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Thursday, July 14, 2016

"White Boy Privilege" -- 14-Year-Old Royce Mann's Incredible Slam Poem

 

A young boy takes the stage. In a shaky voice, he says, "My name is Royce. My poem is titled, 'White Boy Privilege.'" He begins ...

White Boy Privilege
 
Dear women, I'm sorry.

Dear black people, I'm sorry.

Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who come here seeking a better life, I'm sorry.

Dear everyone who isn't a middle or upper-class white boy, I'm sorry.

I have started life in the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.

I say now that I would change places with you in an instant, but if given the opportunity, would I?

Probably not.

Because to be honest, being privileged is awesome. I'm not saying that you and me on different rungs of the ladder is how I want it to stay.

I'm not saying that any part of me has for a moment even liked it that way.

I'm just saying that I f------ love being privileged and I'm not ready to give that away. I love it because I can say 'f------' and not one of you is attributing that to the fact that everyone with my skin color has a dirty mouth.

I love it because I don't have to spend an hour every morning putting on makeup to meet other people's standards.

I love it because I can worry about what kind of food is on my plate instead of whether or not there will be food on my plate.

I love it because when I see a police officer I see someone who's on my side.

To be honest I'm scared of what it would be like if i wasn't on the top rung if the tables were turned and I didn't have my white boy privilege safety blankie to protect me.

If I lived a life lit by what I lack, not what I have, if I lived a life in which when I failed, the world would say, 'Told you so.'

If I lived the life that you live.

When I was born I had a success story already written for me.

You -- you were given a pen and no paper.

I've always felt that that's unfair but I've never dared to speak up because I've been too scared.

Well now I realize that there's enough blankie to be shared. Everyone should have the privileges I have.

In fact they should be rights instead.

Everyone's story should be written, so all they have to do is get it read.

Enough said.

No, not enough said.

It is embarrassing that we still live in a world in which we judge another person's character by of the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have.

It is embarrassing that we tell our kids that it is not their personality, but instead those same chromosomes that get to dictate what color clothes they wear and how short they must cut their hair.

But most of all, it is embarrassing that we deny this. That we claim to live in an equal country and an equal world.

We say that women can vote. Well guess what: They can run a country, own a company, and throw a nasty curve ball as well. We just don't give them the chance to.

I know it wasn't us 8th-grade white boys who created this system, but we profit from it every day.

We don't notice these privileges though, because they don't come in the form of things we gain, but rather the lack of injustices that we endure.

Because of my gender, I can watch any sport on TV, and feel like that could be me one day.

Because of my race I can eat at a fancy restaurant without the wait staff expecting me to steal the silverware.

Thanks to my parents' salary I go to a school that brings my dreams closer instead of pushing them away.

Dear white boys: I'm not sorry.

I don't care if you think the feminists are taking over the world, that the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten a little too strong, because that's bulls---.

I get that change can be scary, but equality shouldn't be.

Hey white boys: It's time to act like a woman. To be strong and make a difference. It's time to let go of that fear.

It's time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.

Please click here for youtube video of Royce Mann delivering his poem:


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Working as a high school language arts teacher for decades, I learned the most remarkable, insightful reflections come from the voices and the pens of honest students – young people with intense passion and remarkable talent. When these students express their opinions, we should listen and learn, and let me assure you, young people will repeatedly “take you to school” with their invaluable perspectives.

Royce Mann, a 14-year-old from Atlanta, is a student who did just that. He performed a slam poem called, "White Boy Privilege," as part of a school competition. In his poem, Mann breaks down a concept that's still very difficult for some adults to grasp.

Mann actually recited the poem in May at the Paideia School, but just now, in July, after the horrible shootings in Dallas and the advent of the heated national discussions regarding race and privilege, the video of him delivering “White Boy Privilege” has gone viral

Royce Mann won the competition, but, more importantly, his young voice has stimulated the thought of a nation. Through his words, he offers a reflection on the privilege he feels he has been automatically awarded as a result of his being white and male. The poem speaks for itself. Mann is brutally honest about the ways in which he better off because he isn't black, Asian-American, Native American, or a woman — and he signs off with a call to action to change that begs for change.

I want to address Royce's use of expletives in his work. As a writing instructor, I warned students that using vulgarities and expletives in writing for mere shock value or misguided ornamentation was unacceptable. However, I also told them that no word was taboo, and that they could use any words appropriate for their writing and for their target audience. I emphasized that truth and accountability always go hand-in-hand in good writing. Using good judgment in context, they seldom let me down and ignored my advice. Given the freedom of expression, students gained great credibility.

I believe Mann's explanation of using the F word develops his theme so well. I'm sure this inclusion strengthens the presentation. And, to me, the “bull---” inclusion only legitimizes the voice of a young man's righteous indignation with an environment he so accurately describes.

To evoke criticism and controversy as “White Boy Privilege” has done is remarkable and wonderful. The very core of Royce's message involves making the reader feel uncomfortable. After all, he is writing slam poetry. Without employing the “embarrassment” factor, the piece becomes maudlin and self-aggrandizing. With the sting of guilt, the message is personal, up-close, and on point.

Royce Mann represents hope to a troubled nation. He has acquired knowledge and skills far beyond factual recall. At a very young age, he uses his language, his logic, and his reasoning to create powerful, focused words that impact people of all ages, races, genders, and creeds. Mann is among the most important assets as part of America's most valuable resource -- intelligent youth with purpose.

I want to thank Royce Mann for his contributions to language and to social commentary. I am sure this young man is a joy to teach. May this be the beginning of a long, distinguished career with language arts. Keep on keeping on, Royce. When you have something to say, please do it. If my hunch is correct, your skill will produce valuable messages for us all. And, let that be a lesson to teachers also.
In a postscript, here is a little information about the history of slam poetry:

“One of the most vital and energetic movements in poetry during the 1990s, slam has revitalized interest in poetry in performance. Poetry began as part of an oral tradition, and the Beat and Negritude poets were devoted to the spoken and performed aspects of their poems. This interest was reborn through the rise of poetry slams across America; while many poets in academia found fault with the movement, slam was well received among young poets and poets of diverse backgrounds as a democratizing force. This generation of spoken word poetry is often highly politicized, drawing upon racial, economic, and gender injustices as well as current events for subject manner.

“A slam itself is simply a poetry competition in which poets perform original work alone or in teams before an audience, which serves as judge. The work is judged as much on the manner and enthusiasm of its performance as its content or style, and many slam poems are not intended to be read silently from the page. The structure of the traditional slam was started by construction worker and poet Marc Smith in 1986 at a reading series in a Chicago jazz club. The competition quickly spread across the country, finding a notable home in New York City at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.”

(“A Brief Guide to Slam Poetry.” poets.org. May 29, 2004.)

 



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