Mental Slaves: A Social Commentary Poem
July 2, 2016 Leave a comment
by Mr. Westbrooks
After completing quarter three of English 2, I started teaching the same course again to a different set of students. Unfortunately, three weeks of PARCC testing threw my plans off schedule, so the students weren’t able to learn as much content/skills as the previous group of students. In lieu of the social commentary research paper, I assigned the students a project in which they would create their own social commentary literature. Being intrigued by the project-based learning opportunity I created, I decided I would do the project with them, at least partly.
Our administration’s vision was to have the students craft interdisciplinary projects that would be rich in content and aesthetically appealing to the eye. I thought U.S. History would go well with my social commentary unit. During the previous quarter, the history teacher had the kids create a PowerPoint presentation detailing a historical turning point. For my project, I had the students consider their historical turning point, and write a social commentary literary text about a current event, issue, or topic that relates to the historical turning point.
Through poems, short stories, essays, and a song students drew connections and expressed their points of view between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Islamic State’s attack on Paris, racism during the 19th century and racism now, the Boston Tea party and the Verizon strike, the Bill of Rights and the gun control debate, and a few others. Many students struggled to find present-day connections to their historical topics and how to articulate the connections, but in the end, I received some insightful and creative texts. Below is the text that I drafted in between class periods. Look out for my students’ products in the near future.
American chattel slavery lasted between 4-5 centuries in the United States. Thousands of people were stolen and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in what’s known as the Middle Passage, and these Africans were used to fuel the American economy by essentially building America into what it is today. During that time of forced enslavement, African/African-Americans not only endured physical suffering, but they also underwent much psychological trauma. Since 1865, physical slavery was abolished by the federal government; however, remnants of mental slavery still exist in 2016. The following poem provides social commentary on the psychological slavery that continues to plague the descendants of enslaved Africans.
Note: The poem follows no specified rhyme scheme. It rhymes, but it’s not quite free verse. It’s…I don’t know. It’s something.
There’s misogyny and violence, but never doubt what rap do
That’s what I learned from Killa Cam on verse two
On the second installment of “The Professional” by DJ Clue
This is what Cam said on Fantastic Four Part two:
Back in the day, we was slaves
Whips and chains
All I got…whips and chains
All I did…flip some caine
Now [Cam]* is sick of the range
Only a new six could fix the pain
Now, does his pain stem from his boredom with the range?
Or is he suffering from PTSD, no longer sane?
From a time of living righteous from which he could’ve been estranged
Yet strangely, he still saw himself as a new slave 13 years before Ye (Kanye)
What’s more, on the album SDE he made it plain
To paraphrase Biggie, you play ball, sell drugs, or entertain
Entertainer and athlete – Yeah, sure he’s gettin’ paid,
But William Rhoden showed and proved there’s a limit to his wage
Platitudes emanate from the so-called awake,
The type that convey clichés about ancestors rollin’ over in graves
But allow me to get to the theme of the prose,
About how our people think they’ve elevated, but haven’t yet arose
We’re mistaken if we believe bondage is only physical
That’s ended, but in 2016 we see the chains can be invisible
We’ve been fooled by the 13th amendment of 1865.
Mass incarceration and psychological chains prove slavery’s still alive
You got mis-education and religion mis-overstood,
Trap houses, liquor stores juxtaposed with churches in the hood
Across social classes, media conditions our minds.
Destructive music and reality shows keep the 3rd eyes blind
And when you’re blind you can’t see
Too much time in front of screens,
Which means you devote less time to read
Vocabulary devolved, less knowledge is gleaned
M.K. titled a chapter “The Most Beautiful Country”
He said with a limited word choice, you can’t be free
See, the peculiar institution was so mean,
That in 2016 they claim slave trauma is encoded in our genes
Solutions from the Oppressor, on which many of us are banking
Do we need psychological help to get our heads shrinking?
Our captive minds are ships with holes that keep sinking
Word to Carter G [Woodson], there’s no concern for your actions when they control your thinking
And to the choir members, this preaching isn’t new
You’ve got Kwabena Ashanti, Tom Burrell, Na’im Akbar, Alvin Morrow, Joy Degruy
But this verse isn’t for The Academy or debates on YouTube
I do it for the metaphorical unsaved; I do it for the youth
In particular, this was written by Mr. Westbrooks for his students in English 2
But even with knowledge and info, we become mental slaves to the truth
When we discourse about the source of the problem all day, we still lose
Because the time for us to MOVE is long overdue
Yet, we’re stuck in limbo about what we need to DO
So are the conscious folk any better than Killa Cam on verse 2?
~ Mental Slaves ~