Slam poetry is a form of performance art I only got introduced to about three years ago. Nevertheless, I started to thoroughly enjoy it. There is something magical about this performance art. Even when re-watching certain performances through a screen, one can feel the anger, frustration, joy, and everything else. Although I never thought beyond the words I heard, I felt like it became time to reconsider and reconstruct the ideas hidden in the slam poetry texts. For this critical discourse analysis, I will be analyzing the poem “Lessons on Being an African Immigrant in America” by FreeQuency.
The artist behind the performance is called Mwende Kalondu Katwiwa. Originally from Kenya, now residing in the United States. This activist puts herself on the frontline for causes such as Reproductive Justice, #BlackLivesMatter, and various LGBTQ+ institutions (FreeQuency, 2020). In 2014, she performed the poem “Lessons on Being an African Immigrant in America”. This poem got her a lot of recognition. In 8 steps, she deconstructs what it means to be an African immigrant in the United States. Through this critical discourse analysis, I will analyze these eight steps in more detail.
The very first verse starts out with a very banal thing. An accent. If you have an accent in the Netherlands, people often wonder where you are from, yet not many ever question it in too much detail. In the United States, as described by FreeQuency, the African accent when speaking English can cause for some troubles. “Nobody fucks with the black girls, even when young. They can be so angry” (FreeQuency 2014). This illustrates that how immigrants are viewed by the way they speak is already problematic and even for young girls creates an anger towards the critics and society as a whole.
The second verse is a critique to everyday life in the States for an immigrant. “Don’t stare at the white people. They are not animals in the zoo” (FreeQuency 2014). This method of inversion creates the awareness among the listener that hearing or stating this to your children because someone has a different color of skin is in no way okay. By making it ironic she establishes a comprehensible distance for the reader. In this sense, it becomes more understandable for someone who has no experience with a situation such as this.
The third verse builds upon the second verse and starts from the statement of the animals in the zoo. However, here she uses an inversion method again. Now she speaks from the point of view from the immigrant again. She illustrates that if you fit in to their expectances you will not be harmed, however, to what extend are you considered a human like them? Even if you accommodate to them, you are not considered to be one of them. What does one have to do in order to fit in?
From accommodating in the third verse, she moves to identity in the fourth verse. She questions how she can still hold on to her roots whilst her name is being made fun of. She recognizes that people that were born in the US cannot help themselves that they have ‘easy’ names and backgrounds, but she indirectly presses the point that it does not mean that you can critique someone else’s background and family history.
Verse five builds upon the notion of identity, yet it turns it around to the visual aspect of identity. This time she refers to the color of the skin that she has. The blackness of her skin does not differ from any other colored person in the United States. All of their ancestors come from the same roots, sailed over seas by slave traders. She critiques the white majority by stating that “It’s white lies telling families that they are now enemies” (FreeQuency 2014). If you look beyond what is taught you and do your own research beyond of what is the mainstream, you will recognize that even if you have the same skin color there is no different background of pain.
The sixth verse is a critique to the general recognition of crimes committed against POC’s. This makes me think as a reader and listener. Although I hope that I am aware enough to look beyond of what is given to me on a daily basis through news institutions, is this the whole truth? This also makes me question how I can expand my viewpoint in order not to miss important points. I believe that because I started posing these questions after reading this verse, FreeQuency got to the point she wanted to get across. Look beyond of what is offered to you on a ‘news platter’.
The second last verse is an interesting one. She wonders about, again, very banal things and the distribution of information in the US. “When people ask you if you’re upset because you’re on your period the week Al Shabaab attacks a mall in your home country” (FreeQuency 2014). One bloodshed is not comparable to the other, but why do you have to be upset over one, the one which is natural, and not about the one which destroys a society? She illustrates this discrepancy excellently and so subtle.
The final verse almost is a recommendation for those who struggle with the same issues that she has described in her spoken word piece. “Resist the urge to remain pupa in the silk of stolen comforts” (FreeQuency 2014). However, she also questions how you, as an individual who struggles with these ideas, can ever conform to one place since you’re always the odd one out.
The powerful spoken word piece by FreeQuency put me to thinking, especially after having done a critical discourse analysis. I am aware of how POC’s struggle in the United States, however I was never made aware of the small details. She excellently and coherently describes what it means to be an immigrant in the States. Although this poem was written in 2014, it is still very relevant today. We see the United States, and other countries, becoming more torn. Torn between those who fight for their existence and recognition of their past, and those who still wish to suppress and rule. The urgence of the message is still relevant and needs to be redistributed and kept alive.
FreeQuency. “Lessons on Being an African Immigrant in America.” Accessed October 5, 2020.https://freeqthamighty.tumblr.com/post/87603050546/lessons-on-being-an-african-immigrant-in-america
FreeQuencySpeaks. “Bio.” Accessed October 5, 2020. http://www.freequencyspeaks.com/