JIM CROW: THE SEQUEL
We didn't always need affirmative action
When we broke this crazy land into farms
when we planted and harvested the crops
when we dug into the earth for water
when we carried that water into the
big house kitchens and bedrooms
when we built that big house
when we fed and clothed other people's
children with food we cooked and
served to other people's children, wearing
the garments that we fitted and we sewed
together, when we hacked and hauled
huge trees for lumber and fuel, when we
washed and polished the chandeliers,
when we bleached and pressed the linens
purchased by blood profits from our daily
forced laborings, when we lived under the
whip and in between the coffle and chains,
when we watched our babies sold away
from us, when we lost our men to
anybody's highest bidder, when slavery
defined our days and our prayers and our
nighttimes of no rest--then we did not
need affirmative action.
Like two-legged livestock we cost the
bossman three hundred and fifteen dollars
or six hundred and seventy-five dollars
so he provided for our keep
like two-legged livestock
penned into the parched periphery of very
grand plantation life. We did not need
affirmative action. NO! We needed
freedom: We needed overthrow,
revolution and a holy fire to purify the air.
But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.
And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.
Justice don't mean nothin' to a
And so we needed affirmative action. We
needed a way into the big house
besides the back door. We needed a chance at
the classroom and jobs and open housing
in okay neighborhoods.
We needed a way around the hateful hearts of
America. We needed more than freedom
because a piece of paper ain't the
same as opportunity
And some thirty years ago we agitated
and we agitated until the President said,
not just equality
as a right and a theory
but equality as a fact
and as a result."
And a great rejoicing rose like a spirit
fresh and happy on the soon-to-be-the-
integrated-and-most-uppity ballroom floor
of these United
And Black folks everywhere dressed up in
From the littlest to the elders
we shined our shoes and brushed our hair
and got good and ready for
"equality as a fact." But
three decades later, and come to find out
we never got invited to the party
we never got included in "the people"
we never got no kind of affirmative action
worth more than a spit in the wind.
the new man
in the White House/
the new President declared,"What we have
done for women and minorities is a good
thing, but we must respond to those who
feel discriminated against...This is a
psychologically difficult time for the
so-called angry White man."
Well I am here to tell the world that
46 percent of my children living in poverty
does not feel good to me
and my brothers in prison and not in college
does not feel good to me
Catch that angry White man and tell him
"Get a grip!"
Forty-six percent of the American labor
force is constituted by White men but White
men occupy 95 percent of all senior
And as a wise Black man
"This supposedly beleaguered minority
(White males are about one-third of the
population) makes up 80 percent of the
Congress, four-fifths of tenured university
faculty, nine-tenths of the Senate
and 92 percent of the Forbes 400."
Tell me who's angry!
I say the problem with affirmative action
seems to me like way too much affirmative
talk and way too little action!
And unless you happen to belong to that
infinitesimal club of millionaire Black folks
got one hundred and eight thousand dollars
to throw into the campaign pot of their
nearest and dearest
full-time political racist,
I think you better join with me to agitate
and agitate for justice and
equality we can eat
and pay the rent with
[© 2000. Reprinted by permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate.]
1977: POEM FOR MRS. FANNIE LOU HAMER
And failed to stop you.
Only God could but He
fortress from self-
Humble as a woman anywhere
I remember finding you inside the laundromat
lion spine relaxed/hell
what's the point to courage
when you washin clothes?
But that took courage
just to sit there/target
to the killers lookin
for your singin face
perspirey through the rinse
you stood mighty in the door on James Street
"BULLETS OR NO BULLETS!
THE FOOD IS COOKED
AN' GETTIN COLD!"
A family tremulous but fortified
like the lilies
filled to the very living
one solid gospel
one full Black lily
in a homemade field
[from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan 2005]
All poems copyright © June Jordan, all rights reserved.