Black history month always prompts me to reflect on the history that is responsible for my position in society. I strive to understand what it is that we are still seeking as African Americans and, moreover, how one goes about discovering the self in the midst of it all. However, this year I was privy to how often African Americans are misunderstood. In American society the position of the African American individual is complex, and many are so far removed from black history, that the struggles African American’s face are often mind reeling for those on the margins of our culture. In 1968 poet and activist, Nikki Giovanni, was one writer who understood this, as is apparent in her poem “For Saundra”. Faced with the failure of the new frontier proposed by then president John F. Kennedy, coupled with the uproar over segregation ending, writers like Giovanni were faced with the task of using their voices in order to fight against the injustices in America.
In the second stanza of “For Saundra” we get a glimpse of these injustices and how they were affecting the black community. The speaker tells us she is asked by a white woman, “do you ever write/ tree poems -” (ll. 8-9). The question is a simple one, but captures the disconnection between black culture and that of white individuals. Our speaker is showing us here that serious works by artists such as Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes, were deemed excessive and unnecessary when one could simply write about beautiful things such as nature. As Giovanni shows later in the poem, however, it is hard to write about the beauty one does not have the privilege to enjoy. The speaker states:
“… I like trees
so I thought I’ll write a beautiful green tree poem
Peeked from my window
To check the image
Notices the school yard was covered
As is shown in this stanza, there are two different worlds at work — one of which is underdeveloped. This inequality highlighted by Giovanni is an issue still present today, and is one we are all facing. So, as we continue to develop our America, I urge those who do not quite understand the black community and its deprivations to look towards literature, in order to understand the progression of the black fight within America. We too want to write about trees, but first we must seek equality.
— Andrea Rodriguez, Blogger.
Andrea Rodriguez is a senior at Lewis University. Prior to attending Lewis, she completed her associates at the College of DuPage. Rodriguez is studying English Literature in order to pursue a career as an academic librarian. As for her interests, Andrea loves spending time with her family, being in nature, taking care of her plants, writing, cooking, and traveling when she can. Andrea also enjoys exploring unique writing styles. Some of her favorite pieces include The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. In addition to being a fiction/poetry editor for Jet Fuel Review, Rodriguez is the editor-in-chief of Lewis Voices, and the administrative director for Sigma Tau Delta, of which she is also a member.