Social Justice Poetry

social change poems

Late in the Game | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

Envy is the boulder
That blocks the road
To contentment
It is the jealousy
That harbors hate
It is the unforgiveness
That looks up and down
Finding no approval
Embracing prejudice
Shuffling the cards
In a way
That deals others out
Defines we and they
So narrowly
So definitely
That stereotypes
Become laws
When even a flood
Of love
Is damned by spite
I learned my bile
With the soak
In the hate sauce
Of the South
But having lived
Through so many rains
Having been washed
By tolerance and education
Having been forgiven
For slights
By better people than me
I have grown
To be ashamed
Of the small person
I was
But still know
There is still
Room to grow

Breaking the Mold, Snipping the Wires | A Social Justice Poem by Holli Homan

As we sit atop the mountain of the privileges we hold,
Coasting through our lives by the colors of our skin,
We live the day to day by carefully fitting into molds,
Our identities are crafted by the powerful akin.

We question all we hear on its exact validity,
If it wasn’t wired similarly it must be simply wrong,
We based all that we knew on our ethnocentricity,
No wonder unlearning oppressive ways takes so very long.

Our defenses come alive when we question all we’ve ever known,
They must be wrong if they question our know-ability,
We’ve never experienced oppression in the entire life we’ve sewn,
On all accounts this process tempts our white fragility.

Yet we fit the preferred molds on so many different planes,
We never before questioned what was held to be true,
Our privileged intersectionality served to influence our gains,
Blinded assimilation is all we ever knew.

That is until we learned how assimilation came to be,
Through cultural and ethnic genocide on this very land,
Our ancestors attempted to force our native brethren to their knee,
Telling them if they aren’t White they aren’t considered Man.

We learn that through our privileged lives we needn’t our own minds,
We regurgitate the rhetoric that flows within our wiring,
Our comfort zones work to place our inner-molds into binds,
Because fighting normative culture can prove to be quite tiring.

So we became complacent in the mold we were given at birth,
Sexism, Racism, Classism, Ageism we saw as extremist myths,
Yet wherever we fit on those spectrums somehow influenced our worth,
They have the power to lower us down or serve as effective lifts.

We’re learning more and more about how our breeding served to be,
A factory-like mode to perpetuate systems of oppression,
Our social consciousness helps us to fine-tune our clarity,
And helps us combat normative culture – of ourselves we gain possession.

Our implicit bias to this day tends to lineate with dominant culture,
We associated non-Christians, Non-whites and the like with stereotypes and stigma.
The more we learn the more we start to clearly see the future,
Social consciousness helps to demystify privilege’s enigma.

The mask that used to bare our face begins to crack and fall,
We see the world through a lens of vivid cynicism,
We see social change moving at the pace of a crawl,
We start to fully understand the meaning of each “ism.”

Where clouds loom over plains that we used to naively see as sunny,
Our entire world flips upside down and we clearly see inequity,
Where power is given to those with substantial sums of money
Despite our social disposition we view Capitalism as a malady.

The settler colonialist structure in which our society is built,
Helps to build the systems of oppression that we see,
It’s unhelpful to be overcome with circumstantial guilt,
Because that only shifts the focal point back from you to me.

So how do we shift the perception that women are property of men?
How do we end the objectification and hyper-sexualization?
Standing with our feminists of color now – though we didn’t then,
We hope solidarity will shift the power and create an equal nation.

How do we end mass-incarceration – which serves as the new Jim Crow?
Where prisons serve to embody the themes of Capitalism and Militarism,
Enslavement still continues despite all the injustices we know,
Resembling practices and procedures found in states of fascism.

How do we work to combat injustices our brethren of color experience?
We must continue to work towards desegregation to create long-needed equity,
We must educate so we can break down the metaphoric fearful-fence
Who knows – racial equality could be our generation’s destiny!

The more questions that we ask the quicker our mask falls to the floor,
The mold we once fit into now is miles out of reach,
As social consciousness rises it’s our choice to walk through the door,
While it’s important that we learn it’s just as crucial that we teach.

As social justice warriors, anti-oppressive we try to be,
At the end of the day all we need to do is try.
So as we learn we start to take accountability,
Then the realization finally comes that “we” is really “I.”

Imperfect Storm Ends in a Rainbow | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

In 1958 Elmer’s was the only high school in his county that had been integrated. Basketball was the big sport. People in the little town filled the gym every Tuesday and Friday. They roared when the home team scored and they booed when the visiting team fouled one of their players. But before and after every game the town was rife with racial tension.

Some folks were neutral about integration, figuring its time had come. Others were adamantly opposed. Hard to say, even in retrospect, if anyone, black or white, was in favor of it. If someone thought it was a good idea, no one said anything. But at every basketball game, people got along, whatever their color. Points mattered and wins mattered. And in 1958 this small school had a very good team. Some might say the team was good in part because of integration.

In fact, the school had its first team ever with a realistic hope of going to the state tournament. And when the team did, there was even more hoopla among the people of the town.

To this day many people believe that if their star player had not torn his knee in the first game, the team might have gone deep in the tournament.

The local newspaper said the team was good enough to win it, which helped, of course, to sell a lot of papers. Even though the team didn’t win the championship, the effort brought the town together. The racial talk largely subsided and hasn’t risen since except out of the mouths of a few who are upset about other things as well.

Change of any kind bothers people, some more than others.

But at every reunion of the class of 1958, that team dominates the conversation. And no one knows that better than Elmer.

It doesn’t matter now that racial strife in 1958 kept Elmer and his classmates from taking a senior trip. They’re over that and the ones who are still alive simply enjoy getting together at the Elk’s Club Lodge and reminiscing about the good times while feasting on fine food. They talk about their lives, the classmates who have died and, of course, their team.

It doesn’t matter either that every teacher they had back then passed away long ago, teachers they remember fondly and teachers they remember not so fondly. They know those teachers made a difference in their lives and they appreciate them now far more than they did back then.

It doesn’t even matter that the building where they went to school no longer stands or that their school system long ago was absorbed by a larger system. But everyone in their town and surrounding towns remembers the name of their school because of its being the first to be integrated and because of its basketball team in 1958.

Because of that team, Elmer and his classmates, black and white, never lack for conversation at a reunion.

Just ask the black guy, the tallest one in the room, what might have happened if he had not hurt his knee in that game. Elmer will be happy to tell you he and all his classmates think their team would have won that championship, the only team in the tournament that year with a black kid playing, grabbing rebounds and just before he hurt his knee executing a monster dunk not often seen back then.

Elmer doesn’t have problems with his knee now. A surgeon in another town operated on him in 1958 and the town held three barbecues that summer to pay for the operation.

Elmer received a scholarship to a good university and starred on the team for three years. Then he went to dental school. And just a few years back he retired from his dental practice in his home town. He had more white patients than black because more white folks live there.

Now just about everybody in town gets along despite the big change in 1958. Sometimes people are better off in the long run whether they like change when it happens or not.

Elmer will be the first to tell you he’s not the only one who
benefited from integration. His town, his school, his team and his
patients for 40 years benefited as well. They were all part of an
imperfect storm that ended in a rainbow.

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