Mental Slaves: A Social Commentary Poem

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.

Abstract

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.

 

Mental Slaves

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

It’s tradition

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 ~

 

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The Fourth of July Isn’t for Black People

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in which he asked, “What to the American slave, is the Fourth of July?” His answer was “a day that reveals to him [the slave], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim.” And prior to this question and answer, Douglass tells his predominately White audience “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary.”

In 2012, this message still holds true. Whether enslaved physically by mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, or enslaved mentally by the psychological chains of Black-on-Black carnage, the myth of Black inferiority, dysfunctional families, overall disunity and economic disempowerment, the Fourth of July still isn’t ours. African Americans who have a false sense of freedom and believe that they’ve “made it,” aren’t exempt either.

But, keep in mind that regardless of whether we’re slaves or free people, the Fourth of July will continue to not belong to us. As long as racism endures, Blacks will be excluded. Years of loyalty, building the United States into what it is today, fighting in wars (including the Revolutionary War that led to the colonies’ independence from Great Britain) and contributing to America’s economy doesn’t mean anything. With all of our contributions, we remain to be considered second-class citizens, or worse, less than human beings.

Yes, we are excluded from the Fourth of July celebration, but on the other hand, we must ask ourselves this fundamental question: Should we even want to be included in a celebration that continues to be, as Douglass calls it, “mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disagree a nation of savages?” I’ll leave that up to you to think about and decide. By the way, there’s no need to expound on the crimes and hypocrisy America is guilty of.

Despite America’s corruption and racist ideologies, African Americans have been surviving and making the best of their situation. At the end of his speech, Douglass said he does not “despair of this country,” and I do not despair of it either. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, as Douglass acknowledged, were brave men who were able to achieve freedoms that may not have been available to Americans had they not taken the courage to break away from Britain. Much work remains to be done, but the United States has come a long way.

Today, I have the limited freedom to write this post speaking critically of this country without being detained, tortured or executed unlike other countries in the world. In conclusion, the message to my brothers and sisters of color is this: As you eat barbeque, watch fireworks and snatch sale items off of the racks, be aware that America’s celebration of independence still isn’t ours. It is a celebration for the descendants of the Founding Fathers, but it’s mockery to the descendants of slaves.