Recognizing Contemporary Leaders in Black History Danez Smith Highlights Racism, Sexism in American Culture

Screengrab via New York Times Danez writes poetry that speaks to multiple groups and the way they are treated in American culture.

Charlese Freeman

Student-Life Editor

“I’ve left Earth & I am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you. I’m giving the stars their right names. & this life, this new story & history you cannot steal or sell or cast overboard or hang or beat or drown or own or redline or shackle or silence or cheat or choke or cover-up or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or ruin”         

                    -Danez Smith

Celebrating black culture means honoring the voices of the past, but highlighting the voices of the present. 

Danez Smith has won multiple awards for its biting and bold poetry. As someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, the black community and is HIV positive living in America, Smith writes jarring lines that express the frustrations and circumstances that mimic the experiences of the known civil rights activists.

Like many other names that may be unfamiliar, Smith is sparking conversation in the topics of racism, police brutality, sexism, religion, homophobia, and blackness as a whole.

With black history month at hand, many are flooded with the popular names and faces – Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X., reducing the month to a redundant history lesson or memory game. The beauty of the month is being educated and using the knowledge to make a difference.

Smith has been called the contemporary Langston Hughes, a well-known poet during the Harlem Renaissance. However, Smith presents this rebellious poetry free of from. The physical appearance reinforces the message against social constraints.

While being compared to remodel such as Hughes is a compliment, Smith takes a more radical approach to their views of black life in America. Neither subtle nor timid with his language, Smith openly shares their views of sexual experiences as a homosexual and living with the HIV virus. 

Smith gives a voice to groups ignored and shines a light on the hypocrisy of American society.

Students share their views of icons associated with black history month:

“The first person that comes to mind initially is Martin Luther King Jr. When I was in school I don’t really remember covering Black History Month, but I always remember learning about him. We would always watch movies and read about him, discussing everything he did to lead the Civil Rights Movement and how he worked to keep the protests peaceful. I also think he’s most notable because almost everyone knows about him and what he did,” said Myia Warner, ESU junior.

As someone who identifies as white, Warner admits she’s never heard of Smith but is intrigued and wants to learn more.

Many students do not know the contemporary social and political heroes. Even black students who are familiar with the black history month celebration, only highlight the notable civil rights leaders:

“The first person that comes to mind is MLK,” said junior, Kristina Blake. 

While it is important to remember and celebrate leaders from the past. There are icons like Smith making a change today.

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