In 1970, when the poem we present here, “Feelings of a Very Light Negro as the Confrontation Approaches,” was published in We Speak as Liberators: Young Black Poets—An Anthology, Pearl Cleage was just about to enter Spelman as a freshman. It is extremely fascinating for me to look at the reference to Black males she makes in her poem through her young adult point of view in the 1970s and then through the young adult point of view in the 2000s.

It is crystal clear that young Pearl Cleage assumed that you understood that an image of a Black man with a gun in the 1970s implies that self-described “white” people are going to be shot. Fast-forward to the new millennium and our young person following in the footsteps of Pearl Cleage would surely assume that a Black man with a gun is going to shoot another Black man. In less than forty years, the “wisdom of the crowd” has been completely transformed!

But let us not make light of Ms. Cleage’s “very light” Negro. When we remind ourselves of what Mark Essex did on January 7, 1973, we remind ourselves that Ms. Cleage was quite serious and not ignorant. This seriousness implies that the hatred she writes about in this poem was serious as well. And let us look at this hatred as an energy that did not dissipate into the void. We can safely say that this hatred was present with her first husband, Dr. Michael Lomax, chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, providing at least one moment of irony in the struggle for “Negro freedom.” I dare say that some of that hatred helped Ms. Cleage complete Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth. But in the end, over time, one might be able to present us a happy ending—a resolution with this hatred—represented by her marriage to Zaron W. Burnett Jr.

When you see me, my skin complexion, you might think (like a racist) that I would have very little sympathy with Pearl Cleage. But all I need to do is think about gun-wielding “Black” Africans on the continent (and up off King Boulevard) and quickly find the fear of being shot—quickly find their whiteness inside of their so-called Blackness—and yes, find hatred in the irony of self-described Black men using white thoughts to cause “collateral damage” for the sake of an ideal. So I can’t put Pearl Cleage, her poem, in perfect past test—that would be more misshapen idealism.


Written by . . . . . . . Pearl Cleage
Archival Research by . . . . . . . Tasha Dionne Thomas
XHTML/CSS Programming by . . . . . . . Bryan Wilhite