Reading a poem on Racism - Black People & White People Were Said - Kerry Johannsen

I've been engrossed in the verses found within Tony Hoagland's collection, "Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America." In one particular poem, a sense of despair regarding racism emerges. We hold onto the aspiration that racism will eventually dissipate, yet this hope remains persistently unfulfilled. Even our efforts to transmit this sentiment to the coming generations prove inadequate in eradicating racism. Our methods of gauging progress take indirect routes. The reasons behind its enduring presence baffle us, leaving us both puzzled by its resilience and uncertain about the factors that anchor it in place.

The poem is by Kerry Johannsen, a poet from North Carolina that I couldn't find much information on.

Black People & White Peopl
e Were Said

- Kerry Johannsen

to disappear if we looked at
each other too long
especially the young ones —
especially growing boys & girls
the length of a gaze was
watched sidewise
as a kingsnake
eyeing a copperheadwhile hands
of mothers and fathers gently
tugged their children close
white people & black people were said to
disappear ifbut nobody ever said it
loudnobody said it
at all& nobody ever
talked about where
the ones who didn’t listen

This poem seems to explore the idea of disappearing or being erased, particularly in the context of racial dynamics and the gaze. The poem focuses on the concept that looking at each other for too long, especially among young individuals, can lead to a sense of vanishing. The mention of "especially growing boys & girls" suggests a vulnerability during a formative period of life.

The metaphor of a kingsnake eyeing a copperhead paints a picture of tension and potential danger. This could represent the uneasiness and caution that people exhibit when looking at each other, especially across racial divides.

The lines about white people and black people disappearing might be a metaphorical expression of how societal norms or biases can make certain individuals, especially those from marginalized groups, feel invisible or overlooked. The use of "if" implies a conditional nature, as if these disappearances are contingent on some unspoken social rules.

The repetition of "nobody ever said it" emphasizes the silence and unspoken nature of these dynamics. This could be indicative of the unspoken rules and tensions around race and identity that exist in society but are rarely openly discussed.

The closing lines about those who "didn't listen" and where they went might suggest a commentary on those who refused to conform to these unspoken rules or tried to challenge them. Their fate or whereabouts is left ambiguous, possibly suggesting the consequences of resisting these social norms.

All life matters but ...