POET: Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen
PIECE: Somewhere in America
TOPICS DISCUSSED:
Education
SUMMARY:
Three young women speak on the lack of acknowledgment of controversial topics; those that are often not spoken about for being ‘sensitive’, which affect not only all of society but American youth in particular.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase
Discussion

“Maya Angelou is prohibited because we’re not allowed to talk about rape in school. We were taught ‘just because something happens, doesn’t mean you are to talk about it’”

These young women speak on the issues of racism, poverty, rape or sexual harassment, gun violence, and sexual orientation. By speaking briefly of each social issue these teenagers act out in a deviant matter since it is often portrayed that American youth are not informed nor speak of such topics. They challenge the status quo of the modern educational system by stating that rather than being shielded from the truth, the youth deserve to be advised on such matters. The educational system, as proposed by the poets, is simply avoiding subjects that will leave them unprepared for the harsh reality of the real world.

Full Transcript of Poem

Here in America, in every single state, they have a set of standards for every subject
A collection of lessons that the teacher’s required to teach by the end of the term
But the greatest lessons you’ll ever teach us will not come from your syllabus
The greatest lessons you will ever teach us, you will not even remember

You never told us what we weren’t allowed to say
We just learned how to hold our tongues
Now somewhere in America, there is s a child holding a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” and there is a child holding a gun
But only one of these things have been banned by their state government
And it’s not the one that can rip through flesh
It’s the one that says “fuck you” on more pages than one

Because we must control what the people say, and how they think
And if they want to become the overseer of their own selves, then we’ll show them a real one
And somewhere in America, there’s a child sitting at his mother’s computer, reading the homepage of the KKK’s website, and that’s open to the public
But that child will never have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” because the school has banned it for its use of the “N” word

Maya Angelou is prohibited because we’re not allowed to talk about rape in school
We were taught that ‘just because something happens, doesn’t mean you are to talk about it’
They built us brand new shopping malls so that we’ll forget where we’re really standing
On the bones of the Hispanics, on the bones of the slaves, on the bones of the Native Americans, on the bones of those who fought just to speak!

Transcontinental Railroad to Japanese Internment Camps
There are things missing from our history books
But we were taught that it is better to be silent, than to make them uncomfortable
Somewhere in America, private school girls search for hours through boutiques, trying to find the prom dress of their dreams
While kids on the south side spending hours searching through the ‘lost and found’ ’cause winter’s coming soon and that’s the only jacket they have

Kids are late to class for working the midnight shift
They give awards for best attendance, but not for keeping your family off the streets
These kids will call your music ghetto, they will tell you
you don’t talk right
Then they’ll get in the backseat of a car with all their friends singing ‘ bout how “They’re ‘bout that life” and “we can’t stop”
Somewhere in America, schools are promoting self-confidence
While they whip out their scales and shout out your body fat percentage in class

While heftier girls are hiding away, and the slim fit beauties can’t help but giggle with pride
The preppy kids go thrift shopping ‘cause they think it sounds real fun
But we go ‘cause that’s all we got money for
‘Cause momma works for the city, momma only gets paid once a month
Somewhere in America, a girl is getting felt up by a grown man on the subway
She’s still in her school uniform and that’s part of the appeal
It’s hard to run in knee socks and Mary Jane’s, and all her male teachers know it too

Coaches cover up the star players raping freshmen after the dance
Women are killed for rejecting dates, but God forbid I bring my girlfriend to prom
Girls blackout drunk at the after party, take a picture before her wounds wake her
How many pixels is your sanity worth? What’s a 4.0 to a cold jury?
What’d you learn in class today?
Don’t walk fast, don’t speak loud, keep your hands to yourself, keep your head down
Keep your eyes on your own paper, if you don’t know the answer, fill in “C”
Always wear earbuds when you ride the bus alone
If you feel like someone’s following you, pretend you’re on the phone

A teacher never fails, only you do (transcription by Genius.com)

In-depth Analysis

Somewhere in America, is a highly thought-provoking poem in the sense that it motivates its audience (particularly the American youth) to speak up and ask questions in regards to societal issues. Escobedo, McGavin, and Allen aim to inform their readers that the education system is failing to inform them of ‘sensitive’ topics like racism, rape, the objectification of women’s bodies, poverty, gun violence, and sexuality. The poets further imply that not only are they shielded from subjects that will present themselves outside the micro-school level environment but are purposely distracted as well by materialistic things.

There is nothing stopping these teenage poets from speaking on the several negative aspects of American society. The first issue addressed is that the government that books that use “the ‘N’ word” but cannot ban guns. Thus this implies that schools like the government do not prevent racism or gun violence by simply ignoring it; it is still easily accessible to the public (like the mention of the KKK’s website). Similarly, the poem states that schools are prohibited from talking about rape and the objectification of women’s bodies which are major social dysfunctions. Additionally, they blatantly refer to educational staff covering up rapes done by athletes, yet to be openly sexual is frowned upon. The subject of poverty throughout America also arises; the poets state that the educational system rewards those who maintain perfect attendance, while not considering students who must work to help keep their families off the streets. If all of these previously stated subjects are issues that affect the overall functioning of one’s society, then it is an educator’s job to guide students in establishing effective moral skills.

One can view this poem from a symbolic interactionist way since humans create symbols of the things they interact with they be ensured there should be a reassurance that they are attributing positive meanings to their interactions. If the American youth are being denied information or told to, as the poets put it “hold [their] tongues”, then, when a controversial topic as such comes up, it causes people to become intimidated to speak about it. Aside from being kept from the knowledge of real societal issues, the poem states that they are being distracted from reality. The line “They built us brand new shopping malls so that we’ll forget where we’re really standing. On the bones of the Hispanics, on the bones of the slaves, on the bones of the Native Americans, on the bones of those who fought just to speak…” says a great deal on American materialism or capitalism. Thus, this deficient teaching of past history can be, I argue, a form of social control; that is to maintain conformity to established norms in order to avoid social disrupt.

Though young, these three teenage girls made a remarkable poem that summarizes American society today. The poem touches on, often avoided, controversial topics like that of racism, rape, the objectification of women’s bodies, poverty, gun violence, and sexual orientation which is arguably an act of deviance in itself. Though this poem speaks of the lack of lessons the poets had failed to receive; it is astonishingly a lesson in itself. (Veronica De la Rosa)

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Resources
Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • Is there a potentially effective way that teachers can address these real-life issues, if so how will it affect the overall school environment?
  • The lack of information given by teachers often ends the curiosity of the students to learn of such topics; is this then, a potential form of social control?
  • How is the lack of significant information preparing, or failing to prepare, a student to deal with many of society’s dilemmas?

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.