by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson
I always wonder why the hell white people go to open mic nights at Busboys and Poets.
Busboys and Poets is “a restaurant, bookstore, and gathering place for people who believe that social justice and peace are attainable goals.” Their website neglects to mention that they are one of the hottest intellectual chill spots in the U Street corridor, with comfy couches, free wi-fi, and a bookstore full of provocative titles. Combine that with sexy and eclectic people, good music, and a decent food and drink menu, and you have my home away from home.
Every time I take a seat in the Langston Room (the venue for events), I find myself scanning the crowd to check out the racial mix.
Neo-bohemians of varying shades of brown flow in, dreds bouncing, blue jeans and hoodies melding with city couture and drab business casual. Snatches of spanish float through the air, but are largely drowned out in the cacophony of voices talking about politics, social movements, classic novels and new media. I take my seat, order a mug of fruit-flavored tea, and sip quietly waiting for the show tonight.
Now, sometimes everything goes fine. The night is a mix of revolutionary poetry, tearful odes to lost love, humorous erotic pleas, and classic poetry interwoven into the frenetic pace of the evening. Poetry nights can be mixed affairs, featuring soulful poems and poignant reflections about society in general. But on other nights, well…
Let’s take my last visit to Busboys as an example. I sat, clicking away on my laptop between sets, waiting for the next poet to start. Then I hear:
“THE WHITE MAN THINKS HE’S GOD!”
The poet, one of my favorites, takes a decidedly antagonistic tone that evening.
After railing against war-mongering, the destruction of the environment, and the systemic eradication of native peoples, he closes the poem, last lines dripping with contempt:
“THE WHITE MAN THINKS HE’S GOD!
Spelled backwards is DOG!”
He abruptly departs the stage, leaving the mic reeling in the stand.
The white people in the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats. Quietly, after the sets finish, they begin to slip out of the wooden doors. By 10:30, the venue consists solely of people of color.
In the arena of political poetry, white people would be wise to tread lightly. While every evening does not feature verbal missiles lobbed at white privilege and a racist society, it can quickly become that evening’s theme. And that common theme, the bonding over shared outrage at a racist and oppressive society, can unite some poetry lovers and alienate others. Continue reading