POET: Brandon
PIECE: Four Lines
Race and Ethnicity
Upbringing experience, Brandon expressed the chaos in his identity as he managed to keep his roots over the overwhelming whiteness.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase

“No one asks your whiteness to save my poor Asian soul from the fiery hells of white oblivion.”

The poet points out four lines representing his identity that he perceives himself as well as other folks label him. Being the first generation in an Asian immigrant family is such a hard experience that he once wishes to be a white so that he needn’t enduring racial discrimination in a country that he considers as his home. The last line shows his belief that everyone, especially non-whites, should be treated as the same human being.

Full Transcript of Poem

Line one I’m Chinese
Line two I’m American
Line three I’m a child of immigrant
Line four I’m human
I’m lines of understanding becoming singularity multiple into one
I’m standing inside a classroom when I learned the word intersection
When I learned the word hyphenation
When Kim Fuentecilla and Dennis Kim taught me in ways only they could
When I was younger
I wanted the history of my pigment to disappear
I wanted the sun to hit wider eyes
I wanted to be other than other
I wanted to be other than a child of immigrant
I wanted to be more than the first gen
I want to be good I wanted to be white
They taught me from oral tradition from history from understanding
From the roots of their bodily resistance and with love
They taught me from the bags that they held in their hands
They are full of stories and I’m thankful they are willing to share
We are child of immigrant
We are sons and daughters of resident
Bag carriers
Knee bending
Heavy lifters
We are Asian-American
They are my teachers my mentors
They are the hands that held mine in the darkness
Before I knew what, my eyes couldn’t see
They helped me wipe the mirror clean
I’m writing this because you taught me to be gracious for things I’ve received
Patient for things I’ve yet to obtain to write as an act of resistance
to speak truths allowed to come from deeper inside my being
I’m trying, and I want you to know that I am trying
but they keep on taking my sound
They keep taking my breath before it even touches my teeth
Pleading my words
Putting my presence aside
They keep taking it for their own
They took my shell and filled it with a white ghost when my spirit is of a different color
They took my fists emblazoned with the history that moves through my ancient blood
and they slit my wrists
Poured my blood into a golden chalice
They sit at the culture
They swallow the taste of authenticity as they stain their lips
Doesn’t the iron in my blood taste so good as they stain their lips
So, go ahead and continue to consume because I’m filled with emptiness
You said we made it
We are here
We have nothing to complain about model minority makes no ripples from your brimful pool
But no one asks you to save me
No one asks your whiteness to save my poor Asian soul from the fiery hells of white oblivion
Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Finn Jones, Tom Cruise
I was shown Tilda Swinton
Her whiteness is not water that I must drink to survive
And with each appearance in adaption on to the silver screen
You actively add to me erasure
But this is a stance of presence I am here
Denis Kim thank you for providing me an outstanding example of Asian-American maleness
My identity has been shaped and altered to the being standing on this very stage
Kim Fuentecilla thank you for teaching me the word Malika
The word strong though I am not Filipino
I’m your son you are my chosen mother
Show me strength in unity and love for roots of my own mainland
You have lifted me up and have shown me how to love space in and around and between my lines
Line one I’m Chinese
Line two I’m American
Line three I’m a child of immigrant
Line four I am human

In-depth Analysis

Brandon’s Four Lines is an emotional piece which demonstrates the intersection of his identity as he tries not to lose his color within a whitewashing culture. The strike point of his standing shouts out that he is only human and hoping to be treated fairly, regardless of any labels he has been given. The introduction presents an overt stereotypical image of the poet holding forth to inform audiences to see things from his position. The end of the poem re-states the lines he is in but with a more precise viewpoint of his persistence toward his mother root and appreciation of not being white folk.
In spite of his personal experience, Four Lines basically embeds itself in a conflict framework. There is no evidence of a threat to the dominant group, yet society creates a conflict within the poet: he wants to gain white privilege in order to feel powerful and superior even though he cannot deny his Asian traditional and historical flesh. A developed intersection theory promotes the fact that racism and prejudice will keep existing although no one attempts to mark it out, which makes sense since he mentions no one in particular to cause his hardship. Racism is still here and there in society, like his Chinese blood running in his veins it will not change though he desperately “wants to be white”.
The most sarcastic turning point of the poem, when Brandon hopelessly confesses that “No one asks your whiteness to save my poor Asian soul from the fiery hells of white oblivion,” illustrates that the conflict is in between dominant group and minor group. He asserts that mass media also promotes white status through movies, and their casting of super heroes, and it socially shapes audiences by promoting whiteness on the screen. He discusses Tilda Swinton, a white actress taking a role of an Asian character, which makes Brandon feel frustrated by a public image, from which most people will base their perception, swayed by whiteness. White heroes save the world but cannot save non-white people from being underestimated by their ancients. His socialization is passive in white culture, but it does not fulfill the identity he relates to. Looking back on his childhood wishing, comparing how sharpened he is until now with a persistence on keeping his origin critically, explains the influence of a group or society. Realizing a clear sight into how he is able to confront and adapt to the white overwhelming society is a powerful lesson in explaining how socialization either drives individuals to comply to the dominant force or challenges their argument to protect minor group’s value.
Four Lines can also explain other theories relating to race & ethnicity and socialization. However, it more overtly describes how a victim of racial aggression stands up from the hopeless point of modifying himself to an impossible mankind he would never become. That is a rational conflict that takes place within an individual who does not come from a powerful group in a society. This piece of sharing ends with the poet’s decision to tolerate his own culture as pluralism, which encourages him to find grace by owning multiple cultures. The discussion is mainly about how race discomforts an individual when it comes to labeling within a society, and somehow it leads to the understanding of choice between giving up on real identity or adapting to the racial prejudice.(Nhi Huynh)

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • Does gaining a higher social status help non-whites avoid racial discrimination better than remaining intergenerational poor?
  • Do racial discrimination and cultural shifting alter an non-white individual’s identity or they voluntarily adapt to fit in whiteness preference society?
  • 3. Is it worth to give up origin tradition to follow main characterics of the domiant group?

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.