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Explication Of Poem For Black Boys

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Nikki Giovanni's "Poem for Black Boys" is a poignant literary work that addresses several issues concerning the young black male in America and the conflicting views taken by members of the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement with an inclination towards the peaceful movement perpetuated by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. and his non-violent contemporaries. Giovanni's use of allusion, imagery and the sardonic humor of the speaker blend effortlessly to denounce all of the negative connotation of the young African-American male and to sound the battle-cry to black male youths that while society-at-large may place them in a box, it is up to them to prove society wrong.

In "Poem for Black Boys," Giovanni uses allusion in two different ways; one to promote the non-violent movement and two, to show that the "by any means necessary" attitude adopted by the likes of H. Rap Brown and the Black Panther Party did nothing but further perpetuate the stereotype of the angry, drug-using, and violent black man. She alludes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the stanza containing the Monopoly metaphor and reference. When she writes "DO NOT SIT DO NOT FOLLOW KING/GO DIRECTLY TO STREETS," she is stating how following the non-violent movement of Dr. King was not what was wanted of blacks during that time. Following Dr. King and doing peaceful protests and sit-ins was not akin to the bestial image that could be conveyed when you had the likes of H. Rap Brown promoting violence and the "Burn Baby Burn" viewpoint.

What makes this piece so profound is the use of imagery, from the visual that is created when one tries to imagine "the big bad sheriff on his faggoty white horse" to the images of African-Americans playing "Back-to-Black/grow a natural and practice vandalism." Giovanni's literary work hits home because the images are so familiar. When she speaks of Indians and the sheriff/cowboy, it is identifiable. No one wants to be the Indian because they were portrayed as the villains, the sheriff was the hero but Giovanni sets the stage to explain why blacks are more like the Indians, because they too are made to be the villain. A perfect example of in the piece of how African-Americans are vilified comes at the end of the fourth stanza with the lines "grow a natural and practice vandalism/these are useful games (some say a skill even learned)." These two lines show how the black male, especially the young black male is viewed as nothing more than a thief skilled in the art of crime. Further evidence to the fact is found in the line "I'm told it has full instructions of how to siphon gas and fill a bottle," which is again alludes to H. Rap Brown, his cry of 'Burn Baby Burn' and the use of pipe bombs and the like to demand equality.

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