As I read Gwendolyn Brooks’ “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon,” I had little context of what the poem was about, but as I reached the fifth paragraph my stomach dropped to my feet the way it had when my older cousin showed me an image of a badly beaten boy she was doing a school project on laying in his casket. That boy was, of course, Emmett Till, and his story would become something of a horror story told to young black kids by their older relatives because history classes would rarely tell the true story, if they told it at all. It was a tale, then, that I knew all too well, or at least I thought I did. I kept reading and struggled to grasp on to the perspective Brooks spoke from, then it dawned on me: it was the white woman Till had dared to speak to, whose husband and brother-in-law took his life. Admittedly, it was a perspective I had never even considered exploring, one that I could not manage to relate human emotions and thoughts to. I thought of her, her husband, his brother and every white person they had every even known as monsters who deserved not a single ounce of the humanity they had stolen from that eternally 14-year-old, black boy. And yet, Brooks rarely even touched on the color of this woman’s skin as she described the suppressed feelings of guilt and shame she could only imagine this woman had felt. This woman was simply a mother, a wife. Truthfully, I care little about how her own actions plagued this woman’s life after they caused a child to be brutally beaten to death, but Brooks’ writing gave insight into a system of patriarchy and power that that woman would have fallen victim to time and time again until she made someone else, someone even more innocent, its victim.
Then, I read Brooks’ poem “White Girls are Peculiar People” and it brought me back to my all-girls private middle school, where my one continuous thought tended to be “white girls are peculiar people.”
I was one of six black girls in my whole class, and coming from a mostly black school I had never before been subjected to the mysterious world of white girls. Everything about them puzzled me, the way the spoke, the music they listened to, their clothes, it was all foreign to me. The one thing that would plague me and cause endless insecurities was the way their ponytails would swing back and forth as I walked behind them in the halls. My hair was too thick, even with the relaxer I had put in it to straighten (and destroy) it, to ever swing back and forth like theirs would. I would strain to try and make it swing on my own but that would just give me a crick in my neck. Although I still think white girls are peculiar, I now proudly wear my hair in an afro that reaches for the sky and ain’t gone move for nobody.
(Jourdan Walker/ Student)