blackout, gilman’s suggestion.

Race in our age is admitting that we respect advantage, that progress is grievously laid aside. Society developed, yet man senses proof of a force all our fault — degenerating, criminal, rapid.

Children shown the existing body learn and work the new body.

Work and honor free entire groups. Unorganized people govern not. The body politic is taking labor, light, and care. How are profits superhuman? If all ages withdraw cooperation, a fair and free home should make all rise.

Today I’m posting my first ever blackout poem–that’s it up there. Seven sentences gleaned from eight pages. I’m not wild about it.

As a high school English teacher, I’ve been tempted to do blackout poetry projects, but I’ve wanted them to mean something, to be an exercise of true rewriting of text rather than a “fun” standalone lesson on an anodyne subject. As a high school teacher, I’ve also taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” a lot. But I didn’t want to blackout a feminist text. Instead, I worked with Gilman’s 1908 “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem“, an eight-page article in which Gilman imagines an enforced labor system of certain African Americans, those who can work factories & fields “without the strain of personal initiative and responsibility to which so many have proved unequal..”

Gilman’s “suggestion” goes into some detail about the alleged benefits and procedure for the state placing those Black Americans that “do not progress” into organized labor. I blacked out each page, aiming to preserve one sentence per page — but it didn’t always work. This whole thing nauseated me — not just the “suggestion” argued but the realization that in blacking out the word “Negro”, I was merely preserving a sanitized version of the racist, self-servingly modest, clinical voice.

With students, I’d lay the groundwork carefully — at the very least, defining & offering examples of scientific racism. I’d also need to prepare them for the content of the article, maybe even looking at the publication itself, maybe even searching its current place within the academic discipline. I’m not certain that many students are used to seeing racism manifest in this way. Not sure if I’ll return to this kind of thing again, but I’m glad I gave it a try, even though it didn’t work. Or maybe it did — I truly cannot tell right now.

2 responses to “blackout, gilman’s suggestion.”

  1. I think it is very important to explore the ideas we are considering for our students. I love the way you explained your thought process, would this work for your students, did it even work for you? Good luck as you stay focused on bringing new writing experiences to your high school students. They deserve challenges and the chance to try their hand at new ways to express themselves.


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