Patricia Smith’s Skinhead
“They call me Skinhead,” begins the insolently speaking poem by Patricia Smith whose persona is the voice of a white bigot. He continues, “And I got my own beauty.” The poem exemplifies racism from the sentiments of the persona who is depicted as a prejudiced and bitter white man disgruntled by the attempt of the black population to seek equality in the distribution of resources and allocation of social responsibilities. This research will assess the extent to which Patricia Smith’s poem, Skinhead, perceives racism as a social construct arising from the racially superior and the fear of losing their social dominance because of the social progression that characterizes the modern society.
Racism and the Fear of Losing Social Dominance
Racism is a defining attribute that has characterized the society from the time of slavery, colonialism, the emancipation of slavery, and the enactment of the constitution that considered all citizens as equals. Throughout this progression, members of the white race have perceived themselves as socially dominant. This was characterized by their desire to exploit members of other races to enhance the realization of their individual and community objectives. Through the Skinhead, the poet is engages in an exploration of the fundamental similarities existing between people who appear to be polar converses. Patricia Smith considers racism as a social construct aimed at demonstrating power and dominance among individuals from varieties of backgrounds by asserting that from a historical perspective, members of different races must have begun their socialization processes free of any racial connotations. However, with the scarcity of resources, the need to enhance social mobility, and power politics, among those who considered themselves as relatively superior introduced racial structures. These allowed for the exercising of activities that led to misery, suffering, and pain for the minority population while the majority and racially dominant individuals placed themselves in socially higher positions of power (Dobratz, and Stephanie 3-4). In the poem, the persona is a disgruntled and angry white man who expresses his frustrations by blaming the minorities for his problems. This individual asserts that he has the right to access varieties of opportunities in the society because of his race. The poet uses this persona in explaining how even those perceived as racially dominant have realized their role in propelling a vice that has resulted in social segregation. Skinhead is, therefore, a poem that focuses the identification of existing social problems arising from racism and the development of possible solutions that can ensure that humanity exists in a society free of racism.
In the poem, the persona says, “I was born to make things right.” This phrase is repeated in numerous parts of the poem to stress on the role of the persona in restoring white supremacy in the society. Through its rhetoric, the poem depicts the persona as an individual who is mentally and emotionally flawed because of the idea that he deserves better opportunities than other members of the society do because he is white. Through his racially biased perspective, the persona has nominated himself to be the leader of a change initiative that would make America white again. The change process, according to the persona, would be characterized by the violation of any individual who does not align with his idea of perfection. This is an approach towards the conservation of a race based on ignorance and aggression. According to Jeffers (403- 405), this approach to the maintenance of racial dominance, despite the existence of opposing forces in the society, is an indication of the extent to which the society contributes to the construction of racism through the structures that propel segregation. The idea of construction and conservation of races has a direct relationship with the prevailing cultural and political practices. Since the idea of racism is a social construct, the current political and cultural practices play a contributory role in propelling the fear of losing racial dominance. This is especially when these factors uphold the illusion that societal progression is only possible when a specific race controls the major social forces (Banks 8). It is important to deconstruct the existing socio-political structures to improve them in ways that embrace racial diversity as an inherent part of society.
From the poem, the skinhead desires to act on a delusional idea that he has the sole of responsibility of enhancing the conservation of the social status of his race. For the persona, the process of introducing and implementing laws that focus on justice and equality can only be considered plausible if it favors members of his race. Inasmuch as this can be considered as an attempt towards the justification of the journey of racial preservation, it can also be perceived as an attempt by the dominant white to absolve themselves from all forms of disdain for their past activities. This attempt arises from the understanding that throughout history, the laws governing the American society have been aimed at upholding white supremacy. However, with social developments such as emancipation of slavery and the enactment of laws recognizing the rights of the minority races such as the right to vote have inspired the white towards demanding for rights that favor their wellbeing. Alternatively, it is possible to assert that this approach towards racial preservation is founded on the notion that it is only through the social dominance of the minority races that the majority race can successfully subjugate the masses (Jeffers (407).
Social progression and attempts by the minority to establish their position in the community have resulted in the pragmatist view that subjugation of masses through unfavorable laws is only considered possible in the animal kingdom or in a society in which members are naïve of their rights. Furthermore, as a social construct, racism is bound to face challenges because through societal progression, human beings will demand equality and justice all platform because they are driven by the power of the intellect and the ability to empathize. Through the poem, the persona realizes that the society has been enlightened of the ills necessitated by white supremacy, and they are in a process of eradicating such structures to enhance the development of a society where members operate based on attributes that enhance social cohesion instead of social dominance by the whites (Jeffers (405- 408).
From the poem, the persona is depicted as an individual with the responsibility of winning America back from those he perceives as inferior. In the poem, he provides a description of a work accident that he experienced following the loss of his fingers and ability to engage in productive work. This has led him into resenting non-white Americans who have secured employment opportunities that he used to do. The poem is an honest and transparent aspect of a disgusting but horrendous revelation of the extent to which racism has spread and radicalized members of the society regarding their rights and the rights of other members of the society. When the persona says, “Hey nigger, Abe Lincoln…been dead a long time,” he is referring to the tragedies and misfortunes that will be defining the lives of those defending non-white minority in the United States. The process regaining white supremacy must begin by the eradication of those in opposition. The example of Lincoln as the father of emancipation of slavery, which was considered as the beginning of the reign of minority races, implies that despite attempts by these races, the supreme white will always seek better ways of dominance. Lincoln was an advocate of the eradication of slavery and the consideration of all Americans as equal members of the society. However, despite his success, those engulfed by the idea of white supremacy considered Lincoln as a betrayer of his race.
It is possible to assert that the disillusion and radicalization propelled by the idea of racial supremacy can result in some form of mental disorder because those propelling this belief are grounded on the understanding that societal progress is only considered possible when the dominant race governs the society. This mental disorder can be related to sociopathic behavior. This is exemplified when the persona says that he derives pleasure from hearing how the skin of his victims burst. The narrator uses the idea of regaining the supreme position of the majority white as a justification of racial crusades. For the persona, this approach to restructuring the society is an act of service to Americans, which has been jeopardized and taken over by enemies. In explaining how hidden pressures that affect the lives of members of the society can affect progress, Baldwin (2-3) argues it is only possible to disassemble rage, but it cannot be hidden. This assertion is relevant to the sentiments of the persona who believes that the supreme white were responsible for the creation of civilization. This creation affords them the right to deny the minority an opportunity of engaging in the civilization for the fear that they may corrupt its intended purpose. In his assertions, Baldwin (3-5) agrees with the persona in Smith’s poem that for the white supremacy to defend civilization and co-exist with minority races, order, which is structured to propagate fear, must be established and enforced in the society. This is exemplified by attributing to the role that initiatives such as the penal code and segregation have played in the protection of the interest of the majority white while dehumanizing and dishonoring the integrity of other races especially regarding this responsibility towards the development of the human race.
Through the poem, Skinhead, the poet seeks to address and expose an existing mindset that contributes to the historical injustices arising from racism, but that is often ignored by the society. The poet blames both the minority races and the supreme white for ignoring the effects of racism despite its prevalence in different platforms in the society. For the white population, the poem recognizes that they have been socialized to embrace an illusion that they are responsible for social progress and any other race will only serve the purpose of destroying the structures of civilization that they have developed. For the minority races, Smith recognizes that they have accepted their position as the inferior members of the society and they choose to ignore these ills despite the existence of platform of expressing their dissatisfaction and advocating for their rights as equal members of the society. From the poem, racism is a social construct because there is a force that introduces policies and structures of dominance at the expense of the masses who have accepted to be subjected to the dehumanizing and derogatory legislations that dwarf their success. For Smith, matters arising from racial discrimination and bigotry must not be ignored if the society is to experience any form of progress. Through the poem, the poet desires to ensure that members of the society are aware of the reality and currency of the effects of racism. Through the poem, Smith advocates for revision of the social structures that propel this vice through the identification of the best techniques through which humans in the society can be viewed as equal and their responsibility to humanity respected.
The scarcity of resources and the desire to exercise the power of resource allocation can be considered as additional factors that propel racism. Historically, fear has been used as the tool of the motivation of racial tension. The expansion of racism has been founded on the threat that hate shares a relationship with emancipation proclamation that advocated for freedom of blacks (Banks 3-5). From the poem, the propagation of racism by the white majority ranged from the possibility of dwindling resources and the idea that the black community could be allowed to exercise equal rights. For the whites, these developments suggested potential harm to their ability to exert political power necessitating the development of a defensive response aimed at repossessing control. The poet views this approach to societal development as an aspect that will continuously be embraced until the oppressors and the oppressed decide to change the narrative and embrace justice and equality as defining features of the society.
When the concept of racism is perceived from the causal relationship that characterizes the symbolic racism theory, it is possible to relate it to the perception of the poet who, through the persona, illustrates how the fear of relinquishing social dominance can result in the creation of a deadly illusion of panic. This results in the urgent need to regain the power of control (Sidanius et al. 379). According to this theory, social dominance of racism has a strategic position such that it tips the scales of authority in ways that propagate the advancement of the white race, which operates on the belief that the system and its directors can uphold morality and righteousness if they are white. This theory asserts that it is the responsibility of every race in the society to identify and embrace their position in the social structure. Through such realization, the society will experience lasting peace considering that every race will be operating within its boundaries limiting the possibility of interracial conflicts (Sidanius et al. 379-380). The poem recognizes that it is through such sentiments of fear that the dominant white race has continued to exploit members of other races through the introduction and development of structures and policies that favor their upwards mobility in the social structure while diminishing that of other races.
Through the poem, Patricia Smith does not only demonstrate the extent to which she is at odds with the persona but also actively despises him. While channeling herself as a white supremacist, the poet places herself in the shoes of the perpetrators of racial hate who never shares in the suffering of her victims but advocates for the introduction of better ways through which racial segregation can be enhanced to improve on white supremacy. Throughout the poem, the poet succeeds in channeling the fervent racism propelled by the protagonist. This is because she subverts his hate-powered notion of racism by presenting it from the perceptive of delusional white man. The poet appeals to the emotions of the reader through explosive expletives that necessitate the development of anger towards the persona. However, the poem generates more complexities when the persona directs his anger towards the anti-racist. This is because he blames them for the problems that the white population is experiencing following the perceived freedom of the minority races.
Through the poem, the poet succeeds in turning hate against itself through her ability to revel in the opportunity of co-opting the words of those they are in disagreements with and aggressing safely in the understanding that the violence was not theirs. At the beginning of the poem, the persona is involved in a discussion of his understanding of beauty, which according to him is defined by skin color. Throughout the poem, racial discrimination becomes more violent and apparent, and the persona does not show any remorse but is enthusiastic about the violent actions that must be taken against the black. He boastfully states that AIDS will take care of the faggots, an indication that the society can be safer with the eradication of the black community. In the poem the persona laments that “Ain’t got no job, the coloreds and spics got ’em all” to demonstrate that with freedom, the society has become more competitive threatening the supremacy of the white. The poet uses the frustrations of the persona to emphasize on the need to eliminate racially biased structures and introduce policies that sensitize the society on their rights and obligations towards enhancing a peaceful and mutual co-existence among members as equal partners.
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