‘Primer For Blacks’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a seven stanza poem that takes on the tone of an impassioned speech. The speaker’s voice seems to increase in volume and determination as the poet proceeds through the piece. There is no defined rhymed scheme in this poem, but the repetition of the words and the constant use of enjambment, provides unity. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Primer For Blacks
“Primer For Blacks” by Gwendolyn Brooks speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and the unified future that will result from that acceptance.
The poem begins with the speaker describing blackness as being both a “commitment” and a “title.” It is what one is referred to as, but is also a promise one makes to “perceive” one’s “Glory.” It is necessary for all black people to know their own greatness and worth.
The speaker continues on to say that in white culture it is easy to say that it is a great thing to be white, so easy in fact that many black people would say the same. She looks down on this perception and knows that unless that individual belief is changed, nothing else will.
She also describes the fact that “Blackness” is like a calling card. It is something that reaches across great distances and unifies all those who even have a drop of black blood. The poem comes to its conclusion with the speaker raising her voice and demanding that all those, no matter how much black blood they have, accept their own race and heritage.
Analysis of Primer For Blacks
In the first stanza of this piece the reader is introduced to Brooks’ extreme use of enjambment and to a speaker who, as the poem continues, seems to increase in volume and passion. It is clear from the beginning that this poem is going to carry a strong and poignant statement about what it is to be black and accept one’s heritage.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that “Blackness” is both “a title” and a “preoccupation.” It is something that is given to someone; they are deemed “black” by the world and with that title comes all the stigma of their culture and heritage. Additionally, when one is black, they are “preoccup[ied]” with the fact. It is as if one’s blackness consumes them. These two lines can be read negatively and positively.
She continues on to state that when “you are” black you must make a “commitment” to “perceive” your own “Glory.” It is important for the black community to take the time to truly feel their own worth and greatness.
The second stanza continues where the first left off. It begins by comparing the way that one is “White” to the way another is “Black.” The speaker describes the general “conscious” feeling that exists around those who are white. All are unified in their belief that it is “Great to be white.” There is nothing to regret or dislike. In addition to this belief comes that of the “slack in Black,” who agree. There are black people, the speaker states, that feel it is greater to be white than to be black.
Through this belief, all those that are white and everything that “is white” has “your” strength and their own. The narrator vehemently disagrees with this belief and is now speaking directly to those that are weak in their “Blackness.”
In the third stanza the speaker is explaining the power that the “word Black” has in the world. It has the ability to “pull everybody in.” It is a collective word that can bring together,
Blacks wherever they may be.
It is, and should be, a rallying cry of unity. She continues on to describe the fact that having even one “drop” of black blood “maketh a brand new Black.’” That one drop of blood has throughout time, condemned those who carry it. Now though, Brooks is attempting to change the perception of what it means to have black blood. It has “given us Kindly / so many more of our people.” The “black” designation has grown and strengthened black culture and heritage.
In the fourth stanza the speaker continues to describe the breadth and strength of “Blackness.” It is a force that “stretches over the land.” It reaches from one side o the world to the other and encompasses all shades that do, or do not, lay claim to it. There are those that are “rust-red” or “milk and cream.” There are also those in the middle with “tan and yellow-tan” and “deep-brown middle-brown high-brown.”
All of the colors of skin throughout the farthest reaches o the world, are united by the fact that they have black blood. No matter what one looks like, if there is even a single drop, they are part of “our people.”
The existence of, and strength of, “Blackness” is able to “march on.”
As the poem begins to come to its conclusion the speaker’s language gets stronger and more emotional. She says that the most important goal of “our” life is to “salute and to Love the fact that we are Black.” It is the most important “Reality” of life. It is the single fact that will unify all those that are a part of it, everyone will be able, in their “blackness,” to “rise” and have a meaningful metamorphosis.
In short, the speaker is saying that black people will never be able to escape the confines of their own categorization unless they all come together.
The sixth stanza is short and concise. It marks the place between the slower sections of the poem and the louder, faster, final stanza.
She is directly speaking to the “Self-shriveled Blacks.” Those who have been unable to love themselves, and “rise” above how they are considered by whites. It is this type of person that is the “fundamental bone” and reason that the poet’s message is so important. Without ridding these “Blacks” of their self-self-deprecating attitude, the race as a whole will never be unified.
In the final stanza of this piece, the momentum that Brooks has built up throughout the poem’s entirety comes to a head. No other stanza reads more like a speech or begs to be read aloud. The speaker appears to be yelling at points, shouting passionately at her listeners, begging that they listen to her. She is addressing every single “COLORED” person who is reading, or hearing, this piece. All, “you NEGRO ones.”
She is not shying away from terminology that was once, and still is in many circumstances, deprecating. She is addressing it head on and embracing it. She refers to those that call themselves “half INDian.” They emphasize the “other” part of themselves, the part that is not black.
She wants every type of “Black” person, whether “half-Black,” “wish-I-weren’t Blacks,” or “proper Blacks,” to know that “you” are all one people. The breadth and strength of the Black people is what will bring everyone together and it must be embraced. One should not be ashamed to call themselves, or see themselves, as black.
About Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in June of 1917. She began writing at a young age and published her first poem at the age of 13. Her first book of poetry came out in 1945, and was called, A Street in Bronzeville. Her second volume, Annie Allen, earned her a Pulitzer Prize. She was the first African American to win this award.
In her later professional life she taught creative writing at a number of different universities while continuing to write and publish. Se died in Chicago on December 3, 2000.