"Can We Talk About Race?"

by Mwatabu S. Okantah


i was once asked
if i only wrote poetry for black
at the time i offered
no reply.
what could i have said?
there have already been too
many white lies.

what is there to be said
when talking to the living dead?
for, who can know
descendents of a self-proclaimed master race
better than those born
descendents of the enslaved?
what is to be said
to an unwilling people who
refuse to feel
into your own heavy
with lead?

one of your own poets
spoke of wastelands--
even J. Alfred Prufrock
could not
have imagined this; from lives
measured out in coffee spoons
to real life lost
in cyber-

i hear Babbit calling out to you
from his middleclass grave.
his people do not care
to listen
to anything save
the seductive buzzing in your own ears.
you hear megabytes.
you hear profit margins.
computers have banished true peoplehood
without a trace:

walkmans and cellular telephones--
new age glitter
need not even be gold.
from rocket ships to the internet,
you do not know
this story has already
been foretold.
Babylon is falling is
machine culture cannot save
any souls ...

this is a poem
for those sincere white people who say
you want to talk about race.
are you ready
to hear this land has never been free?
we have never
experienced genuine liberty.
for us, Americans
have been our raging
for us, America
has never been
all it claims to be.

"can WE talk about race?"
what is to be said
when Americans have so poisoned
the talking space?
we see you.
we see how you see yourselves
nightly from our television sets.
we see you refusing
to see us.
still, it pains you to look
in a real black

can we talk about race:
the real question
is, "can you bring yourselves to listen
when real black voices
we have never been
there has only been your own
blinding whiteness
glaring in your
you will only hear us
when you look
at yourselves reflected 
deep in the black
mirror of our lives ...

"Can We Talk About Race?" by Mwatabu S. Okantah

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