POET: Sy Stokes
PIECE: Black Bruins
UCLA student explores the effects of racial inequality on campus.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase

“When we have more national championships than we do black male freshmen
It’s evident that our only purpose here is to improve your winning percentage”

Black Bruins, explores the effects of racial inequality on the campus of UCLA. This piece is a call for action, by juxtaposing some of the financial and policy decision with the low admission and graduation rates of Black students.

Full Transcript of Poem

In fall 2012, the total enrollment, graduate and undergraduate, for African American males at UCLA was 660 students. That’s 3.3% of the 19, 838 other males enrolled here. Out of that 660 African American male students, 65% are undergraduate athletes. The number of entering male freshman students was 2,418; only 48 of them are African American. The graduation rates for African American males at UCLA is 74%… Which means out of that 48 freshmen last year… Only 35 are predicted to graduate.

When we were children, we learned how to mix colors with a paint brush
We learned that white mixed with anything makes it brighter
But we wouldn’t dare mix anything with brown or black or else our entire creation would be ruined
What we failed to realize… was that the untouched dark section of the paint brush pallet became the symbol of the melanin in our skin
The painter only used us to write words that were dark enough to be noticed on a white background
So if words are all we are good for then don’t you dare tell us to silence our voices when we choose to speak

Now you tell me that I should be proud to be at UCLA?
When only 35 of us are predicted to walk across that stage?
When most of us are dropping out from the lack of financial aid
While Judy Olian, Dean of Anderson School of Management just spent $647,000 on first class flights and hotel stays
But waiting for an apology is asking for the impossible
Because no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible
But you tell me I should be proud to be a Bruin

When we have more national championships than we do black male freshmen
It’s evident that our only purpose here is to improve your winning percentage
So now black high school kids can care less about grades, just as long as the number on the back of their jersey doesn’t fade
And you tell me I should be proud to be a Bruin

But according to Professor Sander, 3.3% is far too many black kids
On his perfectly paved roads there are far too many black skids

This school is not diverse just because you put it on a pamphlet
But you’ll name a building after Albert Carnesale who publicly opposes affirmative action
The action that can make our fraction on your demographic pie chart look more than just a second hand on a clock
It’s all…. talk
Just to maintain this fraudulent reputation
Of this institutionalized racist corporation

They don’t care about the cultural limitations of being a minority in society
So we have become our own painters… with our own pallets…
And we have voices that speak defiantly

So we IGNITE the flames to help us find the path to our future
Increasing Graduations, Not Incarcerations, Transforming Education because our numbers can’t be any fewer
So don’t be surprised that we have become rebellious for what has happened to us
When every black student in class feels like Rosa Parks on the bus
We are tryin to rewind time with role reversal as our revenge
Because we have no other choice when the university refuses to come to our defense

But we have come too far to let history repeat itself
Even when they are peeling off the dark fur of the Bruin pelt
Because our faces are just used to cover up from the public what’s really inside
Revitalizing lies to perpetuate your disguise

Stop pretending that the wounds of our past have healed
We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for a level playing field
Those with less opportunity are fighting for their position trying to find their place
But those with privilege are hitting triples when they were already born on third base

So with all of my brothers’ hopes and dreams that this university has tried to ruin
How the hell am I supposed to be proud… to call myself… a Bruin

In-depth Analysis

What I most appreciate about Stokes’ poem is the use of quantitative data within the narrative. Aside from the introduction, this poem constantly moves back and forth between poetic devices and statistical evidence for inequality. While qualitative and quantitative data are often positioned as mortal enemies in social science research, I find this dichotomy to be counterproductive in understanding the lives, relations, and structure of society. As Black Bruins demonstrates, there is something powerful about understanding your body and experience within the demographics of an institution. We often hear the cliche about being a statistic; well Sy Stokes gives the marginalized statistics a voice, an emotion, and an agency often missing in these discussions. In that UCLA represents an ideal-type bureaucratic institution, to bring in Max Weber, this poem speaks in the language of quantitative data to demonstrate its insider knowledge of the institution while meeting it with the language of poetry – the outsider knowledge marginalized by the institution. Certainly this piece is great for considering inequality in education, but it is truly one of the few spoken word poems that allow audiences to consider social science research data and presentation as poetry.

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.