Social Justice Poetry

systemic racism poems

On an Accumulation of Small Observations | A Social Justice Poem by Cate Gable

For Neil

Culture, the water we swim in, and some version
of the future aggregated by clues—that brand name
on a shirt, straight white teeth, an iPhone versus flip—
keeps us in place, as the children lining up for school
in Kanazawa knew just where they stood,
who was above/below. Ijeoma Uluo, whose name
is melody, spoke about race as we wriggled in our seats.
Of course we want to do what’s right, what’s fair
yet our privilege separates. Being white
how do we feel each slight, each wound to Blacks
more murderous than the last? We’re wrong, we’re
rich, we’re deaf to deafness, blind to blindness,
trapped. Let the oceans inundate, let flies
suck at our lips, and I will know to take
your hand, fall down beside you in prayer.

What They Are | A Social Justice Poem by Guy Farmer

They want all the benefits
But don’t want to share them,
Especially with the brown
People they sneer at when
In the safety of their own
Enclaves, surrounded by members
Of their exclusionary clans.
None of this is new,
People like this have always
Reveled in power and dominance,
Accustomed to reaping all
The rewards while depriving
Others of basic necessities,
And pretending to be victims
When outed for what they are.

A Tribute to Richard Collins III | A Social Justice Poem by Marcelius Braxton

Why is it that we must justify our humanity to you—even in death?
No, not death, murder.
Isn’t it bad enough to be stabbed by a white supremacist who hates me for my melanin?
Does it matter if I served my country or served in the penitentiary?
Not when I was just minding my business, waiting for an Uber to take me home after a long night.
But it matters for some—And I wonder why.
Can’t it be enough that I’m a person?
Or must I be exceptional to not deserve to be butchered in the street?

And the worst thing? The trickle-down effect.
No, I’m not talking Reaganomics, but he did play his role in the stigma
That a black man is dangerous—that one drug equals criminal
While the other equals treatment.
Why must someone be white to get sympathy?
I digress, for now.

The pain trickles down, for little black boys and little black girls.
And let us be honest, it’s not just the little ones.
We are strong; we are built strong, with the resolve of our ancestors,
Who took beatings,
And inhumanity.
Yet, still they showed us that black is so powerful, so beautiful, and so unique.

And, in the irony and contradiction that is truly encompassed in the American Dream,
Teenage white kids, whose ancestors lynched us,
Beat us in the street,
And poured milkshakes over our heads,
Now imitate our walk and our talk,
And they want to be us…without really wanting to be us.

But in the end, how strong can we (do we) always have to be?

Self-doubt trickles down,
And even within our refuge of pride and self-worth,
There is bound to be a crack or two.
And the doubt of whether we deserve to live or exist seeps in
Because the whole world is telling us that our existence
Is conditional.
We talk to white kids about their mental health.
We tell them they deserve a second (and third and fourth and fifth) chance at life
Because they are so ingrained with this belief that the world is theirs for the taking.
Meanwhile, black boys and girls toil over whether they are even meant for the world.

Could it be that we are destroying these little boys and girls
Before the stabbings, the police shootings,
The choking,
And the traffic stops that result in our deaths?

Could it be that the problem is a society that tells little black boys and little black girls
That they are completely meaningless—
Unless they are perfect?

I’ll consult the court system that gives slaps on the wrist to the affluent lighter shades
While the darker shades serve long sentences
For the same offense.

So, in our desperation,
We acquiesce.
And we preempt you
By telling you that we aren’t criminals, thugs, or drug dealers.
We tell you that we serve our country and that we graduated from school.

But does my degree make me worthy?
Am I safe if I show you my non-existent criminal record
Or even my law degree?

Or could I still be murdered in the street,
And have naysayers reply with suspicion?

Even in death, we are America’s suspect.

And, by the way, just so you know,
I am not a thug.

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Criminal Injustice – A Tribute to Kalief Browder | A Social Justice Poem by Leah Monde

They stopped me
Turned me around and pat me down, hands on the hood of the car
Thick, menacing hands. Baton in between my legs
They told me to come with them and then I could go home.
I never went home that day.
Interrogation. Small cement stuffy room
Several men yelling. Spit in my face.
I didn’t do anything!
I don’t know!
I’m innocent!
Then came the third step in breaking me down, the strip search, the uniform
Dry, lonely cells.
Where is my Mom?
What’s going to happen?
Scared out of my mind.
These peers don’t even have my back.
It’s all about the Bloods, the Latin Kings
All this rage
Shouldn’t we be on the same team?
They told me that I could have gotten out on bail
Avoided the hellhole.
But my Mama makes minimum wage
And couldn’t afford the $3000 bail
So I rot in that hell for 33 months
Almost two years of which in the hole
The Shu
I was never a bad kid, just did my best tried my hardest
But their hatred drove me to hate myself
Rage turned inward
I even told them I wanted to end my life and all I got in return was a slap in the goddamned face.
No mental health care
Five times I tried to end my life
Then one day, unexplainably I was set free.
Charges dropped
No apologies for the trauma, the wasted years.
Simply kicked to the curb in Queens with a one-way metro card.
I thought it would be better when I was home but it turned out to be worse on another level.
So isolated, existing in a haze.
Criminal record – no one takes you seriously. What is a man to do?
What is a man to do?
You failed me.
I didn’t fail myself, I tried I stuck to my convictions.
And the world spit in my face.
I am sorry Mama, but I can’t take this pain anymore. Goodbye.