POET: Amiri Baraka
PIECE: Why is We Americans
Politics and Government
An articulation of the structural and cultural exploitation by the premiere voice of the Black Arts Movement.

Key Lines and Discussion

Key Lines/Phrases

Pu de-daaaa
Pu de-daaaa
bap bap bap bap
bu de bu de bu de bu bu.”

Amiri Baraka is one of the most influential poets to have inspired spoken word poetry as we know it today. In this poem, his use of jazz, command of rhythm, and historical references demonstrates why he was the vanguard of the Black Arts Movement. “Why is We Americans” is not simply about the Black struggle to identify as American, it highlights the stratification of poor whites and other groups of color. This poem calls for reparations beyond a paycheck and list the reasons why. Furthermore, Baraka offers democracy as a unifying force against segregation where as assimilation as traditionally asked of marginalized groups.

Full Transcript of Poem

Why is We Americans? Why is We Americans?

Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-do-do. Be-De-De-De-Bu-De-Bu-Bup-Boo-Boo.

What I want is me. For real. I want me and my self. And what that is is what I be and what I see and feel and who is me in the. What it is, is who it is, and when it me its what is be….I’m gone be here, if I want, like I said, self determination, but I ain’t come from a foolish tribe, we wants the mule the land, you can make it three hundred years of blue chip stock in the entire operation. We want to be paid, in a central bank the average worker farmer wage for all those years we gave it free. Plus we want damages, for all the killings and the fraud, the lynchings, the missing justice, the lies and frame-ups, the unwarranted jailings, the tar and featherings, the character and race assassinations. historical slander, ugly caricatures, for every sambo, step and fechit flick, we want to be paid, for every hurtful thing you did or said. For all the land you took, for all the rapes, all the rosewoods and black wall streets you destroyed. All the mis-education, jobs loss, segregated shacks we lived in, the disease that ate and killed us, for all the mad police that drilled us. For all the music and dances you stole. The styles. The language. The hip clothes you copped. The careers you stopped. All these are suits, specific litigation, as represent we be like we, for reparations for damages paid to the Afro-American nation.

Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa.

We want education for all of us and anyone else in the black belt hurt by slavery. For all the native peoples even them poor white people you show all the time as funny, all them abners and daisy maes, them Beverly Hill Billies who never got to no beverly hills. who never got to Harvard on they grandfathers wills. we want reparations for them, right on, for the Mexicans whose land you stole. For all of North Mexico you call Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, all that, all that, all that, all that, Bu-de-daaaa do do bap bap bap baaa du de do.
All that you gotta give up, autonomy and reparations. To the Chicanos, and the Native Americans, who souls you ripped out with their land, give Self-Determination, Regional autonomy, that’s what my we is askin, and they gon do the same. when they demand it, like us again, in they own exploited name. Yeh the education that’s right two hundred…years. We want a central stash, a central bank, with democratically elected trustees, and a board elected by us all, to map out, from the referendum we set up, what we want to spend it on. To build that Malcolm sense Self-Determination as Self-Reliance and Self Respect and Self Defense, the will of what the good Dr. DuBois beat on – true self consciousness. Simply the psychology of Freedom.

Bu-de-daaaa Bu-de-daaaa Pu de-daaaa Pu de-daaaa bap bap bap bap bu de bu de bu de bu bu.

Then we can talk about bein American. Then we can listen – then we can listen without the undercurrent of desire to first set your ass on fire. We will only talk of voluntary unity, of autonomy, as vective arms of self-determination. If there is democracy in you that is where it will be shown. this is the only way we is Americans. This is the only truth that can be told. OTHERWISE there is no future between us but war. And we is rather lovers and singers and dancers and poets and drummers and actors and runners and elegant heartbeats of the suns flame….but we is also to the end of our silence and sitdown. We is at the end of being under your ignorant smell your intentional hell. Either give us our lives or plan to forfeit your own.
(Genius.com “Why is We Americans”)


In-Depth Analysis

Please see the annotations at Genius.com

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • What is the relationship between structure and culture as it relates to social stratification?
  • What is does W.E.B. DuBois mean by the phrase self-consciousness? How does the understanding of that concept enhance the meaning of this poem?
  • Does Amiri Baraka make a clear case for reparations? How does Baraka’s use of poetry impact that case in comparison to Ta-Nehisi Coates article “The Case for Reparations?”

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.