Anti-Racist Teacher Resources: Poetry

Angelou, Maya (1983). “Caged Bird.” From Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?. Penguin Random House LLC. Retrieved from https://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/caged-bird/

Maya Angelou’s poem, “Caged Bird” uses an extended metaphor of two birds, one who is “free” and one who is “caged”, to symbolize the different lives, opportunities and experiences¬† of white and black Americans. Angelou uses imagery, symbolism, and powerful language to present a stark contrast between the experience of the privileged bird who is “free”, and the suffering caged bird who is desperate to experience the same level of freedom. This poem does not directly include language pertaining to racism or racial oppression, thus readers must understand the meaning behind these extended metaphors, and reflect on what the experiences of these two birds with vastly different experiences truly symbolize and represent. As “Caged Bird” does not explicitly touch on issues of race, systemic racism or racial oppression like Tiana Clark’s poem does, teachers should provide students with supplementary information on the poet, and context behind the poem itself. Teachers may wish to incorporate a pre-reading activity or discussion, in order to preface this text and have students thinking about these larger themes and social justice issues. Students in both social studies or ELA classes can use this poem to explore extended metaphors and symbolism to highlight real world issues and conflicts such as racial inequity and systemic racial oppression. By incorporating this poem into a social studies or English Language Arts class, students can analyze how various literary forms, including poetry, can be used to promote anti racism and combat systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination in our society.

Clark, T. (2018). “The Ayes Have It.” From I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood. University of Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved from https://www.poetryinvoice.com/poems/ayes-have-it ¬†

Tiana Clark’s “The Ayes Have It”, is a powerful poem in which the speaker details their perspective on racism, growing up with a mixed race identity, the history of America’s racist South, and the generational impact that this racist history continues to have. This poem highlights the struggles of mixed race individuals, and the difficulty in separating one’s personal life from what they see in the media when it comes to race relations and systemic racism. The speaker denies the notion that there may be a “post racial America”, by emphasizing the systemic racism that has led to far too many tragedies like the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, so many years apart. Clark’s poem is an excellent resource for social studies or English Language educators to employ in their classrooms, as it uses poetry to bring these critical issues of racial profiling, identity, and systemic racism to light. What makes this poem unique is that it touches on the difficulties individuals with a mixed-race identity face, and how they perceive themselves as opposed to how others perceive them. “The Ayes Have It” would be an excellent literary source to use in the classroom, to compare and contrast the ideas, themes, and message presented in Garnette Cadogan’s essay, “Walking While Black”. Having students synthesize these two texts can allow them to understand that the idea of a “post racial America” is a myth developed by privileged individuals. These texts demonstrate how those who may believe this myth are privileged not to experience the hyper surveillance that black men in particular have experienced, and continue to experience in America, Canada, and many other parts of the globe.

 

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