Dr. Anton Vander Zee
18 October 2022
Danez Smith, author of Don’t Call us Dead (2017), Boy (2014) and the chapbook hands on ya knees (2013), is an African American writer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They are a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective, a multi-genre, multicultural collective focused on identity, intersectionality, trauma, and healing. Although Smith is originally from Minnesota, their family is from Mississippi and Georgia— two states with a significant population of black people and who harbor history of racism which leak into the present as institutionalized racism (Danez Smith).
The poem “alternate names for black boys” by Danez Smith details a list of different phrases black men have been associated with by society or phrases that express ideologies that society associates with black men. Although the phrase is specifically titled supposedly for “black boys,” I feel this is a poem for all black people. I also feel like the title itself is a play on the infantilization of black men in society where many older white men refer to black, male adults as “black boys.” By calling black men “black boys” their accomplishments and maturity level gets diminished. I feel like a good example of this is Chesterton’s Uncle Remus as well as the depiction of Liam in the TV show Shameless.
I decided to interpret the first seven phrases on the list in the poem in a blog-like spirit. Danez Smith’s lines will be in bold with my interpretation underneath.
This could also be a comparison to the “oreo” ideology: a black person is accepted in society if they “act white.” If a black person seems white like a ghost, they may not be considered a monster.
What are some of your interpretations of these phrases? Are they different?
“Danez Smith.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/danez-smith.