Racism Poems

Poems about racism unflinchingly address the painful reality of discrimination and prejudice. Through poignant verses, they depict the lived experiences of marginalized communities, shedding light on their struggles and resilience.

These poems advocate for social change, seeking to dismantle systemic racism and foster understanding and empathy among people of different backgrounds. They celebrate the beauty of diversity, encouraging society to embrace inclusivity and equality.

jasper texas 1998

by Lucille Clifton

‘jasper texas 1998’ by Lucille Clifton is a devastating poem that illustrates both the poet’s frustrated fury over and the dehumanizing barbarity of systemic racial violence against Black people in the United States.

Racism is, of course, a central topic explored in Lucille Clifton's poem. It is a portrait of racial violence, one that dives into the real-life murder of James Byrd Jr. as a means of exposing the ways in which racism still exists in America and that, at any moment, a Black person can become the victim of such cruel and barbaric actions.

i am a man's head hunched in the road.

i was chosen to speak by the members

of my body. the arm as it pulled away

pointed toward me, the hand opened once

New York

by Léopold Sédar Senghor

‘New York’ by Léopold Sédar Senghor serves as a call to action for the city’s people to uplift and absorb as a means of rejuvenation its Black citizenry.

Racism is obviously another major topic addressed in Senghor's poem. He attacks it subtly, though, only briefly mentioning the pain endured by Black communities. The reason is that the poet wishes to present a different perspective of the African diaspora, one that doesn't use images of suffering to create a portrait of them. But rather ones of celebration and revelry that highlight all that such a cultural tapestry can offer.

New York! At first I was bewildered by your beauty,

Those huge, long-legged, golden girls.

So shy, at first, before your blue metallic eyes and icy smile,

So shy. And full of despair at the end of skyscraper streets


by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Riot’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a poem that illustrates the dissonance that exists between the privileged and those who are driven to desperation to riot.

Racism is at the center of this poem by Brooks. Her decision to use John Cabot as the focal point of the poem is part of what makes it such a stunning read. It offers a glimpse into the backward and selfish thinking that those who are privileged use to justify the suffering of other people.

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,

all whitebluerose below his golden hair,

wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;

Nothing’s Changed

by Tatamkhulu Afrika

The poem, ‘Nothing’s Changed’ by Tatmkhulu Afrika, talks about the rampant apartheid system in District Six near Cape Town in South Africa, and explores racism.

Racism is a central theme in the poem, exposing the deep-seated racial divisions and inequalities in society. Afrika's poetry often confronts the harsh realities of racism, challenging its dehumanizing effects and advocating for racial harmony and social justice. Through his words, Afrika exposes the insidious nature of racism and calls for its eradication.

Small round hard stones click

under my heels,

seeding grasses thrust

bearded seeds

A Small Needful Fact

by Ross Gay

‘A Small Needful Fact’ by Ross Gay is a powerful poem that presents an image of hope and beauty after a loss. The poem addresses the legacy of Eric Garner and how one might still find his presence in the world. 

The poem exposes the reality of racism in society, illustrating how it can result in the loss of innocent lives. The poet explores real-life experiences and loss, ensuring readers connect the text to their everyday lives.

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,


by Danez Smith

’C.R.E.A.M.’ by Danez Smith is a complex, moving poem that depicts a speaker’s personal life and speaks on the American racial wealth gap. 

The poem lays bare the ways in which racism permeates all aspects of society, from the criminal justice system to the economy to personal relationships.

in the morning I think about money

green horned lord of my waking

forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation

prison made of emerald & pennies

Night, Death, Mississippi

by Robert Hayden

‘Night, Death, Mississippi’ by Robert Hayden is a historical narrative told mostly from the perspective of a Klansman. In the poem, the Klansman lauds his son for lynching black men while telling of the days he himself participated in the perpetration of racial violence.

Racism is the overarching theme in the poem. Though the speaker and even Hayden himself do not mention it explicitly, Hayden's fascination with the concept of race and the allusions to the infamous lynching in 20th-century Mississippi and the KKK tell readers what to name this Klansman's prejudice: racism.

Then we beat them, he said,

beat them till our arms was tired

and the big old chains

messy and red.

A New National Anthem

by Ada Limón

‘A New National Anthem’ is a prose poem expressing disapproval of the National Anthem, especially the part that was conspicuously removed.

Ada Limón's poem draws attention to the controversial third verse that was removed from the national anthem. The third verse made it very clear that the people who wrote it were happy that former American slaves who fought alongside the British against the Americans lost their lives. This is a good poem about racism.

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National

Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good song.

Rosa Parks

by Nikki Giovanni

‘Rosa Parks’ by Nikki Giovanni is a poem about activism and the importance of remembering important moments in African American history. The poem pays tribute to the heroic actions of the Pullman Porters who spearheaded the civil rights movement and forever changed history for the African American community.

The poem exposes the evils of racism that have been prevalent in American society. It portrays how the Black community has been subject to discrimination, violence, and segregation.

This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said

they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago

Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would

won’t you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton

‘won’t you celebrate with me’ by Lucille Clifton addresses racism and inherent gender inequality. The speaker has overcome every hurdle and modeled herself in her own image.

The poem acknowledges the reality of racism and discrimination but also celebrates the speaker's ability to overcome it and create a life for herself. It is a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle against racism and the importance of continuing to fight for equality and justice.

won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

Explore more poems about Racism


by Hannah More

‘Slavery’ by Hannah More is a pro-abolitionist poem. It attempts to inspire Britain at the peak of slave trade to condemn the very act. The poem makes a case for the abolition of slavery by exposing Britain’s immorality and appealing to the public’s humanity.

In some sections of the poem, More points out the root of the anti-abolitionists' behavior: racism. She accuses them of dehumanization, clearly giving their reasons for this to be the color of the African person's skin. Using rhetorical questions, she provokes them to ponder why they automatically degrade Africans because of skin color.

Let Malice strip them of each other plea,

They still are men, and men should still be free.

Insulted Reason loathes the inverted trade —

Loathes, as she views the human purchase made;

In Response to Executive Order 9066

by Dwight Okita

‘In Response to Executive Order 9066’ by Dwight Okita presents a letter written by a fourteen-year-old Japanese-American girl during World War II. 

The poem critiques the racist attitudes and policies that led to the internment. Through the lens of a personal relationship, it highlights how racism can infiltrate everyday life, affecting even the closest friendships.

Dear Sirs:

Of course I’ll come. I’ve packed my galoshes

and three packets of tomato seeds. Denise calls them

love apples. My father says where we’re going

they won’t grow


Primer for Blacks

by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Primer For Blacks’ by Gwendolyn Brooks speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and a possible unified future for all black people.

The poem confronts the reality of racism and its impact on Black lives while also celebrating Black culture and history. Brooks addresses the effects of racism on the Black community as well.


is a title,

is a preoccupation,

is a commitment Blacks


by Marilyn Nelson

‘Star-Fix’ by Marilyn Nelson is a poem that lionizes the noble role of the navigator onboard an aircraft.

The crew's lack of racism towards the navigator reveals their respect and even love for the man. But Nelson juxtaposes their lucid respect with the bigotry and ignorance that still very much exists where they all come from.

At his cramped desk under the astrodome, the navigator looks

thousands of light-years everywhere but down. He gets a celestial fix,

measuring head-winds; checking the log; plotting wind-speed,

altitude, drift in a circle of protractors, slide-rules, and pencils.

Who Said It Was Simple

by Audre Lorde

‘Who Said It Was Simple’ by Audre Lorde is a powerful poem about the inequalities in various civil rights movements during the poet’s lifetime.

The poem addresses racism and its impact on black individuals, highlighting the frustration and anger it can cause. It confronts the reality of racism and advocates for change.

There are so many roots to the tree of anger

that sometimes the branches shatter

before they bear.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander read the poem, ‘Praise Song for the Day’ at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. It is an occasional poem praising the Americans’ role in nation-building.

The poem touches on the history of racism in America, mentioning those who "picked the cotton and the lettuce" and built "the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of."

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

‘Still I Rise’ is an inspiring and emotional poem that’s based around Maya Angelou’s experiences as a Black woman in America. It encourages readers to love themselves fully and persevere in the face of every hardship.

Racism is a pervasive theme in 'Still I Rise,' exposing the deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination faced by African Americans and other marginalized communities. Maya Angelou's poem confronts the dehumanizing effects of racism and challenges its destructive power. The poem's defiant tone asserts the refusal to be defined by racist attitudes, highlighting the resilience and strength of the speaker.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

by Terrance Hayes

‘We Should Make a Documentary About Spades’ is written by contemporary American poet Terrance Hayes. This imaginary piece explores the theme of racism and implicitly comments on the history of Spades.

The poem explores the origins of the word "spade," which is a derogatory term for a black person. It also touches on the implications of calling someone who is not your brother or sister by those titles.

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people

Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage

Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,


by C. K. Williams

‘Blades’ uncovers the impact of a racially charged childhood experience, delving into a child’s fears, and guilt bewilderment.  

This poem portrays a racial hatred interaction between two children. This racial tension gets worse by police officers' biased handling of the white suspect based on race. This demonstrates the systematic prejudices that exist in society. The poetry, however, also confronts racial preconceptions by depicting reverse racism in a colored individual perpetrating violence against a non-black.

When I was about eight, I once stabbed somebody, another kid, a little girl.

I’d been hanging around in front of the supermarket near our house

and when she walked by, I let her have it, right in the gap between her shirt

They Feed They Lion

by Philip Levine

‘They Feed They Lion’ by Philip Levine is a powerful poem that visualizes a scene of apocalyptic proportions. It was inspired by the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots.

This poem doesn’t outright state that racism is one of the injustices that fuel the ominous “They.” But much of the historical context surrounding the poem and Levine’s own words indicate the most compelling aspects of the poem originated in the circumstances that Black Americans have been forced to endure. The poem reveals that few recourses beyond violent rebellion are left when institutions have backed an oppressed group against a wall.

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,

Out of black bean and wet slate bread,

Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,

Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,

Telephone Conversation

by Wole Soyinka

‘Telephone Conversation’ is a poem written by Wole Soyinka, a renowned African writer in English. The poem exposes the presence of racial discrimination at the individual level in society even after the passing of laws against it.

Racism is the crux of 'Telephone Conversation,' laid bare through the landlady's callous questions and the speaker's reactions. Soyinka exposes the insidiousness of racism as it manifests in everyday life, where even something as simple as inquiring about an apartment becomes an exercise in humiliation.

The price seemed reasonable, location

Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived

Off premises. Nothing remained

But self-confession. "Madam," I warned,


A Brave and Startling Truth

by Maya Angelou

‘A Brave and Startling Truth’ by Maya Angelou is a commonly quoted poem about humanity’s future. The poet alludes to the “truth” that humanity will arrive at when “we” realize we are the one true wonder of the world. 

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

Affirmative Action Blues

by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Affirmative Action Blues’ appears in Elizabeth Alexander’s Body of Life (1996). This poem is about the incident of police brutality on Rodney King in 1991.

Right now two black people sit in a jury room

in Southern California trying to persuade

nine white people that what they saw when four white

police officers brought batons back like

Black Nikes

by Harryette Mullen

‘Black Nikes,’ a poem by the American poet Harryette Mullen, was first published in Santa Monica Review (1997). This poem records a metaphorical journey of black people to stars.

Blowin’ in the Wind

by Bob Dylan

What’s actually blowin’ in the wind? What’s already there yet deliberately ignored? The answer, my friend, is there in the memorable lyrics of Bob Dylan’s best-loved song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.


by Langston Hughes

‘Cross’ by Langston Hughes uses a stereotypical image of a biracial man to explore identity and the inequalites one might encounter.

My old man’s a white old man

And my old mother’s black.

If ever I cursed my white old man

I take my curses back.


by Natasha Trethewey

‘Enlightenment’ by Natasha Trethewey is a powerful poem about race and racism. The poet depicts the ways in which history can be interpreted.


by Claude McKay

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,

For weary centuries despised, oppressed,

Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place

In the great life line of the Christian West;

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