When your country ceases to be your country
One young artist just ripped apart the “All Lives Matter” argument with a seven-minute spoken word poem that dissects both the history of race in America and recent incidents of police brutality.
Danez Smith, a queer slam poet who goes by the personal gender pronoun ‘they’, performed “Principles” at the annual Brave New Voices festival in Washington, D.C., a youth-focused slam poetry contest. In his poem, Smith discusses not only issues of police violence and the challenges black Americans face, but also themes of misogyny, inequality, and homophobia.
The sequence opens with a nod to John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” then delved into queries the black community ought to be asking of their country: “ask if your country is your country… ask if your country is addicted to blood… ask if your country is addicted to forgetting… ask if your comfort means round the corner a man is dead cause a cop mistook his body for a gun…”
Smith then reveals the shortsightedness of the All Lives Matter countermovement, calling forth the inherent faults and irony in the argument. “All lives don’t matter the same as all lives. Some lives matter only to ourselves. Some lives matter only in they hood… All lives matter to somebody, but what about this life of mine?... Do you wish me justice or do you wish I would just shut up already, vanish already?” Smith carried on to speak in reverence for Philando Castile and Diamond Reynolds—all three Minnesota natives—and challenge the identity of black citizens in a country where they’ve ceased to belong.
“Why they send bullets through our bodies like they trying to see if we real or just a bad dream? Why they nightmare us into beast? … What is the American dream to a brown person except a dream of America leaving us alone?”
Smith closes with a call to action, or prayer:
“I want justice the verb not justice the dream. i want peace. i want equity. i want guns
to be melted into a mosque, a church
a place for us to pray.”
At the young age of 26, Smith has already won the Lambda Literary Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Hopwood Award, and is a two-time World Poetry Slam finalist. Smith is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books) with a second collection, Don't Call Us Dead, upcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017. A current MFA candidate at the University of Michigan, Smith’s work focuses on the intersections of race, class, faith, and sexuality in challenging oppressive social constructs through evocative and raw spoken word. Smith founded the Dark Noise COllective and teached with InsideOut Detroit.