In all of her poems Grace Nichols explores a variety of themes such as immigration and emigration in her poem “Icons”. However in “Black” she also explores several other themes such as race and perception. In this essay I aim to determine whether or not “Black” is mainly a poem about skin colour or of it can simply be perceived as such.
As previously stated race plays an important role within the poem and as such race as a theme it can be seen throughout. Race can be seen from the beginning of the poem where Nichols says “Show me the woman that would surrender her little black dress.” This is likely referring to the skin colour of the narrator as they wear it. This idea is reinforced with the use of the word surrender as it could be referring to weather or not the narrator would give up their identity as a black woman. This idea is further supported in the following line where those being surrendered to are described as a “White robed clan.” With the theme of race it is likely referring to the Ku Klux Klan. This idea is furthered with the previous use surrender which traditionally has negative connotations and reference to “Their bonfires” in the following line. The links with race are strengthened again with the narrator saying anyone that would surrender their black dress is “A liar” as no black person would willingly give up their identity or themselves to the KKK. This is again seen with the narrator saying they surrender “Not for their bonfires” again helping to prove the poem is about race.
Racial tension such as this can be found in several other poems by Nichols. One example of a poem such as this is “Follow That Painting Back.” Whilst the poem does not focus on the tensions ...
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...but to her clothing being inappropriate for the current situation.
Ultimately“Black” explores many themes and motifs. Whilst the writing contains several concepts skin colour is the most developed and crucial idea in “Black” as it is in many other of Nichols poems. Despite this however there are still many other well developed themes such as colour and clothing and while they are developed they still only add another meaning to “Black” which is mostly about skin colour. There are also some smaller concepts such as sexuality seen when wearing the dress the narrator describes herself as “A sensual catalyst.” However the writing is certainly about more about skin colour than other themes as many extracts from the poem such as “A white robed clan” and “When black brings you those sudden inexplicable hostile glances” have a greater meaning when read as being about race.
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