Confronting Stereotypes — One Poem at a Time

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Poem by Leila Clifford, 10th Grade – SBH High School
Introduction by Kirsten Steele, English Teacher – SBH High School

At the beginning of the semester in English II, we examined the existence of stereotypes in the world. We read the poem by Diane Burns, “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question.” [read here]. Then, we discuss how all people make assumptions about one another, but we don’t have to allow others’ assumptions to define us.

My students have written poems critiquing, and in many cases rejecting, stereotypical assumptions others have made about them. It is a powerful, vulnerable exercise for everyone involved, and I am grateful to my students every year for their courage and willingness to be vulnerable.

~Ms. Steele

“Sure You Can Ask Me”

By Leila Clifford, 10th Grade – SBH High School

Sure you can ask me?

If i like watermelon

If fried chicken is my favorite food

If i chase all dudes

If my favorite thing to do is cook food

If i have a lot of kids which i cannot maintain

If i have a long over exaggerated name

If the only reason i want a man is for the money and the fame

If anyone in my family is on drugs

If i live in a beat up house with bugs

If i know how to braid

If i ever got bad grades

If i grew up without a dad

If i was hard headed or bad

If i was better at sports than academics

If people ever told me i would never aspire to be a nurse, doctor or even a paramedic

If it’s true that black don’t crack

If i ever used the word wack

If i was pretty because of my shade of black

If i have ever been called a monkey

If someone in my family was a junkie

If i was idiotic

Why some of our music videos so erotic?

If i am mean

If on saturdays my mom made me get up and clean

But you never bothered to ask me if i liked to write or read

Instead you asked all the things that stereotyped me

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