Poems about Racism

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. 

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou Visual Representation

Grandfather by Michael S. Harper

‘Grandfather’ by Michael S. Harper describes the treatment Harper’s grandfather endured and alludes to racism within the United States more generally. 

Grandfather by Michael S. Harper Visual Representation

The Legend by Garrett Hongo

‘The Legend’ by Garrett Hongo speaks on themes of alienation and the struggle of immigrants within the United States. It focuses on the symbolic death of an older, Asian man in Chicago.

The Legend by Garrett Hongo Visual Representation

Incident by Countee Cullen

‘Incident’ by Countee Cullen describes a terrible incident from the poet’s youth that occurred when he was happily visiting Baltimore. 

Incident by Countee Cullen Visual Representation

Nikki-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

In ‘Nikki-Rosa,’ Nikki Giovanni explores her experiences while growing up in a closely-knit black community in 1950s America.

Nikki-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni Visual Representation

To a Dark Girl by Gwendolyn Bennett

‘To a Dark Girl’ by Gwendolyn Bennett is a moving and inspiring poem that seeks to uplift Black girls and women and remind them of their beauty and strength. 

To a Dark Girl by Gwendolyn Bennett Visual Representation

Tableau by Countee Cullen

‘Tableau’ by Countee Cullen is a powerful poem about two men, one black and one white, who appear to be romantic partners. 

Tableau by Countee Cullen Visual Representation

Cross by Langston Hughes

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

Cross by Langston Hughes Visual Representation

Poem at Thirty by Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez’s ‘Poem at Thirty’ describes a speaker’s journey from being wounded to growing stronger. The pain reminds her of the metaphorical “midnight” of her life and her community.

Poem at Thirty by Sonia Sanchez Visual Representation

The Weakness by Toi Derricotte

‘The Weakness’ appears in Toi Derricotte’s third collection of poetry, Captivity (1989). This poem explores a light-skinned woman’s hesitation, weakness, and low self-esteem in a racially judgmental society.

The Weakness by Toi Derricotte Visual Representation

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.

Black Nikes by Harryette Mullen Visual Representation

Tucson by Stephen Dunn

‘Tucson’ by Stephen Dunn is a narrative poem that explores a particular city’s racial tensions. They are described through a single fight and allusions to the various men present in a single bar.

Tucson by Stephen Dunn Visual Representation

Jack Johnson Does The Eagle Rock by Cornelius Eady

‘Jack Johnson Does The Eagle Rock’ appears in Cornelius Eady’s poetry collection Victims of the Latest Dance Craze. This poem is an allusion to the great American boxer Jack Johnson and how he was denied a ticket on the Titanic.

Jack Johnson Does The Eagle Rock Visual Representation

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

The Tradition is the titular poem from Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown’s poetry collection. It brings to light the maltreatment of African Americans in the present US, while relating it to the past.

The Tradition Poem Visual Representation

Middle Passage by Robert Hayden

‘Middle Passage’ by Robert Hayden is a narrative poem written in the 1940s. It describes the happenings of the Atlantic Slave Trade, as told from the perspective of several white narrators.

Middle Passage by Robert Hayden Visual Representation

Parade’s End by Daljit Nagra

‘Parade’s End’ was published in the British poet Daljit Nagra’s debut collection “Look We Have Coming to Dover!” published in 2007. This poem taps on the themes of racism and the suffering of Asian immigrants in the UK in the 20th century.

Parade’s End by Daljit Nagra Visual Representation

White Lies by Natasha Trethewey

‘White Lies’ by Natasha Trethewey is a poetic exploration of racial identity in the American South through three lies a girl tells about being white.

White Lies by Natasha Trethewey Visual Representation

The Slave Auction by Frances Harper

Have you ever imagined what it felt like observing innocent lives being traded at the slave auction? It is vividly portrayed through the eyes of Frances Harper in her poem ‘The Slave Auction’.

The Slave Auction by Frances Harper Visual Representation

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’.

Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan Visual Representation

The Black Man’s Burden by H. T. Johnson

What happens when Kipling’s ideas in ‘The White Man’s Burden’ pierce the soul of the blacks? Then writers like H. T. Johnson pen down ‘The Black Man’s Burden’ in response to chauvinism, white supremacy, and racism.

The Black Man’s Burden by H. T. Johnson Visual Representation

Harlem Hopscotch by Maya Angelou

‘Harlem Hopscotch’ by Maya Angelou is a thoughtful poem. It explores what it’s like to grow up Black in Harlem, New York.

The Ballad of the Landlord by Langston Hughes

‘The Ballad of the Landlord’ is a poem that explores the relationship between a Black tenant and his white landlord. The latter refuses to fulfill his duties and the former ends up in jail.

The Ballad of the Landlord by Langston Hughes

Incident by Natasha Trethewey

‘Incident’ was published in the former United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s 2006 collection “Native Guard”. This poem features one of the African-American speaker’s reactions after watching the cross-burning by Ku Klux Klan members.

Incident by Natasha Trethewey Visual Representation

Enlightenment 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.

Skin by Philip Larkin

‘Skin’ by Philip Larkin speaks on the importance of a person’s identity. Specifically, he is concerned with the influence and biographical aspects of the skin.

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