Below is a video of spoken word poet Patricia Smith performing her poem “Skinhead.”
Watch it; watch it many times. At the bottom of this page, you’ll find the poem written out in its entirety (CC on Youtube botches the words, so be sure to also read the poem). You’ll notice Parker in her reading changes the words a little here and there from the written version, but this happens with spoken word: the poem is memorized, so she adjusts as she performs it over the years.)
Now, write 300 words answering this question and defending your answer:
Is this a piece of literature? Why or why not?
Note that there is no right or wrong answer. You are making a clear yes or no argument. Now that you’ve taken this class, you should be able to give an academically defensible definition of what literature is. Then show how this piece fulfills (or doesn’t fulfill) that definition.
You are NOT ALLOWED to use outside sources beyond the video and poem itself. I want to hear YOUR ideas only and YOUR interpretation of the text. Think for yourself.
To be fair, I offer some context for the international students in the class: a “skinhead” is a white racist (neo-Nazi) who shaves his head clean. In the skinhead’s view, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant straight males like themselves are victims. The forces working against them are the US government, Muslims, Jews, gays, undocumented immigrants, Catholics, and other groups. Really, that is all anyone needs to know to understand the poem and what the poet is up to.
link to the video:
“Skinhead” by Patricia Smith
They call me skinhead, and I got my own beauty.
It is knife-scrawled across my back in sore, jagged letters,
it’s in the way my eyes snap away from the obvious.
I sit in my dim matchbox,
on the edge of a bed tousled with my ragged smell,
slide razors across my hair,
count how many ways
I can bring blood closer to the surface of my skin.
These are the duties of the righteous,
the ways of the anointed.
The face that moves in my mirror is huge and pockmarked,
scraped pink and brilliant, apple-cheeked,
I am filled with my own spit.
Two years ago, a machine that slices leather
sucked in my hand and held it,
whacking off three fingers at the root.
I didn’t feel nothing till I looked down
and saw one of them on the floor
next to my boot heel,
and I ain’t worked since then.
I sit here and watch niggers take over my TV set,
walking like kings up and down the sidewalks in my head,
walking like their fat black mamas named them freedom.
My shoulders tell me that ain’t right.
So I move out into the sun
where my beauty makes them lower their heads,
or into the night
with a lead pipe up my sleeve,
a razor tucked in my boot.
I was born to make things right.
It’s easy now to move my big body into shadows,
to move from a place where there was nothing
into the stark circle of a streetlight,
the pipe raised up high over my head.
It’s a kick to watch their eyes get big,
round and gleaming like cartoon jungle boys,
right in that second when they know
the pipe’s gonna come down, and I got this thing
I like to say, listen to this, I like to say
“Hey, nigger, Abe Lincoln’s been dead a long time.”
I get hard listening to their skin burst.
I was born to make things right.
Then this newspaper guy comes around,
seems I was a little sloppy kicking some fag’s ass
and he opened his hole and screamed about it.
This reporter finds me curled up in my bed,
those TV flashes licking my face clean.
Same ol’ shit.
Ain’t got no job, the coloreds and spics got ’em all.
Why ain’t I working? Look at my hand, asshole.
No, I ain’t part of no organized group,
I’m just a white boy who loves his race,
fighting for a pure country.
Sometimes it’s just me. Sometimes three. Sometimes 30.
AIDS will take care of the faggots,
then it’s gon’ be white on black in the streets.
Then there’ll be three million.
I tell him that.
So he writes it up
and I come off looking like some kind of freak,
like I’m Hitler himself. I ain’t that lucky,
but I got my own beauty.
It is in my steel-toed boots,
in the hard corners of my shaved head.
I look in the mirror and hold up my mangled hand,
only the baby finger left, sticking straight up,
I know it’s the wrong goddamned finger,
but fuck you all anyway.
I’m riding the top rung of the perfect race,
my face scraped pink and brilliant.
I’m your baby, America, your boy,
drunk on my own spit, I am goddamned fuckin’ beautiful.
And I was born