Spoken word performances are not only entertaining, intriguing, and educational, but they also provide a safe space for people of various backgrounds and walks of life. Topics range from disability and mental illness to sexual orientation, grief, body image, and racial identity. A key factor for performances is connecting emotionally with an audience, and oftentimes a performer will make themselves vulnerable to complete strangers. Levying their performer’s stance, they go at their topic with full heart and soul.
I enjoy watching and performing slam poetry. Not only can I relate to a poet or learn something new from a poet, but when I perform my work, others can either relate to me or learn about parts of my identity. It provides such a release for me, because there’s a lot more pressure in acting as myself instead of acting as someone else.
Take a look at these seven amazing pieces, not placed in any particular order, that debunk the racial stereotypes we have come to know (and hate):
1. “Spanish Spies” by Hayley Mandel & Jonathan Mendoza
“Latin music being represented by Pitbull, is like American music being represented by Ke$ha.”
First off, if you’re not in love with Hayley Mandel’s voice…why not? Do you not hear that rumble and power? What’s great about this piece is how the performers are willing to call out the people who say offensive things about the Latinx community. Hayley Mandel was adopted by a Puerto Rican family, and Jonathan Mendoza has Mexican and Russian descent, so people assume that they can’t identify with Latinx culture. Why do you think they call themselves Spanish Spies?
2. “Ask a Black Dude” by Gabriel Green
“There isn’t some magical chromosome in Lebron James that makes him genetically prone to run faster or jump higher than everyone else.”
Gabriel Green is able to touch on the most well known questions black people may get in their lifetime as humorously and intriguingly as he knows how to. Getting straight to the point and using metaphors people can understand, this performance stands out from the typical list and question poems. Moreover, formatting it as if it’s an infomercial embodies how it feels to endure the oddest interrogations about your racial identity.
3. “Trailer” by Hazem Fahmy
“This one stars one of contemporary Hollywood’s favored antagonists…Arabs.”
Okay…okay. This dude goes in. Touching on the standardized plots of films such as American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, and freaking Aladdin, Hazem Fahmy explains the flaws of Hollywood in relation to its false portrayal of Arabs. It’s no secret that the Hollywood film industry has long perpetuated stereotypes of the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) region…because where do most people receive their juice for Islamophobia? Media and films.
4. “The Average Black Girl” by Ernestine Johnson
“No matter how good they straighten their hair, their good is just not good enough.”
There are so many wrongful perceptions of black women in society today: that they don’t try hard enough to advance, that they’re “sassy” and “unintelligent” – the list goes on. Saying things like “oh, you’re not like those black girls,” (which is something I hear a lot), only works to perpetuate the aforementioned stereotypes. It is not only annoying to hear these same unwanted phrases over and over again, it’s exhausting too, and it needs to stop. Johnson takes all these stereotypes and absolutely crushes them. If this is your first time listening to her work, oh, you have seen nothing yet, my friend.
5. “What Kind of Asian Are You?” by Alex Dang
“Let me tell you about being so marginalized it’s to the point where I can’t believe that’s Asian.”
As he points out how problematic everyone’s favorite stereotypes about Asian culture are, Alex Dang also tells us what people don’t want to talk about when it comes to the marginalization of Asian-Americans. He explains where the offensive terms “chink” and “zipperhead” comes from, and stresses the importance of thinking of Asians with a pluralistic mindset. He explains to the audience that placing all Asians into one group, we’re only perpetuating their oppression, as well as common stereotypes.
6. “Wild Stallion (Hair)” by Adriana Ramirez
“Geez Adri, it’s just a joke, can’t you take a joke? Don’t you know horses are beautiful? It’s just admiration, right?”
This fierce poet, Adriana Ramirez, is another artist who is able to clearly define what’s a compliment and what isn’t. Exoticizing mixed race women, Native women, and Mexican women for their hair is not a compliment, especially if you’re comparing them to animals. How would white women feel if their hair was compared to that of a golden retriever, or another animal? It wouldn’t be taken so well, would it?
7. “Da Rules” by Marvin Hodges, Em Allison, & Saidu Tejan-Thomas
“Don’t have objects, like squares or rectangles in your pockets.”
I can’t get enough of this satirical poem. These three poets list all of the rules that black people should follow to not be a stereotype or a statistic, yet also follow the mold of what the majority expects of them in regards to not truly succeeding or not speaking up for themselves. It is well structured, thought-provoking, and emphasizes how black identity is still a double edged sword.