Amir Safi – “Brown Boy. White House” (NPS 2013)


I once asked my father
if it was ok not to go to daycare anymore. He smiled and asked me, “Why?”
I still have trouble giving him straight answers. So he watched one day as a group of white
children pulled his son from the monkey bars.
Screaming. I still have calluses on my hands.
I still have a hard time letting things go. The teachers explained to my father that this
is how children play. [20 years later this is still how we play].
So he pulled me from their care and put me in a church
where I learned that Jesus still has calluses on his hands
He still has a hard time letting some people go. Growing up in Texas
One learns to practice patience Practice repetition patience
Patience makes perfect. The best gift I get for my birthday every year
is a telephone call from my grandmother. I remember walking with her through department
stores as people would stare. I remember getting very angry because I was
taught it was impolite to stare. I was always taught that is not the purpose of a hijab. I believe this is the reason why people have
stopped wearing their faith unless it can be conveniently concealed under their shirt.
Maybe if people don’t stare Then God won’t either. Growing up in Texas
One learns to practice patience Practice Repetition patience
Patience makes perfect I was made fun of for being Mexican,
until 9/11 then it was Arab or terrorist,
I’m not Persian that country no longer exists Iranian-American is an oxymoron
Muslim-American a paradox A girl asks me, “where are you from then,
Amir?” I answer, “Well, I was born in Iowa.”
She then says, “oh really, is that in the middle east?”
A boy approaches me In a high school hallway
And says, “If you were from Afghanistan I’d beat your ass”
The three words I should’ve said Were “I love you”
Instead I said “wish you would”
It was then I understood how your patriots act.
If the French gave us the statue of liberty in 2003
we would have given it back because they didn’t go with us to war in
Ee-rock Eye-rack
When the French did give us the statue of liberty
we gave her back because at first she was black
Save diversity for a skittles package, but even then we all pick our favorites
We like our borders like our picket fences. WHITE WASHED. A red boy is forced to take a white name.
Black Slaves paint a white house. Public schools teach that it is important to assimilate,
so a yellow girl’s parents do the same. But how will they ever learn how to pronounce
our names if we keep changing them? Do you think people naturally know how to
pronounce Cry-stal
Or Chris-top-her?
English is neither phonetic nor forgiving That’s why I take comfort when a boy named
Cassius Molds his last name to Ali in an attempt to
salvage his identity. The ring is the only
time he faced a fair fight. If black is the culmination of all colors,
then why do we keep trying to stir this melting pot white?
My name is Amir Safi
I still have calluses on my hands. I still have a hard time letting things go.


98 Responses

  1. BandaidCat

    December 17, 2013 3:55 am

    This was amazing! It made my heart pound, and few poems can do that! I wish to be a poet like this someday

  2. monkeysyah

    December 24, 2013 11:10 pm

    Oh my…I just can't understand how people could dislike this poem. I actually got chills and goosebumps listings. That was just amazing!

  3. ChasingOpinions

    December 26, 2013 9:48 pm

    We are born with a natural affinity to opposite colors, we are systematically taught to fight our nature and try to like something that is similar to us.  Much love for parents who teach a child to see light and life in all colors.

  4. Maddie Guerrero

    December 27, 2013 4:31 pm

    I think this poem is absolutely outstanding because it came from the heart. We see the emotion you put in. We see the memories you faced with every syllable you pronounce. I love this so much.

  5. s0ulhack33r

    January 20, 2014 11:17 pm

    I would admit that his delivery could have been more crisp and pleasant to ear, but the message and content of his poetry was not lost on me. Great stuff man.

  6. Hk S

    January 21, 2014 12:26 pm

    The only thought I had: "WOW!" This message left me literally speechless at the first moment. Reflecting on what I've experienced in the U.S., I feel like this poem should be nationally broadcasted and hopefully! HOPEfully! a few more Americans can understand this message!

  7. MochaTater

    February 11, 2014 8:00 am

    @s0ulhack33r I have to disagree with you he stumbled on his words once or twice but the feeling he put into it is what made it such a wonderful poem. Anyone can put words on a paper that rhyme but not very many people can put meaning into those words and whats more cause someone like me, who is white and cant fully understand the discrimination some other races go through, be so moved by the poem. Ive looked through a lot of button poetry acts and ive only liked a few. Im a little picky when it comes to poems but Amir really hit the nail on the head with this one

  8. Kayla K.

    February 21, 2014 7:09 pm

    I don't think I was breathing in that last minute.
    That was very intense, I loved it.
    I felt everything he was feeling for a moment.
    And I think that was his point.
    Wow, that was just beautiful.

  9. Midnight Daydreaming

    June 29, 2014 5:39 am

    This was beyond beautiful. He sees the world as only a minority can. And yet, I as a black women, may never experience some of the things he will have to deal with. People can so easily blame an entire group of people for the acts of individuals and it saddens me because this is not the American dream, this is just another nightmare for a comatose nation that needs to wake up.

  10. Stephanie Onyechi

    July 17, 2014 12:51 am

    "How will they ever learn to pronounce our names if we keep changing them?" Oh my goodness, this is so good!

  11. Amir Safi

    September 25, 2014 9:22 pm

    Hi everyone, this is Amir Safi. Thank you all for your comments and support. I started a new slam poetry youtube channel by the name of Write About Now. Please subscribe as I try to create the same platform for poets that Button Poetry helped create for me!

  12. Genesis Garay

    October 8, 2014 9:38 pm

    Wow my English teacher showed us this and damn it got me…amazing Amir!! 👍Good job keep it up!

  13. oddmanjed

    December 16, 2014 11:37 am

    welll reallllyyyyyyyyy, black is the absence of colour, white is the combination of all colours. Makes you wonder why dark skinned people are/were called coloured… oh ignorance, it's a main ingredient in racism.

  14. Sawta

    December 30, 2014 5:02 pm

    I love the poem, but it's factually incorrect about The Statue of Liberty "We gave it back" statement:

    Claim 3: The original model for the Statue of Liberty was a black woman, but the design was changed to appease white Americans who would not accept an African-American Liberty.

    Finding: The statue's design almost certainly evolved from an earlier concept Bartholdi proposed for a colossal monument in Egypt, for which the artist used his drawings of Egyptian women as models. Bartholdi’s preliminary design for the Statue of Liberty is consistent with contemporary depictions of Liberty, but differs markedly from sculptures representing freed American slaves and Civil War soldiers. Bartholdi changed a broken shackle and chain in the statue's left hand to tablets inscribed "July IV, MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) at Laboulaye's request, to emphasize a broader vision of liberty for all mankind. There is no evidence that Bartholdi's “original” design was perceived by white American supporters or the United States government as representing a black woman, or was changed on those grounds.

    · What roles do African Americans have in the Statue of Liberty’s history?

    The black press championed the French-American project; and African Americans contributed to the pedestal fund, participated in the public celebrations for its unveiling in New York City and conducted their own. Blacks were among the immigrants whose first sight of the United States was the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. In the early 20th century, African Americans died because of the perverse appropriation of the statue’s symbolism by white racists. They were targeted by and responded to the government’s Liberty bond campaign during World War I. Racial justice, particularly for African Americans, has been a recurrent theme ever since the Statue of Liberty’s inception as evidenced by political cartoons, poems written for the 50th anniversary, debates over the content of the American Museum of Immigration’s exhibits, and acts of civil disobedience in the 1960s and ‘70s. Along with recent work by African American artists, the Black Statue of Liberty rumor extends this tradition of active engagement with this American icon.

    The facts show that not only was The Statue of Liberty made by someone who absolutely despised slavery, the fund that was raised in order to get the statue put into place was largely due in part to the money put up by large amounts of African Americans.  Jamming rumors into a poem about racism, simply because it sounds good is taking the easy road.  It's not as simple as black and white.

  15. Shayan Rajan

    November 8, 2016 8:25 pm

    Hey Amir! My name is Shayan Rajan. I am from College Station, Texas. Last year Goodwyn was my English. He showed us some of your Slam Poetry. Both Goodwyn's class and your poetry really inspired me and so I took the initiative to try something new and make a MSA (Muslim Student Association) at Consol. Right now we're an official club and everything is up and running but I still would love to help get our club some momentum. We had a club meeting earlier today and we would absolutely love if you could drop by as a guest speaker if you are still near College Station anytime soon. Thanks and please get back to me!


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