Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks

In Brooks' "The Boy Died in My Alley," I continually thought about the racial profiling by police and the powerful impacts that it's had throughout the twentieth century. The only race riot that I remember was the 1992 LA riots following the Rodney King verdict that resulted from the same feelings of racial prejudice and police brutality. This reminded me of the Harlem riot of 1935, which began when a child was taken by police and the people assumed that the police had beaten him to death. In actuality, Brooks must have seen many race riots in her time in Chicago, culminating in the riots which overtook several parts of the city in 1968. Beyond this, though, there were several riots throughout the 1970s which surely impacted this poem.
What was so striking about the poem was the loneliness that it conveyed and the loss of the sense of a shared community. The boy dying in the alley felt to me to be the hope of the African American community of reaching the racial solidarity promised by the civil rights movement. The speaker both new the hope that this movement had brought, yet was not a part of it out of fear of reprisal. Oppression was the operative word for my feelings on this poem: police oppression, societal oppression, and self-oppression.

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