Saturday, November 1, 2014

Poetry, Jack Johnson & Black Men Aliases

In his volume The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka has this poem "Alias" that includes various nicknames for heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, including "Yellow-streak nigger," "Texas Watermelon Picaninny," "Galveston Giant," and "The Big Ethiopian." Those names are not the creations of a contemporary poet, but instead they are taken directly from news articles on Johnson from the early 20th century.

At our public exhibit on The Big Smoke on Thursday, the attendees (all first-year black men who are reading Matejka's volume) responded to a series of prompts. On the one hand, they offered positive aliases for black men. On the other hand, they offered negative aliases for black men. They wrote the aliases on Post-It notes and placed the notes on panels in the exhibit.

The positive aliases for black men:
Educator. Champion. Father. Leader. Dr. Leader. Gentleman. Brother. Mentor. Intelligent. Revolutionary. Boss. Provider. Professor/Teacher. Role Model. Scholar. Friend.
The negative aliases for black men:
Deadbeat. Gorilla. Nigger. Jungle Bunny. Animal. Ignorant. Boy. Coon. Monkey. Roach. Drop-out. Tar baby. Slave. Cotton picker. Dog. Shadows. Sell out.
Aliases merged:
Educator. Deadbeat. Champion. Gorilla. Father. Jungle Bunny. Leader. Animal. Dr. Ignorant. Leader. Boy. Gentleman. Coon. Brother. Monkey. Mentor. Roach. Intelligent. Drop-out. Revolutionary. Tar baby. Boss. Slave. Provider. Cotton Picker. Professor/Teacher. Dog. Role Model. Shadows. Friend. Sell out. Scholar.

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