Critical Analysis of Poem About Rights
Is it a combination of genetics and experience? Is it something predetermined and mapped out? Is it something so mutable that we have complete control over it? The origin of a person’s identity can be argued upon forever but what seems to be most agreed upon is that as a human we each have a unique identity. The poetry of June Jordan discusses identity and its origins but more so she argues that identity cannot be changed by force. By no means of politics, sexuality, or media can an identity be given to someone to wear like T-shirt.
In Jordan’s “Poem About Rights” she battles identity head on with the use of rape and responsibility. Throughout the poem Jordan reviews her insecurity as a unique individual in a sarcastic tone in defense over those that have raped her. She has this reoccurring idea of having the “wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin”. This seems to be a reference to being a black individual and the lack of compassion for her humanity. She goes on to show the injustice of her being raped.
…if the guy penetrates but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me…I contested and there was no rape because finally you understand finally they fucked me over because I was wrong I was wrong again to be me being me where I was / wrong to be who I am…
This passage not only shows her disgust for what has happened to her but sets up rape as a metaphor for stealing identity. Being raped takes away the will of the individual and leaves them with out identity or at least in conflict over what little they had during the experience. Jordan then relates this metaphor to South Africa and its raping of the local populous. The Government was raping the land and the people.
She continues to bring up the Idea of not having the right skin or sex or age and considers that her parents may be the cause of it all.
It was my father saying I was wrong saying that I should have been a boy because he wanted one / a boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and that I should have had straighter hair and that I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should just be one / a boy and before that it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me to let the books loose to let them loose in other words
Her parents forcing the ideas in her head that she should have been a boy or that she isn’t pretty or maybe even that she needed to “fixed”. No matter who is trying to force feed her an identity she has still been raped “because I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin…” Besides this struggle she refuses to consent or give up her self to anyone or anything. “I am not Wrong: Wrong is not my name My name is my own my own my own”. Jordan refuses to accept someone trying to dress her up and parade her around.
Jordan has a similar approach to identity in “Bosnia Bosnia” by using the metaphor of rape but not as strongly. Here a four-year-old Muslim girl is gang raped but the true beauty of the poem comes in the use of oil. It seems that this country will spare little effort in helping a country or defeating one when oil is involved. “To bad there is no oil between her legs” Jordan attacks the government by showing the lack of integrity in its charity. She goes on to show how much injustice there is in the world by stating there is no oil “in South Central L.A.” or “between dealers and the drugged”. This shows the identity of the government and that a skirmish where they step in to help does not make them a saint it takes more to build a positive identity.
Jordan has become good at exploiting the negative identity of people by there actions or lack there of. This is most clear in a “Letter to Mrs. Virginia Thomas, Wife of Whatzhisname Lamentably Appointed to the Supreme Court, U.S.A.” The first half of the poem is a barrage of hateful imagery toward Clarence Thomas. Jordan as a black woman sympathizing with Mrs. Hill calls Thomas “an Uncle Tom a peeping Tom a creepy eager pornographic Tom a make believe black man”. Then there is this sudden turn around which give way to its sarcasm. She begins to thank Virginia Thomas for enlightening her “ because I probably was (as you say) probably I was in love with Clarence! Probably I lusted after him/ you husband: Yes I guess…” Jordan is fighting against the accusations Virginia is making towards Hill in an effort to save her own identity as well as come to the defense of Hill. If one woman can get away with turning a woman into a “slut” then what will stop anyone from doing so. If Virginia succeeds she would have made it legal to rape and molest woman as long as they are “sluts” and doing so would be criminal. It would allow people to force an identity on a person we would end up with spokesman for an entire populous with out a common cause.
Jordan has made it rather clear she does not enjoy others using her as a puppet. No one can speak for her even a fellow poet. In a “Poem because the 1996 U.S. Poet Laureate Told the San Francisco Chronicle there are ‘Obvious’ Poets-All of them White- and then there are ‘Representative’ poets-none of them White”. Here she attack the poet for separating every poet into two categories the “Obvious” and the Representative”. She fails to grasp the simplicity of the matter and the undo responsibility of being a representative poet. Does this simple stereotype fit every one? She uses his argument as a metaphor for societal situations to show their disgusting nature as well as the arguments. Jordan compares the police beating of Rodney King as an obvious classification or is it a representative one. She attacks the structure and simplicity of the argument. It simply makes no sense how can identity be summed up so simply “Of every people representative of people kept unequal on the planet.” The only obvious thing Jordan points out is her necessity to write the poem. This undue burned of being a representative simply because of not being white is a clearly an over stepping of the bound of Identity. As human individuals there is sanctity to our own borders. Jordan closes with a quote from Langston Hughes to emphasize the point that people are not “Obvious” or “Representative” but simply beautiful in so many respects.
Jordan uses all these situations mainly to discover herself. You can see all the defensive arguments a means of self-discovery. She is not a victim; she is a woman of character and bound by convictions. Covering the spectrum in self-discovery through politics, sexual provocation and societal roles. None of which can destroy a person’s identity. Jordan has created a world of personal boundaries and definitive reasons for personal sanctity. Identity cannot be forced upon a person to be worn like a Sunday dress to church. The consequences of such actions would be droves of automatons walking the nation with their lips sown shut and their hands at their sides.
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