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I am an Afrikaner, a term that defines a white person whose mother tongue is Afrikaans. I was raised during the height of Apartheid in South Africa. “Apartheid” is “separation” in Afrikaans, segregation of whites and blacks. It was a time of border wars, political unrest, sanctions and violence; a time where the Afrikaner was known as the oppressor.
I had a happy childhood, though. One of my earliest memories is of our maid, Johanna, sitting next to me on our veranda. It was our morning tea-time, and we were drinking sweet, milky, hot tea from pale green, tin mugs—the cups that were meant only for the black workers. I watched as she dipped her jam-and-cheese-stuffed sandwich into the tea, heartily biting of the mushy bread, tea drops rolling down her fingers. With her mouth full of sandwich, she animatedly shouted to the neighbor’s garden boy across the street. I could tell by the look on their faces and the high pitch tones that they were having a cheerful conversation. They were talking over my head in Sotho, their native tongue. It had familiar sounds but the interpretation was lost to me. I remember feeling at ease in her warm presence, yet at the same time excluded from their company, resembling a stranger. I must have been four years old at the time; my mom was probably out shopping somewhere, and this domestic worker was stuck with the task of babysitting me. She played an integral part in our family’s lives, even though she was black and, as a non-citizen of South Africa, had no rights.
Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks are the sources for powerful, vivid works of modern poetry. They both have written from the heart when illuminating certain experiences that those in different circumstances fail to understand. Clifton’s poetry consistently promotes female agency and identity without forgiveness in a way that aligns with modern feminism, whereas Brooks’ poetry has a stronger focus on the African-American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is not to say that Clifton’s work overlooks the black experience or that Brooks’ poems lack feminist themes. On the contrary, both poets produced works that express the philosophies of intersectional feminism and exposure of the black experience. However, it can be noted that Clifton’s work tends to focus slightly more on women’s issues while Brooks’ is more expressive of African-American culture and socioeconomic tribulations.
I was in a gallery walking through
the halls; I saw exhibits built into vertical
and Picasso in his abstract glory.
I turned toward eyes where there should have been legs,
watching human glory.
The spectators who walked through,
a far cry from the shape of the sculptures seen
all day through this vast space,
and I had no idea where to