Self: Using Race As A Term Paper

Length: 8 pages Sources: 6 Subject: Literature Type: Term Paper Paper: #91777207 Related Topics: Antebellum America, Self Reflection, The Bluest Eye, Self Identity
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Smith may dislike the stereotype, but she cannot help internalizing it. She feels unfinished because she is regarded as unfinished, and even members of her community urge her to straighten her hair. This is completely different from the joyous, affirmative sigh "I am complete" at the end of Morales' poem. Just as Morales admits that all experiences with racism and discrimination are different, Smith's poem demonstrates how African-American women frequently lack assurance of their sense of self and that their physical qualities are regarded as alien to what is considered 'good' and 'American.' (The young Smith's wearing white to cover up one's tallness seems an attempt to mask blackness and presumed 'badness' with clothing). Morales' instability of identity lies in multiplicity of national cultures, but Smith, even as a young, black girl, but carefully balance her sense as an American and African-American with even greater care and psychological discomfort that Morales. This is not immediately obvious, which is why the title of the poet suggests that Smith is instructing the white reader, rather than merely stating a list of external identities possessed by the poet like Morales.

The extent to African-Americans as 'other' is hard-wired within American culture is revealed in Smith's stress upon her youth in her poem. Unlike Morales, her poem begins with the poet is a literal child, not a figurative child of the Americas, when her socialization into black female sexuality begins. The poem begins in lowercase, as if written in the voice of her nine-year-old self. The commonplace rituals of black girlhood, like getting one's hair straightened are revealed as negative socialization techniques to make the author mistrust her inherent beauty as a black woman. The sense of not being 'okay' and not being accepted is reinforced by the child's own community. Although Morales in her interview speaks of the tensions of being both Jewish and Puerto Rican, Latina and American, the struggle is far more visceral in Smith's poem as she portrays her hair being straightened with harsh, white chemicals, echoing the experiences of many black women: "Even though I could tell from the way my grandma touched my scalp / she loved me / what she was lettin' me know / maybe god didn't love me & my brown krinkly short head of hair was a mark / lettin' the whole world know / god is not on this chile's side" (Sekyai 2003:1). A black woman may be regarded as sexual by the dominant cultural norms, but never as beautiful: "African-American women are not seen as the archetypal symbol of womanhood, as is the case for White American women. Notions of womanhood in the United States inevitably include standards of beauty" that are difficult for white women to attain but are literally impossible for black women to aspire to emulate (Sekyai 2003:1).

In Smith's poem, still speaking in the voice of a 'black girl' acquiring sexuality is seen as a negative, rather than positive transition, a disturbance, rather than a positive act of growth, rather than Morales' voluptuous celebration of hips and garlic in her sense of herself as a Latina. For Smith, becoming a black woman:

It's finding a space between your legs, a disturbance at your chest, and not knowing what to do with the whistles, it's jumping double dutch until your legs pop, it's sweat and Vaseline and bullets, it's growing tall and wearing a lot of white, it's smelling blood in your
"Of skin tone, hair texture, and body type, the color of one's skin is the least easily altered," which black women like Smith must grapple with on a daily basis (Sekyai 2003:1). Even after longing for blue eyes and
suffering for straight hair, Smith knows she never quite measures up, not even in the eyes of her own community or in the eyes of African-American males. This sense of inferiority eats away at the soul. There are some positive examples of the black female body in the Smith poem, such as jumping double dutch. But the carefree images of childhood play are immediately undercut with images of young black girls being forced to wear white and dodging bullets.

Smith's poem does not end on a positive, upbeat note like Morales' work. But that does not necessarily mean that her poem is depressing. Rather, through the act of speaking, her poem is an affirmative action of the right of the poet, as a black woman, to express her pain by critiquing the dominant ways both black and white society offer her as a means of self-expression. Both poems, through their catalogued lists of identity in the case of Morales, and Smith's list of self-defining experiences of black girlhood attempt to instruct the reader how to see the poet's identity in a more complex manner, beyond categories and stereotypes.


Bolano, Roberto. (2000). Literature and Exile. The Nation. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Daniels, Lenore Jean. (2009). What is the image of black women today? Philly IMC.

Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Doughty, Julia. (1995). Testimonies of survival: Notes from an interview with Aurora Levins

Morales. Standards 5.1. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Miguela, Antonia Dominguez. (2011). Aurora Levins. University of Huelva, Spain

Morales. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Sekayi, Dia. (2001). Aesthetic resistance to commercial influences: The impact of the Eurocentric beauty standard on black college women. The Journal of Negro Education. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

The Bluest Eye. (2008). Reading Discussion Questions. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Sources Used in Documents:


Bolano, Roberto. (2000). Literature and Exile. The Nation. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Daniels, Lenore Jean. (2009). What is the image of black women today? Philly IMC.

Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Doughty, Julia. (1995). Testimonies of survival: Notes from an interview with Aurora Levins

Cite this Document:

"Self Using Race As A" (2011, August 09) Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

"Self Using Race As A" 09 August 2011. Web.26 September. 2021. <>

"Self Using Race As A", 09 August 2011, Accessed.26 September. 2021,

Related Documents
Race Critical Theory Race Critical
Words: 1035 Length: 3 Pages Topic: Race Paper #: 38389166

While that line of thinking is seductive, because it suggests an easy solution for complex problems, like racism; West believes that the real solutions will require people to question their own fundamental assumptions about power and its relationship to racism. Specifically, West talks about how racism is inherently linked to classification, and, in fact, that "the genealogy of racism in the modern West is inseparable from the appearance of

Race Social and Political Contexts
Words: 1431 Length: 5 Pages Topic: Race Paper #: 796053

Whites generally were associated with roles including plantation overseers and supervisors or small proprietors; free non-whites generally suffered from circumscribed social and political abilities prior to the revolution (Knight, 2005). While their wealth and education may place them about smaller merchants and proprietors in the white class, they were still not held to the highest castes or ranks. Slaves were often distinguished as property and subject to coercion and

Race Class Gender and Power
Words: 995 Length: 3 Pages Topic: Gender and Sexuality Paper #: 11948958

Pecola Breedlove's experiences in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye symbolize the internalization of sexism and racism. On the contrary, Anita Hill's willingness to stand up and speak out against a powerful male official represents the externalization of sexism and racism. Anita Hill lacks the self-hatred embodied by the character of Pecola, but in spite of her confidence and poise, lacks the power or wherewithal to undermine institutionalized sexism. Although Hill

Compare and Contrast Essentialist Articulation of Race and Instrumentalist...
Words: 1562 Length: 5 Pages Topic: Race Paper #: 32902659

Race continues to play a role in American culture and policy in the 21st century. Average incomes in the United States are demonstrably dissimilar, affirmative action policies allow campuses to use race as a determining factor when creating student bodies, and race continues to define media and culture to a significant degree. To some extent, these factors should escape our criticism, as it can't be considered desirable for all people

Race and Racism in the
Words: 1249 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Race Paper #: 40048270

3. According to Yosso, "Vincent Tinto's Stages of Passage" model argues that students engage in three processes early on in college: separation, transition and incorporation. However, in the Esmeralda section of Yosso's book, where Esmeralda narrates the story, one discovers that this is really just a specific formulation of stages geared to focus on the experiences of white students and doesn't at all encapsulate the very unique and very distinct experience

Race and Cultural Minorities
Words: 2053 Length: 6 Pages Topic: Race Paper #: 43047201

Race and Cultural Minorities Two centuries ago, Washington and Dubois debated the concept of race, a social construct based on an imagined demarcation that separated one group of human beings from another. Even then, the nuanced paradox of falsehoods and importance were at play; what seemed like a clear difference between some skin colors and ethnic groups was muddied in others, and the socio-cultural ends met by nominal means were indisputable.