breathed life into, your lips were contradictions because you kissed men. This was a movement of the church, Amen. How could you lead them? What was your agenda? What would it look like if the leader of the black movement turned out to be a [fa**ot]?

Bonus: "Ask a Black Dude" by Gabriel Green

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I'm adding this one because it's as hilarious as it is important to hear.

"Um, do black people hate all white people?""Of course we don't! We just hate people who perpetuate or refuse to acknowledge the history of social, cultural, and political fuckery placed against us … that they're white is purely coincidental."

There are other many great poems by black poets that you can check out such as this poem about black womanhood, this one about gentrification, and this one titled "Tell Me Again How You Don't See Color."

The photo used in this banner is not mine, and I would like to give credit to those over at hammer.aclu.edu for taking this beautiful picture.

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