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Analysis: Poem About My Rights, June Jordan

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1282 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Poem about My Rights

This form of struggle and protest poetry, written by June Jordan (Poem about My Rights, 2015) truly captures and speaks for the voice of the oppressed and silent women in South Africa. When reading this poem, I was inspired and shaken by how powerful and moving it was, and how Jordan managed to get such a graphic and empowering message across through the reading of her poem.

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Her use of diction greatly emphasizes the harsh circumstances faced by woman, as well as Jordan’s anger towards the little political action and support against such abuse and neglect. The poem vulgarly refers to sexual violence experienced by woman and how they are victimized, harassed and abused by men who are physically and ‘socially’ stronger. Jordan speaks about rape, and how excuses are provided to the law, by the offender, which makes the rape seem okay and reasonable. This results in no justice taking place and the victim being left alone, feeling unsafe, with bursting anger and frustration – making them feel even more unwanted and like an outcast. This reveals the poor justice system; corrupt police work and fraudulent government systems – an entirely different theme in the poem.

Clear evidence of racism is shown when Jordan says “We are the wrong people of the wrong skin on the wrong continent” (line 45 and 46). This expresses her view of how African Americans are made to feel like outcasts because of their skin colour and culture. Power, status, wealth and authority were determined by the colour of your skin, and many stereotypical views regarding racism are still present in the world. We can see through the line ‘I should have been lighter skinned’ (line 60) that being ‘white’ was the preferred skin colour, because it determined a family’s wealth and social status. The ‘wrong continent’ (line 46) in my view is referring to refugees that have moved and travelled across the world seeking job opportunities, better living conditions and housing because of the minimal resources and opportunities available in their own country because of their race. However this could make them seem like outcasts in the country that they are not locally from, despite having as much of a right to belong there as another.

Perhaps Jordan is looking at herself from a local Europeans perspective when she says “wrong people of the wrong skin on the wrong continent” (line 45 and 46) – as if to say these judgments and thoughts are going through their heads when they see a foreigner on their land. This clearly adds to the judgment and dis-belonging felt by Native Americans when moving countries, and how they themselves could start to see themselves this way and begin to blame themselves, causing self hate and pain. This occurs during the poem when Jordan blames herself for all the wrongs things that she is, and how she is a disappointment to her family and society. She speaks about how her parents are both disappointed with her and the way she is (line 58-67). However the poem does have an optimistic and unexpected ending when Jordan says that she will now defend herself, leaving the listeners/readers with a hopeful and encouraging ending.

An important theme in this poem is gender inequality. In the past and still today, men are dominant to woman in many aspects including financial capability, decision-making, household-roles and various occupations. Men are generally earning more than women, and in many families and traditions, women stay at home for family duties, while men are the breadwinners. In the line ‘I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a boy’ (line 59) reveals two important aspects. One referring to ‘he’ – signifying the father of the child who is now a girl. Secondly referring to the stereotype and generalization which states that giving birth to a boy often promises the family more wealth and financial security in comparison to having a girl, and therefore boys were preferred and wanted. Stereotypically speaking, men have more authority and control in their families and generally make all the decisions regarding their child’s education and freedom – and we can see Jordan has personal experiences with this, through the harsh and cruel way she refers to it in her poem, and how there is no love, genuine care or concern that she expresses when referring to her parents.

In the poem, the “wrong” elements and characteristics of June Jordan are constantly repeated. This is to emphasize the poet’s anger about her lack of acceptance that she feels not only by society but by her family. When listening to the poem we witness the harsh and judgmental comments and remarks made, for example “I am the history of the rejection of who I am” (line 78). Another example of where Jordan feels judged and unaccepted is when she says “it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for my nose and braces for my teeth” (line 6) – a mother is supposed to be a woman who supports and loves their child for who they are, and not try to change them into what they aren’t. By Jordan using very visual and graphics words, it allows us to sympathize and even empathize for the way she has been treated and feels, making the audience connect with the poem on an even more personal and emotional level.

From reading the entire poem several times and listening to Jordan’s reading of it, I get a sense of anger that Jordan expresses towards the people who “set things up like this” (line 21) – referring to the independence and self-restriction that Jordan feels. I believe that the people who set these things up would be society itself. Society set up racial prejudice, gender inequality, violence and abuse. Without the abuse of power of the people who have the control and the ability to make a true difference and positive change in this world, the world would be more controlled and at peace. Less crime, poverty, unemployment, violence and under-development would take place, resulting in a safer, happier place.

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When listening to the poem, I found that Jordan speaks clearly and uses pauses, creating a steady pace. Her tone in the beginning is not particularly aggressive or angry, however she does raise her voice to emphasize that she is upset and that the issues that she is talking about are personal. However as the poem progresses, so her voice becomes louder and more dominating, emphasizing particular words and phrases. This is particularly effective because the listeners now get a sense of how the poet feels about her own poem, adding a more personal and emotional touch.

Her last few closing lines show her desperate cry out for independence and freedom. From my perspective I see it as Jordan’s determination to speak up for herself and finally take the will-power to stand up and defend herself against the negligence and abuse of others. I found this poem to be incredibly motivating and inspiring in terms of taking a stand against gender inequality and violence, and I believe Jordan should be remembered for her passion, bravery and courage for speaking out for the silenced and oppressed.

Reference List:

June Jordan – Poem About My Rights, 13 November 2011 (video file). [Online]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUSTxhYu7-4 [2015, April 20].

Poem about My Rights. 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178526. [2015, April 20].


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