Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Thoughts on ‘A Poem About My Rights’ by June Jordan

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I’m sure everyone else has had the same or similar thoughts on this poem, but as we were watching the documentary in class and Ms. Jordan was reading ‘A Poem About My Rights’ all I could think of was how well this work highlighted the issues of not only oppression based on gender/sexuality but on oppression based on race. In short, I thought it an excellent example of a lived experience of the issues of intersectionality we have been discussing. Not to mention it is very well-written and hard-hitting.

As a woman (though men are obviously assaulted as well, albeit at lower instances) I definitely relate to her speaking about rape and how people try to force technicalities onto and into the subject to imply that perhaps it did not really happen or that the victim did not do everything he or she could to stop their attacker. Rape culture is still alive and well in our culture and as an assault victim it is something I have encountered far more than I would like to admit if ever my assault becomes part of a discussion. Victim-blaming and sexual violence are something I am personally acquainted with, but race-discrimination is not. This poem helped me better understand the experiences of a black woman simply trying to live her life and being subjected to twice the uncertainty and fear of attack, and it was especially jarring to me when Ms. Jordan mentioned that her father mourned that she was not a boy, and that her hair was not straight and her skin was not light. To face that sort of discrimination from within one’s own family is awful to think about, and she brings those feelings to the fore with her repetition of all the ‘wrong’ things that she seems to be. In my Race and Racism FYS we watched a documentary in which young girls of color were interviewed and showed ‘black’ and ‘white’ dolls and asked various questions about them. Which doll is bad? Which doll is pretty? Which doll is good? Which doll is ugly? Many of these girls said that the black dolls were bad and ugly, and that the white dolls were good and pretty. For me thinking about that documentary helped connect with what Ms. Jordan was saying her father told her. I feel her poem is extremely effective in getting across these ideas of internalized racism (also made me think of Yamato’s piece) and the problems of intersectional oppression coming from multiple sources and even from those whom she should be able to trust: her own relatives.

This poem moved me, and this particular line especially, in a sort of seeming acceptance of herself:

I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name.

Her strength to say that after recounting what her father and society told her all her life basically made me cry, and I’m going to be quiet now but just know that I am so glad I discovered her work.

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