The 3 poems included here are from a collection written between January and August 2020. The full collection—27 poems total—examines intersections of structural racism, racialized police violence, and COVID-19, drawing from generations of creative resistance produced and embodied by Black artists, activists, and scholars like Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Audre Lorde, Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, and W.E.B. DuBois. The collection as a whole is crafted as counternarrative to public health’s ahistoric, apolitical, racist, and homophobic proclivities in times of crisis. The 3 poems here are from Part II, "LOVE//Resistance in the Time of COVID.” These selections make connections between social justice, structural racism, economic inequality, and public health history, weaving public health themes together with Black music, poetry, literature, and history to (re)frame/analyze the dual pandemics confronting Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, and to nuance narratives of our presence/resistance. “MASKS//Exposed” and “IMMAGINATION//Immunity” do so in relation to COVID-19, while “BLACK//Gold” (written/recorded as a hip-hop track) sits at the intersection of COVID-19 and racialized police violence.
“MASKS//Exposed” offers a critical analysis of the public health and political discourse during the early stages of COVID-19, drawing from public health literature, critical theory, and news media to interrogate dominant narratives of being “all in this together”, social distance(ing), and COVID-19 being an “equal opportunity infection.”
“IMMAGINATION//Immunity” offers a personal reflection on how COVID-19 has shaped daily life for those with young children, anchored in a theme of imagination as escape/immunity, and taking my childhood nostalgia of Nas’ (1996) “If I Ruled the Ruled (Imagine That)” as the narrative architecture/pulse.
“BLACK//Gold” offers a lyrical analysis of intersections between dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racialized police violence, integrating critical social commentary of each as rooted in broader forms/norms of structural racism, racial capitalism, and epistemic and symbolic violence. Written in the tradition of Black protest music, the lyrics evoke the words/writings of James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Assata Shakur, and Nina Simone—using vocal and piano samples from the latter’s renditions of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Strange Fruit.”
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Petteway, R. J.
"3 Selections from "Upon the Body: Poems of/to a Black Social Epi, PT.II--LOVE//Resistance in the Time of COVID","
Amplify: A Journal of Writing-as-Activism:
1, Article 4.